During the pandemic current guidance remains that people who can work from home should do so; however, if you are in a position where you are bringing your staff back to work after lockdown, there a number of points that you must consider.
The CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) identifies 3 tests that employers must pass before bringing their teams back – these are …
Is it essential?
The CIPD are clear in their communication that employers should demonstrate that all practical steps have been taken to ensure that employees feel safe to return.
When returning to work you have a duty to protect, as far as reasonably practicable, employee’s health, safety, and welfare.
So, what practical steps can you take?
Is it essential?
- Take a planned approach and be clear on the business requirement for a return to work – this will underpin your communication and support employees in understanding the reason for the return.
- Keep up to date with government guidance and demonstrate to your teams that you are fully informed on the guidance and why the business is making the decisions it is making.
- Undertake a COVID-19 specific risk assessment and ensure that safe systems of work are in place. Importantly, communicate these to your teams and follow up and make sure that they are being adhered to.
- Adhere to government and HSE guidance on facilitating a return to a COVID-19-secure workplace (not an exhaustive list):
- Adhere to social distancing rules
- Stagger working hours (so all staff are not in at same time)
- Ensure employees are at least 2 metres apart
- Stagger use of social areas such as canteens and kitchens
- Tape 2 metre spaces
- Utilise remote meeting facilities and video-calls should be in place wherever possible to minimise the need for staff to travel.
- Make sure employees are clear about what procedure they should follow if they begin to feel unwell, both in the workplace and at home.
- Be clear on how, as a business, you will approach any incidents of infection to protect all employees.
- You should give staff a reasonable period of notice of requiring them to return to work – whilst they should be ready to return, be flexible in your approach.
- Do you have a procedure to outline how concerns will be dealt with? This will have an impact on your employees’ wellbeing and help alleviate any anxiety they may feel as they know that they will be listened to.
- Listen to concerns and have a virtual open-door policy.
- Be aware of who is vulnerable, be aware of additional duties you have. You may be able to continue with furlough leave, SSP, holidays or agree a period of unpaid leave. Make sure that you are aware as a business of what support is out there for both you and the employee.
- Communicate the practical measures you are taking to staff on a regular basis to help reassure them that their health, well-being, and safety is your top priority.
- If you have employees that refuse to return to work, engage in communication and seek to understand the concerns and reasons for not wishing to return.
- Try to reach an agreement and put steps in place to support the return if you are able.
- If there isn’t a basis for the refusal you may need to manage through a formal process.
As an employer you have a duty to support employee’s mental health during their return to work.
Be conscious of any difficult situation’s employees may have experienced or are experiencing during this period and offer support where you can.
Assess everyone’s circumstance on a case-by-case basis.
You may have employees with childcare challenges or those who are clinically extremely vulnerable and are anxious or have been instructed to shield. Have open conversations and identify ways that you can support your employees.
Here is the legal bit …. if employees have concerns about returning to work, they may have a claim under the Employment Rights Act 1996 for detriment or dismissal.
If a worker raises a concern about a failure to provide a safe working environment this could amount to a protected disclosure under whistleblowing and employees can also contact the HSE with concerns.
Employment, equality, and discrimination laws will apply in the usual way so make sure your decisions are fair.
When your teams return to work a period of re-induction will be important to reacclimatise them to the workplace – especially if they have been furloughed.
Communicate any changes the company has seen, any changes to work duties or tasks or changes to procedures.
If you haven’t already, clearly communicate all that is being done to protect their health, safety, and wellbeing.
In summary, when you are bringing your teams back to work after lockdown ensure that you undertake a COVID-19 risk assessment, consult fully with your employees, ensure that safe systems of work are fully implemented and importantly, communicate fully!
It is important that you stay up to date with the latest Government.
Public Health and HSE guidance, check the sources and ensure that you are clear on your responsibilities as an employer to protect your employees and your business.
Finally, do not underestimate the importance of good solid communication especially in periods of change, which we are continuing to navigate.
Does your business need Employment Law help?
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With over 20 years HR generalist experience across all disciplines, Sarah has worked across a number of business sectors and understands the importance of robust and practical HR processes and trained, motivated and engaged people in delivering business success.
As Wurkplace’s Head of HR, she is passionate about both providing the best HR service to our Clients as well as recruiting, developing and retaining the best team.