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Friday, 16 July 2021 12:20

Mask, or Not?

Stage 4 of the Government’s Roadmap out of lockdown plan finally comes into effect, in the main, on "Covid Freedom Day", Monday, 19th July. Controversially perhaps, the decision to unlock has been pressed ahead with, despite a new wave of Covid-19 cases emerging, attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus.

In England, amongst the restrictions to be lifted, the Government has removed the mandatory requirement to wear face coverings. Instead, it has empowered individuals to make the decision for themselves whether or not to don a mask; recommending their use in enclosed, crowded public spaces, in shops and on public transport.

A number of major supermarkets and other chain stores have already expressed that they will be encouraging customers to wear a mask whilst on their premises and Transport for London has said that they will make mask wearing a condition of travel for passengers. But how do employers stand generally on the issue and can the wearing of a mask in the workplace be made mandatory?

Hopefully, you have already formulated your return-to-work plan in consultation with your employees and have a mutually agreed approach towards the steps to be taken in and around your place of work. This might include:

  • a rota system for home-working to keep the numbers in the workplace reduced
  • maintaining social distancing measures
  • screens between workers
  • regular lateral flow testing and temperature checks, and
  • the wearing of masks whilst moving around the workplace

Provided your plan has been agreed and acknowledged by your team then you’re unlikely to encounter any issues as employees will be inclined to comply with peer behaviour. But how should you handle any workers who refuse to wear a mask or who use the wearing of masks as an excuse to remain absent from the workplace?

We’ve agreed previously that making vaccinations compulsory for workers is probably difficult to enforce unless you have a strong business case such as working in the care sector or have individuals who have to enter peoples’ homes. For mask-wearing however, we believe that a compulsory order can be made on the grounds of Health and Safety. Employers must carry out a risk assessment to identify the measures necessary to prevent the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the workplace. This risk assessment may conclude that the use of face coverings in the workplace is necessary.

Just as you would make toe-protector boots or hard-hats compulsory on a building site or in a warehouse to protect the safety of your employees, so too could you insist that mask-wearing was a health and safety requirement. After all, you have a duty of care to your employees and you’ll no doubt have your poster from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) displayed prominently in your place of work.

The actions that you could take against those who still refuse to wear a mask would therefore be similar to the actions you might take against someone who refuses to wear other health and safety workwear designed to keep individuals and their co-workers safe. This might amount to sending workers home without pay and eventually bringing a disciplinary case for refusing to follow a management instruction.

It’s unlikely that we’ll see an end to recommended mask-wearing any time soon and the practice may be expected for many months, or indeed years, to come, so it’s vital to have a clearly communicated company stance against which employees can be held accountable.

For help and support with writing and implementing policies, we’re just a phone call or e-mail away. Call on 01452 331331 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Read 47 times Last modified on Friday, 16 July 2021 12:21

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