As the Coronavirus continues to disrupt the international economy, employers are now seeking ways in which employees can safely return to work.

However, evidence suggests that the virus does not affect the population equally; there are pockets of society who suffer exacerbated ill effects due to belonging to specific ethnic and racial groups.

BAME stands for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic.  The acronym refers to all ethnic groups other than White ethnic groups.  The Coronavirus has been disproportionately affecting BAME communities in respect of risks and outcomes and, consequently, has been increasing existing social and health inequalities.

How does the virus impact on BAME communities?

According to the Office of National Statistics, those from the BAME community are up to four times more likely to die from Coronavirus than those from White ethnic groups.

A ‘rapid review’ was published on 2 June 2020, which found that the highest rates of Coronavirus diagnosis was amongst black ethnic minority groups. When compared to White British people, Bangladeshi people are twice as likely to die from Coronavirus and Chinese, Indian, other Asian, Caribbean and other Black ethnicities have a 10-50% higher risk of death. 

In June 2020, Public Health England (PHE) released a report called ‘Beyond the Data’ which looked to understand the impact of Coronavirus on BAME groups. It found that longstanding inequalities are exacerbated by Coronavirus. It also found increased risk of death and complications for BAME people.

Why the disparity?

Although the reasons are complex and varied, an increased risk occurs for a number of reasons, including housing challenges and racism in the workplace and in a healthcare settings, the latter resulting in a reduced likeliness to seek medical help when needed. Greater fear of morbidity also increases reluctance to seek medical help.

The PHE report also found that BAME people are:

  • more likely to work in occupations with a higher risk of exposure to Coronvirus (such as health and social care and retail); 
  • are more likely to use public transport to get to work; and
  • less likely to speak up about their concerns about their health and safety at work.

Furthermore, those from the BAME community are more likely to suffer from health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, which then place them in higher risk categories for Coronavirus.  

Returning to work - employers’ responsibilities

As economic life slowly returns to ‘normal’, employers are putting into place health and safety compliant arrangements for the return to working. Please click here for our guide to ‘life after lockdown’ at work, which includes a summary of your health and safety obligations and tips on how to comply.

In brief, you are required to ensure that, as far as reasonably practicable, you provide a safe system of work for your employees. You must also ensure that this system is implemented (with this aspect of health and safety obligations being the part which is most commonly overlooked by employers).

Practical steps

Taking into account what is now known about the specific risks associated with the return to work for BAME staff, how should you respond? 

  • Audit your workforce to ensure you have the data necessary to understand your risk profile.
  • Your Coronavirus risk assessment and policies should take into account the specific increased risks faced by BAME employees.  The Public Health England report recommended the accelerated development of ‘culturally competent’ occupational risk assessment tools, to reduce employees’ risk of exposure to the virus, particularly for key workers.
  • Additional protective clothing may be required and employers should consider the type of work being undertaken. Working in particular sectors, such as healthcare or transport setting will invariably increase the risks.
  • Keep an open dialogue going with employees. Ensure regular well-being check-ins.  Communicate the increased risk to BAME employees. Ask BAME employees to feed in to your return to work arrangements.  Ensure that any concerns raised by BAME employees are taken seriously and make reasonable adjustments to alleviate their concerns. Managers dealing with health and safety issues and / whistleblowing concerns may need to be educated around the particular risks to BAME people. 
  • Empower BAME employees to speak up about any concerns regarding Personal Protective Equipment or other aspects of the safety of their workplace.  For example, clear reporting lines should be identified and assurances given that concerns will be taken seriously and without repercussion.  If you have a large BAME population, you may wish to appoint BAME Health and Wellbeing Champions.
  • Equalities and health and safety obligations will overlap when bringing BAME staff back to work. As ever, ensure that you have a zero-tolerance approach towards racism and harassment in your workplace. Your equalities policies must be up to date, afforded senior endorsement and actively implemented. Regular training on promoting equalities at work is also a must.
This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at July 2020. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.

Date published

15 July 2020


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