What is it?
It is a workplace health and safety policy that sets out the dos and don’ts of how to operate in the coronavirus-altered landscape. Employers have a duty of care to ensure a safe environment for their employees and, in this case, it means clubs carrying out risk assessments of their facilities, educating their players and staff members about them and therefore mitigating against them catching the virus or passing it on to somebody else. There has been a good deal of focus on how the players have been asked to sign the form as part of the league’s return-to-train plan but it will be rolled out for everyone who goes back to the training grounds. It is also a way of auditing who has been made aware of the protocols and who has not.
Who has drawn it up?
Based on government advice, the league put together a template that was aimed at helping clubs to risk-assess their facilities. The clubs have then created a document bespoke to their own facilities because every training ground is different and so is every method of training.
Why has it become so controversial?
Some players have interpreted it as a sign-your-life-away waiver that could remove recourse to legal action in the event that they catch the virus at work and see their careers/future earnings affected. Consequently, they have been wary of it and, in some cases, hesitant to sign. It was mentioned during Wednesday’s conference call between the players and the league. Is it not simply a backside-covering exercise by the clubs and their regulatory body, the league?
What do the clubs say?
In a worst-case scenario, if a player caught the virus and tried to sue for negligence or breach of health and safety in the workplace, the clubs could make a number of arguments. They would have followed the advice of government, which has told people to go back to work, plus that of their regulatory body; they would have carried out risk assessments, put protocols and procedures in place, educated, got people to sign off. What more could they do?
What does the PFA say?
In the first instance, if any of the union’s members are concerned, they ought to contact them. Nothing should be signed without full understanding. But the sense is that it is a pretty standard form, free of sinister undertones. The union has been through it with a number of players to reassure them.
One other thing …
From a legal point of view, it would be difficult for a player to prove that they caught the virus at the training ground – unless they could cite a breach of the protocols, and the clubs intend to work hard to ensure that there are not any of those; that everyone is on the same page with regard to them. The clubs could say that they did everything by the book and it would be unlikely that anyone could have been infected on site. The burden of proof on the claimant would be high. What is to say that they did not catch it from a family member who was at the supermarket?