Over the past twelve months the problems with the need to protect one’s health and the need to put food on the table while carrying out a job has become glaringly apparent in the UK. Those in secure roles, for example managerial or professional roles, with the ability to work at home safely, along with the security of sick pay, have experienced a different pandemic reality compared to those who are on zero hours temporary contracts that require them to leave home every morning, no matter what. This has brought forward the uncomfortable truth which has now been revealed by the recent Trade Union Congress research. Those who work in insecure roles are twice as likely to die from Covid- 19.
The past year has led to a significant rise in employees working from home. Whilst businesses and workers have adapted to this challenging change of scenery, it is important to keep in mind the duties owed by employers to their employees. Where an employee may now be working from home, the health and safety responsibilities incumbent on the employer remain unchanged.
The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) has recently published an interim report into the relationship between COVID-19 and occupation (‘COVID-19 and occupation: position paper 48’). The IIAC are an independent scientific body who advise the UK Government on whether benefits should be payable for certain industrial injuries and diseases.
The last 12 months have brought a wide range of problems and hardships for pretty much everyone on the planet, and the lasting effects will not be fully understood for some time. For those lucky enough not to have been directly affected by the virus itself, there are still huge practical and financial worries as well as the significant upheavals to daily life. Almost from the outset there was widespread discourse on mental health and the emotional impact of lockdown restrictions, including in this previous blog: Protecting your mental health whilst working from home.
Over the past year, we have all experienced changes to the way we live our lives, both personally and professionally. One of the biggest changes for most has been adapting to working from home, juggling home schooling and finding a quiet workspace. In addition to the various zoom calls throughout the week, lawyers have also had to adjust to conducting court hearings from home.
The Covid pandemic has seen an abrupt halt to the criminal justice system. The UK has tried, in many ways, to be creative in their approach towards how best to get criminal trials moving, but unfortunately it falls short of justice in a number of ways. In January 2021, there were 54,000 unheard Crown Court cases in England and the number of criminal trials held in Scotland dropped by 75%.
As we approach a year since the Covid-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic, the rollout of vaccines is largely being celebrated as a way out of repeated lockdowns. But while uptake is currently high and many have indicated they would queue through the night for the jag, the Government has been clear that vaccination will not be mandatory. Such a decision is likely the correct one from a legal perspective, given that a blanket rule that all citizens must receive a vaccine would raise serious questions relating to consent and disproportionate interference with fundamental rights.
For hundreds of trainees across Scotland, they have had to adapt to an entirely new way of working. In March 2020, I was in the same position. With six months left until the end of my training contract, the way I worked completely changed. It will be a month that I will never forget. At the start, I was in the office at my desk and by the end, I was navigating an entirely new way of working by ‘working from home’.