UK lockdown: Is it safe for cleaners, nannies and tradespeople to go back to work?

The government says you should go back to work if you can’t do your job from home

Matt Mathers@MattEm90
Tuesday 12 May 2020 13:32

On Sunday, Boris Johnson announced a series of measures aimed at loosening lockdown restrictions in England.

After more than six weeks of a nationwide shutdown, the prime minister said that people will now be permitted to exercise outdoors as much as they want, sunbathe and see one friend living in a separate household.

And while most non-essential businesses remain closed, people who can’t do their jobs from home have been encouraged to go back to work. Those who can work from home are being asked to continue doing so.

For thousands of people across England, going to work means entering someone else’s home. But is it safe?

I’m a cleaner. Is it safe to go back to work?

There are more than 400,000 people employed in the cleaning industry in England, with migrant workers making up 37 per cent of that total, according to a report by Warwick University’s Institute for Employment and Research.

The government has said it is safe for cleaners to continue working “providing that you are well and have no symptoms”.

Cleaners are advised to notify clients in advance of their arrival, wash their hands on arrival and maintain a safe distance of 2m “from any household occupant at all times”.

“You should wash your hands regularly, particularly after blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing, and when leaving the property,” the guidance adds. “Where facilities to wash hands are not available, hand sanitiser should be used, and you should carry this with you at all times.”

Boris Johnson's full address to the UK on the fight against coronavirus

Cleaners should not go to work in a household that is isolating or where an individual is being shielded “unless your work is to remedy a direct risk to the safety of the household”.

There are no guidelines to follow for those who employ cleaners.

Trade unions have expressed concern that some workers may be treated differently during the pandemic because of the nature of their job.

John Philips, acting general secretary of the GMB union, said: “More mixed messages from the government – saying there’s no end to lockdown, but asking everyone to go back to work.

“If ministers want the economy moving again, we need strict rules on hygiene and social distancing, enough PPE for everyone, regulations employers can’t just ignore if they fancy it.”

I’m a builder. Is it safe to go back to work?

Millions of people in England work in the construction industry, with 860,000 of those self-employed, according to the Office for National Statistics.

If you are a tradesperson carrying out essential repairs and maintenance in people’s homes then you should go back to work, according to the government’s official guidance.

“Tradespeople should assess whether the visit is essential or if the work can be safely postponed,” the guidance adds.

Tradespeople, like cleaners, should notify their clients in advance of their arrival, wash their hands on entry and maintain social distancing at all times.

They should not go to work if they are experiencing symptoms or feeling unwell.

At present, there is no guidance to follow for those who are employing tradespeople.

I’m a nanny. Is it safe to go back to work?

The most recently published guidance from the government states that is safe for nannies to go back to work provided “it’s safe to do so”.

Like tradespeople and cleaners, nannies are asked to wash their hands on arrival and observe social distancing measures.

“If you are a nanny, you should maintain a safe distance...from the household occupants you are not providing care for as much as possible,” the guidance states.

Nannies should not return to work if they are feeling unwell or experiencing Covid-19 symptoms.

There are no guidelines to follow for those who employ nannies.

What are your rights if you don’t feel safe at work?

Citizens Advice says your employer has a duty of care towards you: “Every contract of employment has general ‘implied’ terms for employees and employers including...for example, your employer should provide a safe working environment for you and you should use equipment safely.”

It says even if you don’t think you have a contract in writing, a contract still exists in legal terms.

“There is always a contract between an employee and employer. You might not have anything in writing, but a contract still exists. This is because your agreement to work for your employer and your employer’s agreement to pay you for your work forms a contract.”

According to section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, employees may not be subjected to a detriment (unfair action by an employer against an employee which falls short of dismissal) because they have raised a relevant health and safety concern with their employer, such as the failure to provide PPE or effective social distancing measures in the workplace.

Dan Hobbs, an employment barrister at 5 Essex Court, said: “Employees may be rightly concerned for their own health and safety as well as that of their co-workers and others in their household.

“Accordingly, if an employee walks out of the workplace or refuses to return to the workplace in circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believes to be serious and imminent, the employee cannot be subjected to a detriment by his employer as a result.”

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