The UK government published guidance for offices in England on working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19), which covers law firms and sole practitioners.
Our practical framework for law firms and sole practitioners on return to the office is based on the government guidance.
We've updated this framework in mid-July to reflect the most recent guidance from the government on individuals who need to self-isolate, duties on test and trace, managing an outbreak and changes to social distancing.
There are a number of steps that your firm needs to take to reopen safely. This toolkit provides a risk assessment template, practical resources and FAQs to help you get ready to return to the office safely.
Risk assessment template
Our risk assessment template is designed to help firms deal with the current COVID-19 situation in the workplace. It aims to support law firms in meeting the requirements set out in the government’s guidance and our practical framework.
Using the template is optional. It will not cover all scenarios and each law firm should consider its own unique circumstances.
Download the template COVID-19 risk assessment for law firms (Word 116 KB) – updated July 2020
Download our COVID-19 posters to display in your office, in English or Welsh.
- handwashing (PDF 26 KB)
- two metre distance for common areas (PDF 26 KB)
- one metre distance for common areas (PDF 26 KB)
- one person per lift (PDF 25 KB)
- one person in the toilet (PDF 24 KB)
- handwashing (PDF 30 KB)
- two metre distance for common areas (PDF 31 KB)
- one person per lift (PDF 30 KB)
- one person in the toilet (PDF 29 KB)
If you run a small firm and would like a pack with printed and laminated copies, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lewis Silkin has produced a flowchart to help employers decide which employees should return to work when reopening workplaces. This is reproduced with permission.
Frequently asked questions
The following questions and answers are based on a session attended by the Law Society, along with a core group of experts, with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and officials from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
The prime minister confirmed that from 1 August, employers will have more discretion over working practices.
However, for the time being the government guidance still refers to working from home if possible and staff should be supported to do so.
Updated governmental guidance for workplaces is expected to be released shortly and we will update our practical framework with a summary.
Law firms should publish their risk assessment on their website. They could also publish it on their intranet, if they wish. The rationale is to assure clients as well as staff that the firm has done the risk assessment and taken the necessary actions.
Firms can publish a less detailed version of the risk assessment, without sensitive commercial information.
Section 3.3 of the guidance states that firms should “avoid use of hot desks and spaces”.
The principle is that workstations should be assigned to an individual and not shared with others. If this is not possible, then other controls should be put in place such as additional sanitation or barriers.
If possible, encourage your staff to walk, cycle or drive to work. However, if using public transport is necessary, wearing a face covering is mandatory. Some firms are offering face coverings for staff – this is discretionary.
Law firms should support staff members who have to take public transport.
This could be done by:
- staggering arrival and departure times at work to reduce crowding into and out of the workplace, taking account of the impact on those with protected characteristics
- providing additional parking or facilities such as bikeracks to help people walk, run, or cycle to work where possible
- providing more storage for workers for clothes and bags
Firms may have to revisit and redraft their evacuation policies in relation to fire and bomb evacuation.
Fire marshals and their responsibilities are not enforced by the HSE. See guidance from the National Fire Chief Council.
If there will be fewer fire marshals on site, firms should review occupancy limits to ensure that proportionately there are enough fire marshals. They should also review mustering and social distancing at muster stations.
Firms should also:
- review incident and emergency procedures to ensure they reflect the social distancing principles as far as possible
- consider the security implications of any changes intended to make to the firm’s operations and practices in response to COVID-19, as any revisions may present new or altered security risks which may need mitigations
- follow government guidance on managing security risks
First aiders may have to take steps beyond the usual expected low risk office support.
The HSE has updated its first aid guidance on sufficient numbers and the way first aiders should respond, for example delivering CPR.
See the HSE’s guidance on first aid during the coronavirus outbreak.
The government has clarified that in an emergency, for example, an accident, provision of first aid, fire or break-in, people do not have to comply with social distancing guidelines if it would be unsafe.
People involved in the provision of assistance to others should pay particular attention to sanitation measures immediately afterwards including washing hands.
Our practical framework suggests the following steps:
- as far as possible, split staff into teams or shift groups made up of the same people
- make sure that all employment records are up to date, including contact details
- assist the NHS test and trace service by keeping a temporary record of your staff shift patterns for 21 days and assist NHS Test and Trace with requests for that data if needed. See further guidance
- if there's more than one case of COVID-19 reported in your organisation, you should contact your local PHE health protection team to report the suspected outbreak
- if your local health protection team declares an outbreak, you'll be asked to record details of symptomatic staff and assist with identifying contacts. You'll be provided with information about the outbreak management process, which will help you to implement control measures, assist with communications to staff, and reinforce prevention messages
Temperature checks are not mandatory. They are imprecise and only give partial information. Law firms have discretion to put them in place or not.
The government advice remains to stay at home if you can, and only go to the office if you must.
Firms should strike a balance between complying with the government’s advice and ensuring that they are not inadvertently discriminating against people with protected characteristics.
Employers need to factor in any changes at the office and how these impact people with disabilities or other protected characteristics.
As a starting point, soft furnishings should be removed if possible.
If not possible, then soft furnishings should be covered. If it is not possible to cover them, then consider steam-cleaning or talk to cleaning contractors to see what measures are available.
See Public Health England’s information on the survival of the virus on surfaces.
The government’s temporary relaxation on working at home assessments was based on the need for businesses to make emergency arrangements to meet the guidance. It is now clear that the period of working at home will be longer than anticipated and, in some cases, the ‘new normal’.
Firms should review whether the initial measures that they took to support staff working from home are still sufficient. If an employee raises a concern about their home working arrangement, the employer should take action.
Employers may want to offer employees items no longer needed in the office, but which can support their home working environment.
The government advice is that such items should be quarantined rather than cleaned. The infection risk decreases with time – 72 hours is the best time to guarantee safety.
If possible, meetings with clients should be conducted remotely.
There may be instances and particular practice areas in which virtual meetings might not be appropriate for various reasons. For example, those suffering from domestic abuse, dealing with criminal proceedings, needing the assistance of interpreters, or the execution of wills and lasting powers of attorney may require a face-to-face meeting.
If you need to meet a client in person at your offices, you may wish to obtain their consent to share their contact details with NHS Test and Trace , if needed, to ensure that any personal data collected is processed in line with GDPR requirements. Ideally, this consent should be obtained before the meeting by asking clients to complete this form (Word 20 KB).
Before allowing clients into the office make sure that you have conducted the risk assessment and that you follow the protocol for meeting rooms and common areas. This includes:
- providing hand sanitiser in meeting rooms
- holding meetings outdoors or in well-ventilated rooms whenever possible
- for areas where regular meetings take place, using floor signage to help people maintain social distancing
- taking other steps to avoid transmission during meetings, for example, avoiding sharing pens and other objects
For further information see our practical framework for return to the office.
High street firms
In an article for our Law Management section, David Gilmore looks at what high street law firms should consider when returning to office working, including how to conduct the mandatory COVID-19 risk assessment.
Returning safely – four areas to consider
We’ve partnered with the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) to support solicitors to return to the office safely. IOSH has produced information on returning safely to work, setting out four areas to consider:
- safe people
- safe systems
- safe workplaces
- safe equipment
Armstrong Watson resources
These resources provide a useful reminder of the key things that need to be in place if you're going to get your business functioning efficiently and effectively; look after your people and your customers; and move your business forward in the post-'lockdown' era.
Wesleyan gives insight into how to redefine your work and the steps needed to return to a 'new normal'.