Now that the government have confirmed face coverings are no longer compulsory in hospitality shops or on public transport in England from 19th of July, businesses will be asking what the implications of this are for them.
From next Monday, rules change, instructing those in England to make their own decisions around whether they want to wear a face covering. Discuss businesses more flexibility in deciding whether or not to require the workforce to continue to wear facemasks within the workplace.
However government advice is to continue the encouragement of wearing face coverings if indoors around a large volume of strangers. Ultimately, within the workplace it is down to the employer whether or not face coverings are mandatory.
It has however been announced that on transport for London services and Manchester trams, face coverings will be a condition of travel except for those who are medically exempt.
In Scotland and Wales the rules are different, face coverings are still required in certain settings. Here we discuss what this means in practice for English employers…
Should I stop asking my team to wear face coverings in the workplace now that rules have been relaxed?
As a business, you still have a duty of care to safeguard health, safety and well-being of your workforce. This has not changed because of fluctuating government advice regarding face coverings.
In making your decision you should consider the nature of your team and listen to any concerns that were raised that is likely to be employees who welcome not wearing a face covering stop space however face coverings I worn to protect others around an individual rather than the individual themselves.
You may have younger employees who aren’t vaccinated yet or clinically vulnerable employees with concerns around other colleagues not wearing face coverings.
Employers need to review the coronavirus risk assessment in view of these changes. Reviewing your risk assessment will aid in a decision on which measures such as face coverings need to stay for the time being. Moreover, your policy on face coverings in the workplace needs to be updated and communicated to the workforce so that employees understand what the rules are.
If you do decide to make face coverings mandatory, remember that some of your workforce may be clinically exempt.
Alternatively, you may want to implement a policy that face coverings are no longer mandatory however if staff feel more comfortable wearing a face covering that they are welcome to do so or face coverings are only required in certain situations, such as large meetings etc.
Be prepared for resistance from employees that haven’t got the desired outcome from your new policy. Employees are however expected to comply with any workplace policies set by the employer. However, to manage any resistance to the changes, try to accommodate requests from individuals who are not happy with the outcome, and explain how their requests have been taken into account in your coronavirus risk assessment.
Also, it’s worth bearing in mind that public transport may also be a concern to employees, if others are no longer required to wear a face covering particularly in busy travel periods such as rush-hour.
If I eliminate face coverings in the workplace what can I do to ease concern from employees?
From HR and health and safety perspective, here are the measures to consider to help your workforce transition to returning to the office.
– encourage social distancing
– ensure work areas are well ventilated with open windows if possible
– continue with regular coronavirus testing in the workplace
– ensure excellent workplace cleanliness with plenty of hand sanitiser and extra hygiene measures
– allow employees to wear face coverings if they want to
– have a section in your face covering policy stating that if employees request colleagues within close proximity to wear a face covering that they do so
– remind employees to respect that colleagues wishes; there are many reasons employees may be uncomfortable with not wearing face masks which are not immediately apparent
– inform colleagues that it’s okay to politely let someone know that they aren’t comfortable with someone being close to them without a face covering on
– send out a letter (we can provide this for you) to encourage vaccine take up amongst employees
– if at all possible, consider paying employees on sickness absence leave with coronavirus in full (although it’s difficult for an employee to prove that they caught coronavirus at work, it will ease concerns that employees know if they do contracted the virus they won’t suffer financially)
– where possible, allow vulnerable workers to work from home until the majority of the workforce is vaccinated
– consider adjusting working hours for concerned employees so that they can avoid peak travel times
From next Monday (19 July 2021), it will be the employers choice whether or not to require the workforce to wear face coverings in the workplace.
Trying to balance the individual circumstances of employees will be a difficult task for employers.
Whichever decision employers come to is likely to be met with resistance from employees that oppose your decision. Ensure employee concerns are listened to, and the workplace coronavirus risk assessment is revised and available for employees to view.
Keep your risk assessment under regular review to control measures to combat the virus spreading.
Be prepared to justify your approach to the workforce. If you think you would benefit from assistance with anything discussed in this article, or anything else HR and employment law related, give our friendly team a ring today on 0161 603 2156 to discuss how we can help.