The Irish Times view: The next steps for companies

Companies, employees will have responsibility to keep abreast of health advice

The central issue for many companies will be social distancing - between members of their workforce and, where relevant, members of the public. Photograph: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.iePhoto:

The central issue for many companies will be social distancing - between members of their workforce and, where relevant, members of the public. Photograph: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.iePhoto:

 

The Government has not yet outlined its plans for gradually exiting the lockdown, but it will happen at some stage and it is time for companies to consider what steps they need to take to reopen.

This is complicated in all cases, and particularly for businesses which have the public on their premises. All have a responsibility to safeguard their workforce and also those entering or leaving the premises.

The central issue for many companies will be social distancing – between members of their workforce and, where relevant, the public. This will require significant reorganisation in most workplaces. Each will have its own particular challenges.

Social distancing is necessary not only to abide by the guidelines, but also for companies to persuade employees and their customers that they are providing a safe environment. As both groups will be nervous, this is business critical. Employees need to feel safe in their workplace. And consumers will only return to shops and other businesses when they are assured that all steps are being taken to reduce any risk. In some businesses change will be far-reaching.

Companies and their employees will have a responsibility to keep abreast of public health advice. Some issues are uncertain. Should we wear masks in some situations? Is it useful to take staff temperatures? If so, how are data protection rules adhered to? How are visitors managed? In retail settings, the grocery stores have led the way, but other shops will have their own challenges. The hospitality sector faces particular difficulties.

Employers and their staff need to work together as flexibly as possible. In some cases it may make sense for staff to work from home – and some may need to, unless creches and schools reopen. Businesses may now realise that staff can work flexibly and efficiently at home.

Special arrangements may also have to be found for vulnerable people. And all sides will need to realise that rapid testing, contact tracing and isolation may disrupt both companies and their employees, but are a vital part of keeping people as safe as possible as the economy slowly returns to life.

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