Face Coverings in the Office?
From the 24th July 2020 it became compulsory for face coverings to be worn in enclosed public spaces in England, which includes shops, supermarkets, galleries, museums, banks, cinemas and take away restaurants. It extends to wearing face coverings whilst on public transport in railway, bus stations and airports.
At this point there has been no ruling on wearing face coverings within office environments, but we do know that the UK Government’s position on face mask wearing has radically changed over the course of this pandemic. We have seen that the guidance can change extremely quickly and although it is impossible for us to be prepared for all situations, there are some topics we can proactively research discuss as teams and create plans for.
In this blog we will look over the benefits and challenges for employees wearing face coverings in the workplace and provide some guidance on how you can approach this potentially difficult conversation with employees.
In situations where we cannot easily adhere to strict social distancing it may help businesses reduce social distance from two metres to one metre (plus), making the prospect of reopening their offices more realistic.
Implementing face coverings may offer a level of confidence to those who are concerned about returning to the workplace, ensuring they feel they have the added protection in addition to strict cleaning and social distancing guidance.
The key recognised challenge would of course be communication. Face coverings can impact social interactions, facial expressions are less easy to read and conversations may be harder to follow.
Wearing face coverings at work is likely to be more uncomfortable for people than it is for shorter periods whilst out shopping or on public transport.
Employers will likely need to provide masks rather than assume employees will buy their own, this could also be a financial burden for many companies at a time when they need to reduce costs.
Businesses would need to determine who is responsible in each workplace for ensuring this is rolled out. Key points to consider are:
a. what standard of face covering they will be providing
b. how many will be issued to individual staff
c. where and how face coverings are disposed
There are some employees that wearing a face covering will be impossible due to health conditions, which could either exclude them from an office return or create feelings of un-comfort amongst colleagues.
As in our previous blog when we covered returning to work it is important to have a strategy and plan in place. In addition, a key element is keeping lines of communication open with employees to ensure they feel consulted, respected and most importantly safe.
We recently carried out a poll via our channels asking whether employees wanted face coverings to become mandatory within the office and received a 50/50 split on yes and no. This demonstrates although it was an equal response there are employees who would want that additional level of protection in the office environment. We recommend as a first step to communicate with your employees around their thoughts and feelings for face coverings in the office.
If you need support on how to approach these conversations or other support with employee engagement or HR advice, please do talk to us.
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Disclaimer – The contents of this blog post do not constitute legal advice and are provided for general information purposes only. We can only advise on the basis of specific client instructions and are unable to offer legal advice by email to anyone who are not our clients. To find out more about becoming a client of Lodge Court please talk to us.