In line with the Government's announcements, companies should gradually resume their activity from 11 May.
The threat of the pandemic is not over, however, and it is essential for employers to remain alert and to plan for the material conditions under which employees can return to the workplace.
Recent rulings against large companies (notably Amazon, Carrefour, La Poste) demonstrate that the employer must adopt and effectively implement appropriate hygiene measures that guarantee occupational safety and health for employees at their workplace.
To this end, the employer must proceed step by step: assess the risks, redefine working arrangements, restructure the company's premises and ensure strict compliance with the instructions.
It is essential to involve two key players in the field of hygiene and health in the company: the social and economic committee (i.e. works council) on the one hand and the occupational health physician.
1. Assessing risks
To resume operations, companies must first carry out a concrete assessment of the risks in terms of the hygiene, health and safety of employees on their premises.
For this purpose, a document called the uniform occupational risks assessment (document unique d’évaluation des risques or DUER) must be updated and accurately list all identified contagion risks.
It is essential that the list of risks related to resuming operations includes psychosocial hazards weighing on employees, the latter of which may arise due to the threat of an pandemic and the resulting restructurings.
When carrying out the risk assessment, it is strongly recommended for the employer to involve employee representatives as well as the occupational health physician in the process so as to maintain social dialogue and obtain technical expertise from a medical practitioner.
It should be noted that the absence or failure to update the “DUER” is punishable by criminal sanctions (a fine of up to 1,500 euros or 3,000 euros in the event of a repeat offence) and civil sanctions (restrictions or suspension of activity).
Finally, and if necessary, the prevention program in place in the organisation should also be reviewed. The same applies to the internal rules of procedure and any applicable health and safety memos.
2. Redefining working arrangements
Each employer must determine which employees should be expected to return to the workplace and which ones should continue to work from home.
Priority is still given to working remotely, only those employees unable to work remotely should gradually return to the premises of the company.
However, to prevent all workers being present concurrently on the premises, new work arrangements may need to be established.
In this regard, the Scientific Council suggests fostering a program of rotation or staggered working hours in compliance with the constraints of each operation and the circumstance of the employees concerned.
In addition, business trips other than between home and work should be avoided unless they are strictly necessary for the activity of the company.
Lastly, according to the Minister of Labour, vulnerable workers and parents of children under the age of 16 should still benefit from special provisions and this at least until 2 June.
3. Reorganising company premises
The organisation of the company's premises also needs to be overhauled to take into consideration the recommendations made by health authorities to protect employee health.
In this context, the employer must implement practical measures to comply with these instructions, particularly in the area of social distancing and common areas management.
For instance, it is important to ensure that multiple employees do not use entrance gates and elevators at the same time. Similarly, if re-opened, meeting rooms and company restaurants should only be able to accommodate a limited number of employees who keep a good distance from each other. Cleaning practices for premises should also be reviewed where appropriate. The same applies to any procedures for receiving customers, goods, etc.
4. Ensuring the strict application of hygiene measures
Employers must ensure that their employees follow the company's hygiene rules.
To achieve this, an effective information and training policy for employees is essential to ensure that they are fully aware of these instructions. The obligation to provide information must be personalised and adapted to each position.
In addition, the employer must anticipate the company's needs in terms of equipment (hydroalcoholic gel, masks, gloves if necessary...). This equipment must be provided to employees in line with the risks associated with their position. The government also announced that small businesses would be supported in purchasing masks.
5. Involving employee representatives
In accordance with Article L. 2312-8 of the Labour Code, the works council shall be consulted on employment and working conditions measures, as well as on any major changes in health and safety conditions that the employer plans to implement.
The works council must therefore be implicated in the measures put in place as part of the resumption of operations.
To facilitate a rapid recovery, deadlines for works council’s consultations linked to work resumption have been reduced.
6. The Occupational Physician: A Key Figure in the Return to Work
Article 2 of Ordinance No 2020-386 of 1 April 2020 on the adaptation of the conditions for the performance of the duties of occupational health services to address health emergencies and the modification of the system of preliminary applications for partial employment authorisation provides that an occupational physician may, from now on, prescribe and, where appropriate, renew an occupational health authorisation.
The occupational physician will also be able to perform covid-19 screening tests according to a protocol established by the ministers in charge of health and labour.
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