Many companies resumed their activities on Monday, 11 May 2020, the date on which the end of the lockdown began in France. This resumption of activity must be carried out in strict compliance with the rules on ensuring the health and safety of employees.
To this end, on 3 May, the French Ministry of Labour published a national end of lockdown protocol for companies, to help them assess the risks associated with the spread of COVID-19 and put in place measures, both at the employer and individual employee level, to best protect employees.1
A bill to extend the state of health emergency is currently under discussion and it is therefore important to note that this could have additional implications for what is outlined below.
The protocol specifies the measures to be taken by employers to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic (section 1 below). These preventive measures are all the more important as the employer has an enhanced safety obligation towards its employees and any failure to implement the measures could have serious consequences (section 2 below).
- Measures recommended by the government to ensure the health and safety of employees at work
a. Employer measures to protect employees
The protocol recommends that employers first take company-wide measures to protect employees, including working from home, staggering shifts and disinfecting premises.
With this in mind, employers are encouraged to give priority to home working, which should, under the terms of the protocol, “remain the rule”. During his speech on the government’s end of lockdown protocol, French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said that “home working must be continued wherever possible” and asked companies to continue with home working, where possible, until 2 June at the earliest.
However, having to work from home can cause significant risks for employees, including stress, burn-out and, more generally, all forms of work-related issues. Employers must therefore also take measures to ensure the health and safety of home workers.2
When the presence of employees in the workplace is necessary, employers are advised to carry out activities in sequence and introduce staggered shifts in order to limit the risk of crowds and to comply with social distancing rules.
To this end, the government has adopted certain criteria to set the maximum permissible occupancy of floor space in the workplace, with the minimum space per person being set at 4 m² to allow them to work simultaneously in the same place in compliance with physical distancing rules, and the workspace available when employers make an assessment being the total floor area less the area occupied by shelving, storage space, racks, etc.
Employers are also encouraged to introduce plans to control employee traffic, such as one-way systems in workshops, corridors and staircases, if the lay-out of the premises allows this. These plans should also be applied when someone, such as a service provider, visits the company.
The employer must also ensure that its premises and any surfaces that employees regularly come into contact with, such as door handles, tables, desks and stair banisters, are regularly cleaned.
Finally, the employer must inform its employees of the risks of infection, remind them of ‘barrier gestures’ and social distancing, and train them in the use of personal protective equipment. This information can be provided by any means, in particular by posting notices, sending regular emails to staff or setting up employee support committees.