As many states are easing their restrictions and beginning to reopen after the COVID-19 pandemic, employers across every business sector should be aware of the potential legal risks when bringing employees back to the workplace.
According to a recent story appearing on the Personnel Today website, employers could find themselves having to appear before an employment tribunal for a host of issues including health and safety violations, disability and sexual discrimination, and unfair dismissal.
Sophie Vanhegan, partner with the GQ Littler advised organizations to tread carefully and to avoid a one-size-fits-all policy when opening back up for business. She emphasizes the need to be mindful of making their employees comfortable when returning to work.
“Disputes are bound to arise if employers try to apply a one-size-fits-all approach regardless of employees’ individual circumstances,” she advised. “Coronavirus is a hugely important health issue and, consequently, highly emotive.”
Many workers with pre-existing conditions are especially reticent to return to business as usual when government and health organizations are advising them to take certain precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A worker who is dismissed because they feel their employer has not taken adequate precautions to ensure a safe workspace can justifiably file a complaint of disability discrimination if they are placed on an unpaid leave of absence or their employment is terminated.
If an employer refuses to make any effort to ensure worker safety at the office or job site, such as considering safe social distancing between work stations, accommodations should be made so that workers can do their jobs from home if possible.
The firm also advises that those workers who blow the whistle on employers who do not take worker health and safety according to current guidelines established by the World Health Organization, for example, be protected by law. Vanhegan advises that employers ensure that when they do open for business, they do so according to those established guidelines and with each individual employee’s health circumstances in mind.