Workplace culture and employee engagement at all levels within an organisation have become increasingly important over the last few years. Prevalent issues have included #MeToo, enhanced regulatory obligations and the 2018 UK Corporate Governance Code. We are expecting this to continue, with a significant increase in employers promoting a “speak up” culture. Organisations and senior leadership within them are increasingly accountable for these issues, attracting greater scrutiny in this area and in some instances, impacting on bonus targets.
Health and safety - Businesses have a legal duty to ensure that the health and safety of their employees, and other persons affected by their undertaking, is appropriately managed, assessed and protected across all their workplace activities, extending from their physical welfare to their mental wellbeing. Whilst the basic legal framework is not particularly new in this respect, a series of recent high-profile cases show that the enforcement risk, potential for reputational damage and adverse commercial impact to businesses in this area is greater than ever before.
The measures put in place by businesses to protect staff and other visitors to premises, and to facilitate a return to work post-COVID, highlighted the existence of the myriad of statutory controls relating to specific health and safety risks, as well as the common law duty of care on employers to take steps to contain infectious diseases and prevent exposure to the risk of infection. For example, COVID-19 has been declared an infectious disease subject to statutory control, under the Infectious Diseases (Amendment) Regulations 2020.
Health and safety offences attract criminal liability and, since 2016, new sentencing guidelines have raised the prospect of very significant financial penalties for health and safety breaches, deliberately intended to ensure that companies and individuals take health and safety responsibilities seriously.