What do you do if your employee does not respect social distancing?

It is important to ensure that you have all relevant safety measures in place before asking employees to return to work. Photo: Getty

Since early August, employers in England have had more freedom to decide how staff should work, whether at home or in the workplace. But in recent weeks, ministers have actively encouraged the return to offices and other workplaces to help stimulate trade to local businesses that relied on transient workers.

Before employees can return to the workplace, a number of safety measures must be put in place. One-way systems should be introduced to minimize contact, common objects and areas should be cleaned frequently, and people should adhere to the “one meter plus” social distancing rule, among other precautions such as wearing face coverings. faces or increased ventilation inside.

But what should employers do if a staff member refuses to socially distance and puts others at risk?

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“With the global pandemic still playing a huge role in people’s lives, unfortunately some people are becoming complacent about social distancing and mask-wearing,” says Andrew Willis, chief legal officer at the HR and employment law firm. Croner.

“This means that even if you have a perfect plan for COVID-proofing your workplace, it may not matter. The health and safety of your employees is your responsibility, even if they put themselves and others at risk. »

First, it’s important to make sure you’ve completed a risk assessment and put all relevant safety measures in place before asking employees to return to work.

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“Have you marked floors to highlight the two-meter distances? Have you installed hand sanitizing stations? Finally, have you communicated all the measures to your employees? Are they aware of it? If your answer to any of these questions is ‘no’, you must answer them before penalizing the staff,” Willis says.

If you’re sure you’ve done everything right, the next step is to have a conversation with the employee. Make sure they know that maintaining a distance from other employees is essential for their own safety and the safety of others. Sometimes it can be easy to forget to stay away from others when you’re back in the office and things seem more normal.

Inform the employee that failure to comply with the measures you have defined may constitute serious misconduct. “Ultimately, their behavior could lead to dismissal. Hopefully that will be enough to persuade them to follow your health and safety guidelines,” says Willis. “If not, you need to take a more serious disciplinary route.”

As with any disciplinary action, you must follow the correct procedure or risk a wrongful termination claim.

“Start with a misconduct investigation. It may be necessary to suspend the employee if their presence interferes with the investigation. Once complete, you should send a letter to the employee informing them of the allegations and next steps,” says Willias.

“Do not pronounce any sanction during the hearing. The purpose of this meeting is to determine if the employee violated your health and safety measures,” he adds. “Once the meeting is over, you decide whether – based on the evidence – the allegations are true. If so, you can then decide to dismiss the employee. Employees have the right to appeal this decision, and you should remind them of this.

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Sometimes it seems easier to turn a blind eye to a worker who ignores safety precautions. But with the rise in COVID-19 cases in the UK, it’s extremely important to make sure everyone follows the rules.

“Failure to act when an employee violates your COVID safety measures sets a precedent for others to do the same and demonstrates a breach of your duty of care to employees and non-employees,” Willis says.

“Remember that failure to protect your employees is your responsibility and you may be vicariously liable for the actions or failures of your employees. This can lead to hefty fines from the HSE or worse – an outbreak among your staff.

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