Employee health and safety are top of mind when it comes to work in times of the pandemic – and when starting to take steps to return to a new normal where business continues even as outbreaks may flare up. When the lockdowns have ended, employers must be ready with health & safety protocols limiting contracting COVID-19 in the workplace. The German government now recommends a new occupational safety standard employers should follow to avoid liability.
Key Points of the Government’s Protocol
Here are the key points:
- With the economic upturn, occupational health and safety measures must be reinforced to contain the spread of SARS-CoV-2
- When more people move about in public spaces again, the risk of infection increases – and the risk of overburdening the health care system.
- This requires a high standard of occupational health and safety.
- Companies should make use of social partnership, involve occupational safety experts, expand the range of occupational health care
- The social partners should jointly anchor the necessary protective measures effectively in the day-to-day.
- Company physicians and occupational safety specialists should advise employers on the implementation of the new occupational safety standards.
- Companies should offer their employees additional voluntary occupational health care.
- A safety distance of at least 1.5 meters should always be maintained, also and especially at work
- Appropriate barriers, markings or access regulations should be implemented.
- Office work should be carried out remotely if possible.
- Business trips and face-to-face events should be limited to the absolute minimum.
- As far as possible, technical alternatives such as video conferencing are to be used.
- Processes are to be organized in such a way that employees have no direct contact with each other if possible
- This applies in particular to shift changes and break times. This must be considered during planning, so contact can be reduced to a minimum.
- Never sick to work
- Employees with recognizable symptoms should stay away from work until the suspicion is cleared up by a doctor.
- Company policies should be put in place to quickly clear up suspected cases of COVID-19 disease.
- Companies to ensure additional protection against unavoidable direct contact
- Where separation by protective measures like protective shields, proper distance etc. is not possible, the employer will need to provide nose-mouth covers to the employees and all persons with access to the premises (such as customers, service providers etc.).
- Companies to take additional hygiene measures
- Cleaning facilities are to be provided by the employer to enable the necessary frequent hand hygiene.
- Short cleaning intervals for typical contact surfaces further improve infection protection.
- Particular attention needs to paid to sneezing/coughing rules at work. Contactless fever measurement shall be provided for.
- Companies shall use preventive occupational medicine and protect risk groups in particular
- Preventive occupational medicine from the company doctor enables individual advice on work-related health risks, especially in the case of pre-existing illnesses.
- If the employer becomes aware that a person belongs to a risk group, he will take the necessary individual protective measures.
- Ensure contributions to pandemic mitigation
- To respond quickly to detected infections, employers should develop plans and cooperate with local health authorities to ensure further follow-up.
- There should be a permanent contact person in the company for employees who suspect infection.
- Active communication around “Health first!”
- Company and managers should make clear that employees’ safety and health are a top priority.
- All additional company infection prevention measures and instructions need to be explained to the employees and rehearsed.
The full protocol is available here (German only).
What Employers Should Do Know
Companies that want to get their operations up and running should start preparing for the new normal and be ready with health & safety protocols. Although the German government’s protection standards are a non-binding recommendation, the legal nature of which is not entirely clear, companies should comply with these standards in order to avoid exposure.
In addition to the German government’s protection protocol, companies need to carry out an individual company risk assessment to determine the measures that are necessary and legally compliant to achieve a high protection standard. Implementation of any protective measures may require prior engagement with works councils, which is why an early engagement is important
There are many legal aspects to be considered when implementing protective measures. For example, taking employees’ temperature on the company’s premises may involve privacy issues – the employer may be threatened with fines and claims for damages by employees in case of non-compliance.
Employers should note that they have a specific duty to protect risk groups, notably older employees and employees with known pre-existing conditions. For these specific groups, specific protocols and policies need to be in place.
Please feel free to reach out to our Employment Team in Germany or your usual contact at Orrick to find out more or if you need any help.