Are we able to return to work? This is one of the main questions on every employer and employee’s mind. As we know, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the whole working situation has been very touch and go for most people. And with the current government guidelines and restrictions easing over time, the working situation should start to be reviewed.
What are the current government guidelines in relation to returning to work?
As we are all aware, government guidelines are easing in stages; However, the working from home guidance remains the same.
‘People should continue to work from home where possible.’
Now, looking at each stage of the restrictions easing process, the government are continuing to encourage homeworking throughout.
This means, that you should go to work if you are unable to undertake your work from home, and are able to travel to work. This rule is for everyone, not just key workers.
You should not go to work if you:
- Are self-isolating due to identifying COVID-19 symptoms
- Have tested positive or have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
- Are in quarantine after travelling
(Please note that these are the rules for England, however Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland are essentially the same).
I have been shielding, what is my situation?
As of the April 1st, those who are extremely clinically vulnerable are no longer required to shield. You are still eligible for furlough; However, you are not eligible for Statutory Sick Pay, unless you are unwell and unable to work.
To summarise, this means that if you cannot work from home, you are required to go into work. It may be daunting to return to work after shielding, but the NHS has provided some guidelines to help you.
If you are required to physically come into work to undertake your job, your employer must ensure that all possible protective measures are undertaken to ensure your safety, including:
- Undertake an individual risk assessment for you
- Explain what protective measures have been introduced to ensure your safety
- Review any additional adjustments to reduce the risk of transmission, for example moving you to another job role for the meantime, to allow you to work from home.
(This is for England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland may have different guidelines/timelines).
I have children/someone to care for, what shall I do?
This situation depends on the employer. For example, they may agree to furlough you; The government has confirmed the possibility. Some may agree to allow the individual to take annual leave, or unpaid parental leave. And some employers may agree to re arrange the individuals work patterns or work hours e.g. move to 2 days a week from full time. This is a conversation that the individual would need to have with their employer.
If I’m required to return to work, what should my employer be doing to ensure my safety?
Each industry has different guidelines, so if you are interested in seeing the specific guidelines for your industry, follow this link to the gov.uk website and search for your industry.
While there are specific guidelines for each industry, here are a few overarching measures that your employers should follow to ensure your safety:
- Undertake a COVID-19 Risk Assessment
- Minimise the number of visitors, and the number of times they visit
- Ensure staff can and adhere to social distancing (2m) where possible. If 2m isn’t possible, staff should adhere to 1m distancing
- Arrange for frequent cleaning of surfaces, handles and communal areas etc
- Introduce extra hand washing facilities and sanitisers
- Introduce one-way pedestrian routes to minimise contact
- If necessary, stagger the staffs start and end times; This minimises the number of people entering and leaving at the same time
- If possible, position staff to work side to side or back to back, rather than face to face.
(Note that this is the guidance for England, however Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have similar guidance).
If an employee feels unsafe in their workplace and/or that their employer hasn’t undertaken the required actions to ensure their safety, they can contact the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or their local authority and notify them of this so corrective action can be taken.