Reopening your business: Your FAQs answered

Now that a reopening schedule for business and society has been published, you can soon welcome staff and customers back to your workplace. Here’s what employers need to know…

Wednesday, May 19, 2021
3 min read

To help you reopen your business safely, we’ve put together a list of the frequently asked questions our expert employment law advisors hear from business owners who are preparing for the return to work.

Q: How have my health & safety obligations changed during the COVID-19 crisis?

A: Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, you have a statutory duty as an employer to protect the safety, health and welfare of employees. But now, in addition to the existing legislation, you must also put mandatory measures in place under the government’s Work Safely Protocol.

Before returning to the workplace, you must:

  • Develop a COVID-19 Response Plan and put it in place.
  • Appoint a Lead Worker Representative to act as a liaison between staff and management on the measures being taken.
  • Update risk assessments and safety statements.
  • Identify health and safety risks specific to the workplace.
  • Develop an action plan to implement if any employee complains of COVID-19 symptoms.

As an employer, you need to assess the level of risk that is present in your own workplace. If risks are identified, you should then develop specific control measures to safeguard against those risks.

Q: Can I require staff to take the vaccine?

A: While you can’t enforce, you can encourage. And the best way to do this is by highlighting the benefits of being vaccinated.

You can also encourage staff to have the vaccine by directing them towards information that focuses on the benefits of the vaccine.

It’s one of the reasons thousands of businesses are using VaccTrak Lite—our free, no-obligation tool has lots of educational tools you can share with your staff, including e-learning courses, video guides and online webinars.

Another way to support staff is to provide paid time off for vaccine appointments. Many employers already have similar policies around the flu vaccine. You should also remind staff to treat their colleagues with respect regardless of their position in relation to taking the vaccine.

Q: What health & safety obligations do my staff have?

A: Employees also have statutory duties under health & safety legislation. Your staff have the following legal obligations:

  1. To take reasonable care for their own health & safety, and that of other persons.
  2. To cooperate with their employer with regard to health & safety at work, including participating in any training offered by the organisation.

The Work Safely Protocol includes additional employee obligations. Employees must:

  • Complete a return to work form at least three days prior to their return to work. The form should include a declaration confirming they have no symptoms and are not self-isolating or awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test.
  • Familiarise themselves with the signs and symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Immediately report to management if they develop symptoms at work and self-isolate.
  • Disclose any information that would impact on their safe return to work.
  • Undergo temperature testing implemented by the employer in line with public health advice.
  • Comply with measures to promote good hand/respiratory hygiene and physical distancing.

Q: What should I do with my contracts and employment policies?

A: You should review all health & safety-related policy documents, risk assessments, and safety statements to ensure they take account of the risks presented by COVID-19.

You should also examine health & safety policies to ensure they include the new requirements under the Work Safely Protocol.

Depending on the type of business you have, you may need to address some or all of the following:

  • Sick leave policies
  • Flexible working/remote working policies
  • Data protection/confidentiality
  • Short-time/layoff policy
  • Disciplinary/grievance policies
  • Mental health policies

Q: My business has been badly affected by COVID-19. Can I make redundancies?

A: You can still make staff redundant during the COVID-19 restrictions, but you must make sure your redundancy process complies with employment law and the principles of fair procedures.

There’s also been a recent change to redundancy law that states employees who are laid off during restrictions have no right to claim a redundancy payment—and the suspension of this right remains in place until 30 June 2021.

If you have a question about employment law in your business, our friendly team of experts are waiting to take your call. Phone BrightAdvice today on 1800 279 841.

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