May 29, 2020
Laura Masterton explores what employers should be considering now and practical tips on how to deal with the return to the workplace:
Start making your plans now for the health and safety measures you will need to put in place, considering issues such as PPE, hand sanitiser stations, deep cleaning, and social distancing rules (including in entrances, lifts, toilets and canteens). Be clear on your rules and guidance on health and safety at work, and tell your staff that you are taking all reasonable measures necessary to keep the workplace clean in order to appease any anxiety. Tell them to discuss their concerns with you and if they want to formally report any concerns what the process for this is.
It is highly unlikely that any easing of the lockdown will allow for a wholescale return of the workforce. You should therefore prepare a staggered approach for your staff; for example, splitting teams and rotating their time in the workplace, combining a mixture of remote working and site working. Try and strike a balance between asking key workers to return to the workplace and the requirements of staff who may be physically vulnerable, shielding those who are vulnerable, pregnant, or who have dependents to care for.
As an employer, it is vital that you support and manage employee mental health. They may be anxious about returning to the workplace after months of social distancing, so before they return have a plan in place for supporting their mental health. For example, consider allowing flexible working or time off to attend counselling sessions, set up weekly catch up meetings, or organise training sessions on how to manage mental health. Above all, communicating effectively with staff will help them settle back into daily work life.
Some staff might be reluctant to return to the workplace if they have health and safety concerns or caring responsibilities. Reassure them that you are controlling the risks and if they still refuse to come into work consider furlough leave or unpaid leave if the scheme is no longer running. In time, if they continue to refuse to come into work despite all reasonable measures in place, disciplinary action may be appropriate.
If you cannot afford to pay your staff their full salaries make sure you can justify any reductions, communicate these reasons clearly through a process of consultation with staff, and obtain fresh employee consent to pay reductions if necessary. If you keep them properly informed and up to date with all your decisions it will build trust and confidence between you as employer and employee.
The nature of working has changed due to the lockdown as the majority of the UK’s workforce has had to work remotely. As a result, you may receive flexible working requests as staff ask to carry on working from home for convenience or due to caring responsibilities. You may have found that remote working has been beneficial to your business. However, you are entitled to refuse a flexible working request if you have a sound business reason for doing so. Be careful not to inadvertently discriminate because of a protected characteristic (such as disability) that a staff member may have.
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