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Is there anything I need to put in place for their return? What are my responsibilities?

The basics of health and safety law requires that employers take “all reasonably practicable steps” to ensure workers’ safety and that a suitable and sufficient assessment of risk is undertaken. It is the individual assessment of Covid-19 risk in each workplace that will be central. Employers will be required to conduct a robust risk assessment and then, following the hierarchy of controls, put robust processes and safeguards in place to address those risks.

UK government guidance and HSE advice is continually evolving, which in practice means that any risk assessment will need to be reviewed very regularly as that guidance develops. There is flexibility for individual businesses within the overall government framework and there will need to be a process of evaluation to ensure that the measures in place continue to meet the requirements.

The starting point of avoid, eliminate and control means looking at individuals continuing to work from home where possible (the fewer the number of people back in the workplace the lower the risk), and if not look at risk management, which leads to administrative controls – i.e. changing work practices before ending up at PPE. PPE is generally seen as control of last resort but in practice – facemasks, disposable gloves and constant prompts to wash hands for example.

In terms of changing working practices, employers should be thinking about:

  • the workspace and how this is laid layout
  • how do we make sure it is kept clean and hygienic
  • how do we keep people apart
  • how can we use toilets, canteens or other shared spaces/facilities safely
  • how do we promote and enable higher levels of workplace hygiene
  • if we are going to rely on PPE – can we get it, and is it suitable
  • what about limiting customer interactions
  • will there be enough first aiders on site
  • can we manage fire safety, deliveries etc
  • what about higher risk workers
  • should work tools and equipment be allocated on an individual basis to employees.

These decisions need to be recorded and clearly communicated to staff members.

Related FAQs

What are the publicity requirements for Traffic Regulation Orders?

In making a Traffic Regulation Order (“TRO”) local authorities must follow the regulations, which include provisions relating to publicity requiring publishing the notice in a local newspaper, making the orders available for public inspection at a Council’s offices (which are likely to be closed to the public during this time) and where considered appropriate, posting the notices on the streets.

In recognition of the potential difficulties with complying with the publicity requirements, the Department for Transport has issued guidance as to how a Council may still publicise a TRO. The guidance recognises that not everyone may be able to access local newspapers online and suggests that people and organisations could be adequately informed by means of letter, leaflet drops, or local radio. In respect of making the relevant document available at the Council’s offices, the guidance suggests that notices could be placed online or outside offices with brief details and including a telephone number or email to use to request a hard copy of the documents.

While the guidance is helpful, it is important to note that it is guidance only and that the regulations have not been relaxed. Authorities will still need to demonstrate that they have satisfied all of the publicity arrangements in respect of the TRO.

What security will be required for CBILS?

At the discretion of the lender, the Scheme may be used for unsecured lending for facilities of £250,000 and under.

Lenders were required to demonstrate lending additionality (i.e. lending that without the Scheme, wouldn’t have otherwise taken place). The Scheme has been extended to those businesses who would have previously met requirements for a commercial facility and would not have been eligible for CBILS.  As a result  it is suggested that all viable small businesses affected by Covid-19, and not just those unable to secure regular commercial financing, will now be eligible should they need finance to keep operating.

Primary Residential Property cannot be taken as Security under the Scheme. If the lender can offer finance on normal commercial terms without the need to make use of the Scheme, they will do so.

What support is available for Start-ups?

According to the guidelines laid down by the Treasury, many Start-up businesses will not be considered “viable” as they are at an early stage in the investment cycle (i.e. delivering negative returns but with strong growth prospects). This means they are unlikely to qualify for CBILS although for primarily UK based Start-ups it is still worth making enquiries as policies are rapidly evolving.

For early-stage businesses in their first two years of trading, the British Business Bank’s Start-Up Loans programme (loans £500 to £25,000 at 6% p.a. interest) may be more suitable. Visit www.startuploans.co.uk for more information.

For start-up businesses that are unable to access CBILS, the Government launched The Future Fund in May 2020 via the British Business Bank, which provides convertible loans to UK-based innovative companies ranging from £125,000 to £5 million, subject to at least equal match funding from private investors. This scheme is available until 30 September 2020 initially.

Your business is eligible if:

  • it is UK-incorporated – if your business is part of a corporate group, only the parent company is eligible
  • it has raised at least £250,000 in equity investment from third-party investors in the last five years
  • none of its shares are traded on a regulated market, multilateral trading facility or other listing venue
  • it was incorporated on or before 31 December 2019, and
  • at least one of the following is true: (i) half or more employees are UK-based; and/or (ii) half or more revenues are from UK sales.

Further information is available on the Government website, www.gov.uk/guidance/future-fund

The Government is also offering additional support for small and medium size firms that are primarily focused on research and development. This targeted support is available through a continuity grant and loan scheme. The grant scheme is only available until 29 May 2020 while the loan scheme is open for applications until all the money is allocated or 31 December 2020 (whichever is earlier). This scheme is administered by Innovate UK, the national innovation agency, and this support will mostly only be available to existing Innovate UK customers.
Further information is available on the on the Government website, www.gov.uk/government/publications/access-coronovirus-business-innovation-support-package

VIDEO EXPLAINER: Alternatives to redundancy – how to flex your workforce after furlough

This free Getting back to business webinar was held on Wednesday 6th May. On this video, employment partner Paul Scope and associate Flora Mewies looked at your options if you need to flex your employee resource or reduce cost without reducing headcount. This may apply across the business or to particular functions. They discussed a range of options when the furlough scheme comes to an end, including: lay off, short time working, reduced hours, reduced pay and other ways to be flexible.

They also discussed the pros and cons of each option, and cover what you will need to undertake with each of these routes.

Is there a matched funding scheme for the National Emergencies Trust?

The government has also confirmed it will match donations to the National Emergencies Trust as part of the BBC’s Big Night In fundraiser on 23 April – pledging a minimum of £20 million.