Several major legal practices tentatively reopened their offices last week – partly for the benefit of staff struggling to work from home – as the Law Society advised firms to revisit their health and safety policies.
Allen & Overy and Dentons are allowing a limited number of employees into their London premises under strict social distancing rules. Dentons said employees can return for ‘mental health, isolation or other wellbeing reasons’ but just 25% of the building will be occupied. It has also set up an onsite ‘track and trace’ system where staff must sign in and out of the building and inform HR if they develop Covid-19 symptoms.
Deloitte will reopen six of its UK offices in July, citing the negative impact prolonged working from home can have on mental health.
Meanwhile, BDB Pitmans is moving from its Westminster office to One Bartholomew Close, a new development near Moorgate. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner are also due to relocate offices this year.
Many firms which have yet to open are redesigning their premises to allow for social distancing, installing cleaning stations and one-way systems. International firm CMS said its clients will be required to check in and may be asked for additional contact tracing information.
The Law Society last week published a back-to-the-office toolkit to assist employers, including a risk assessment template and detailed guidance about the legal challenges posed by coronavirus. Firms have been advised to revisit their health and safety policies to cover Covid-19 and to test safety measures on a small number of employees.
The Society said it is ‘hard to be certain’ about employees’ rights to refuse to attend the workplace for health and safety reasons. However, it said that ‘due to the government messaging and news reporting of coronavirus it’s likely to be reasonable for employees to believe there was a serious and imminent threat unless employers take appropriate action’.
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.