'Freedom' and the employer’s liabilityby
From today, we can do what we like, but at what cost? Could painful legal claims be just around the corner?
The Prime Minister finally manages to ditch a hopeless (his word with the adjective removed to avoid offence) Health Secretary, which must have been a relief. The hatchet man chosen to take on the role and prove to the country that coronavirus no longer exists then catches the virus the weekend before Freedom Day despite being double vaccinated.
You couldn’t invent it.
Along the way, the health secretary takes the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer kicking and screaming into self-isolation with him. In doing so, they cause outrage for an attempt to deceive the country that would have shamed a primary school pupil.
To use our favourite Old Etonian’s vivid language, the train has been derailed before reaching the terminus and there could be tens of thousands of injuries and fatalities.
He seems to have forgotten about “following the science” and “data, not dates” in favour of a dash towards catastrophe.
As usual with the current government, ministers are more interested in mantras than facts. Redefining personal choice as personal responsibility seems like a rather callous attempt to blame anyone and everyone but those directly responsible when disaster occurs over the next few weeks.
Self-delusion or farce?
Calling an end to precautions to hold back a virus that is still going strong with approximately 55,000 new victims on the day before it was due to disappear, with hospitalisations now at 4,000 and deaths rising inexorably, is a classic example of self-delusion or farce.
Surely even members of a government that appears to reside in a parallel universe far away from the rest of us must have noticed that the step they are about to take is being criticised and ridiculed from all quarters, both at home and overseas.
However, while many accountants might look askance, there are more serious issues with which we are now going to be faced.
I for one dread the prospect of heading into central London, let alone spending days crammed into a full office with social distancing as distant a memory as those face coverings that were saving people’s lives.
As it happens, we belong to an industry where the vast majority are likely to behave sensibly, regardless of any government attempts to persuade them otherwise.
Even so, can you be sure that none of your colleagues will head for a sports stadium, spend the night in a bar or club or, perhaps worst of all, travel to the office on public transport?
Assessing the risks
Any of these activities could represent a danger and with the current rate of infection is running at one person in 950 and increasing by the day this means that if you have a reasonable cohort of staff and partners, it is inevitable that the virus will find its way into the office and spread liberally around.
You might see this as nothing more than unfortunate, obliging everyone to work from home but operating just as efficiently and effectively as if they were in the office.
In principle, this is absolutely correct. However, there have been recent murmurings about the liability and responsibility that employers may have for the wellbeing of their workers.
It appears that if we do nothing more than follow the law and take no further steps to protect those that work in our offices, we could be legally liable for the consequences.
I am no lawyer but would not like to be sitting in on a management meeting to discuss how to defend a claim for significant damages from a recently qualified employee who was victim to Covid 19 and subsequently suffered from long Covid, rendered unable to work for an indeterminate period.
Tot up the costs
If I were that litigation lawyer, I might assume that in his or her lifetime the aforementioned sick accountant could reasonably expect to earn that of say an average of £100,000 a year for the next 40 years. Forgetting about inflation, interest and other factors, that comes to a cool £4m. We all know that once the R rate gets beyond one, you’re in even bigger trouble and if this person passed the virus on to four others who suffered similarly, I think we would all be looking at our insurance policies very closely.
If, before this happened, a firm had instructed staff to turn off the NHS app or ignore a self-isolation suggestion, the position might seem considerably more parlous.
Readers might well feel that they are victims of an irresponsible government, but that will probably not wash in court. Instead, it might be a good idea to take some serious legal advice before even considering reopening the office other than under very strict and theoretically redundant anti-Covid conditions.