Providing a safe working environment during the coronavirus outbreak and the possible consequences of failing to protect your employees
Posted 29/04/2020 : By: Kathryn Pratt
Technology giant Amazon could be under threat of legal action from New York’s Attorney General following claims of the dismissal of an employee who organised a walkout in protest at the company’s handling of the coronavirus.
As we hear about workers from Amazon sites across the world, including Italy and France, leaving over concerns of current working conditions, we want to take a closer look at the responsibility owned by all employers to provide a safe working environment and how cases of whistleblowing should be handled.
Under Health and Safety law, employers have a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this. This means providing employees and others with protection from anything that may cause harm and controlling any risks to injury or health that could occur in the workplace.
Main responsibilities as an employer:
- Carry out risk assessments to address all risks that could cause harm in the workplace
- Provide information and training to employees about the risks and dealing with them in the workplace
- Consult employees on health & safety issues either directly or via a safety representative elected by the workforce or appointed by a trade union
- Report accidents and illness
- First aid at work
- Prepare a health and safety policy and share with employees
- Appoint a competent person
- Have the right workplace facilities
- Employer’s liability insurance
Good practice steps for employers during the coronavirus outbreak:
- Take extra steps for vulnerable groups, such as those who are aged 70 or over, have a long-term health condition or are pregnant
- If employees come into the workplace, make sure they are abiding by the government social distancing guidelines
- hold meetings remotely via online platforms such as Zoom or Teams and avoid non-essential travel
- ensure managers are trained to spot the symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes, for example sick pay and absence reporting, and procedures in case someone in the workplace shows symptoms of the virus
- make sure employees have clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap, and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly
- provide hand sanitiser and tissues for staff
- make sure employee’s emergency contact information is up to date and accurate
- communicate clearly and consistently with everyone on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace
- keep up to date with the latest government advice
Whistleblowing is a procedure in place to support employees who believe there is wrongdoing in their workplace. The wrongdoing disclosed must be in the public interest, such as their employer committing a criminal offence, this may include for example, threats to someone’s health and safety. Employees can report wrongdoing by following the correct processes, and their employment rights are protected.
After an employee has raised a concern, the employer should decide how to respond in a responsible and appropriate manner under the company’s policy. Usually this will involve making internal enquiries first, but it may be necessary to carry out an investigation at a later stage which may be formal or informal depending on the nature of the concern raised. The employer should endeavour to complete investigations within a reasonable time.
If employees feel that their concern has not been dealt with properly, they can raise it externally with the appropriate regulator.
Whistleblowers are protected by law and should not be treated unfairly because of their disclosure(s). If a whistleblower feels that this has happened, they may decide to take their case to an employment tribunal.
Good practice steps for dealing with disclosures:
- Make sure employees have the ability to report concerns anonymously
- Treat all disclosures made seriously and consistently
- Communicate and provide support to the employee during what can be a worrying time, reassure them that the disclosure does not affect their position at work
- Record whether the employee has requested confidentiality
- Manage the expectations of the employee in terms of what action and/or feedback they can expect as well clear timescales for providing updates
- Take notes to summarise the meeting and provide a copy to the employee
- Allow the employee to be accompanied by a trade union representative or colleague at any meeting about the disclosure
- Provide the employee with support services after a disclosure has been made such as mediation and dispute resolution, which may help rebuild trust and relationships in the workplace
If you have any questions or need to talk about the specifics of an issue, then please do not hesitate to get in touch with a member of the team.
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