Employers who ignore coronavirus advice can be prosecuted under new guidelines

12 May 2020, 18:33

Ben Kentish asked if the government's initial modelling for the coronavirus pandemic was flawed
Ben Kentish asked if the government's initial modelling for the coronavirus pandemic was flawed. Picture: Downing Street

By Kate Buck

Employers who do not follow guidelines to keep their employees safe from Covid-19 can be prosecuted, it has been confirmed.

Under new government advice which comes into force tomorrow, any employees who cannot work from home have been told to return to work - so long as their workplace is open.

But the new guidelines have sparked concerns that workers could be placed at further risk of contracting coronavirus if they do return to their place of employment.

When asked by LBC's Ben Kentish why the government had taken a "blanket approach" for workers to return - despite those in their fifties being 20 times as likely to perish from Covid-19 than those in their twenties - Business Secretary Alok Sharma said it was employers "duty" to keep their workers safe.

Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference, Mr Sharma added: "Every single death, every mortality that takes place whether it takes place in the workplace or elsewhere is completely something that we would definitely absolutely not want to happen."

Business Secretary Alok Sharma express his condolences to those who have lost love ones
Business Secretary Alok Sharma express his condolences to those who have lost love ones. Picture: PA

He added: "Every workplace has a duty to keep their employees safe and that it why we have made it very clear that we want people to undertake a Covid-19 risk assessments and make sure they involve their employees as part of that.

"If an employee feels unsafe, they should talk to their employer, and if that doesn't produce a result they should of course contact the health and safety representative or their local authority."

Mr Sharma later said the Health and Safety Executive was prepared to take action against employers which did not take steps ensure the safety of staff returning to work.

"Employers have a duty to keep employees safe in the workplace - that is absolutely enshrined in law," he added.

"If somebody feels their workplace is not safe, they have to take that up with their employer.

"If they don't feel they are getting any traction they absolutely should get in touch with the Health and Safety Executive or the local authority."

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Health and Safety Executive chief Sarah Albon said firms which breached Covid-19 rules could ultimately be prosecuted.

She said: "Inspectors can require businesses to do certain things - enforcement notices, requiring them to take particular kinds of action.

"In the most extreme circumstances if there is a risk of serious injury to an individual employee they can issue a notice which prohibits certain activities from taking place.

"Breach of those kind of enforcement notices is essentially a criminal offence and we can prosecute people who fail to do the right thing."

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