Sue Gilchrist: What does the latest public health guidance mean for Scottish businesses?
Sue Gilchrist, legal director at Pinsent Masons, considers the impact of the latest public health guidance on Scottish business.
Scottish business, just as much as our English counterparts, was switched on to review the UK government guidance issued on working safely during coronavirus in England.
The guidance doesn’t provide the detailed framework for managing the return to work which many employers were anticipating and puts the onus on individual businesses to determine the best way in which to keep their workplace and workers safe from the spread of Covid-19. This general obligation also applies to employers in Scotland, although business operates here under Scottish government guidance.
With the updated guidance comes a renewed focus on refreshing health and safety risk assessments factoring in available data. But this may not lead to immediate or dramatic changes in how employers go about managing a safe workplace.
So while the guidance for English offices, factories and labs, for example, recommends employers provide adequate ventilation and clean more often, and encourages them “to translate this into the specific actions you need to take”, employers in Scotland are actively considering the same issues, but against the background of physical distancing and guidance on mask-wearing currently being retained here, as well as working from home where this is possible being the default position for now.
As well as managing the pure health and safety risks, maintaining levels of mask-wearing, physical distancing etc. could also potentially help employers keep a hold on the “pingdemic”, which it’s reported has not reached the same levels in Scotland as in England.
This process of risk assessment should also help with employers’ obligations towards employees with disabilities. The duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees is a positive duty on the part of the employer. While not all clinically vulnerable people will be disabled, employers do need to make sure they are actively managing these obligations, a point reiterated in English guidance regarding protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable from Covid-19.
It’s inevitable that some employees will have concerns, particularly those who may not have been able to have their vaccinations. Being alert to employees’ concerns will help to retain trust and also minimise legal risks.
While Health & Safety is rightly at the forefront of employers’ minds, many employers with premises across the UK also have to manage the workplace culture issues arising from different rules and guidance being in place. Ensuring a level of consistency with coherent messaging, while applying the relevant national guidance, can also help maintain unity across a business.
“Bringing the workforce with you” is really important as we move out of lockdown and into new ways of working (as it was with the move to working from home). Many businesses are aiming to achieve a level of uniformity across all their UK facilities, which might stem from the risk assessment process, but which also relates back to building trust in the measures employers are taking, and which is essential if employers want to have people motivated to return.
Further guidance is expected from the Scottish government before the end of July as we move beyond level 0, which is expected on 9 August.