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What to think about when returning to the workplace

With discussions firmly on how the government will be easing lockdown measures, what is safe to say is that it will be a slow and gradual process.

On Sunday, Boris Johnson is expected to outline what will be eased and how we can get people back to work and the economy up and running with minimal impact on the progress made in reducing the number of Coronavirus cases. Staff who can work from home are expected to continue to do so, however, those who cannot work from home the priority is making your workplace safe.

Businesses need to start thinking now about how they will work when the easing starts. It is expected that social distancing will still be key, and businesses should be looking at how keeping to the 2m distance is possible.

Below are a number of measures businesses can take and should be thinking about. This may not apply to all organisations however, it is imperative that whatever you decide to do, it is important to get your business back up and running with the health, safety and well being of your employees a key part of this happening.

 

Before returning to work…

  • Before employees go back to the workplace a risk assessment should be carried out on the premise. Can social distancing measures be adhered to? Will you require PPE? Think about training that may need to be carried out on the use and the disposal of PPE.
  • It is advisable that a workplace has had a deep clean and schedule regular and thorough cleans.
  • Communicate to employees how you intend to make the workplace safe and how the government advice is being adopted.
  • You may want to look at a staggered approach to bringing back employees into the workplace (where appropriate). Think about who you are going to unfurlough first (be mindful of any discriminatory criteria inadvertently being used) and be prepared for questions such as “why me?” or “why not me?” Businesses may want to review work times and ensure that employee interaction is kept at a minimum.
  • A project plan will be extremely useful at this stage to take into account all the various factors that will need to be reviewed and actioned. We can do this time-consuming task for you!

 

In the workplace…

  • Return to work “meetings” will be crucial in communicating the current expectations, a way of reintroducing those who were furloughed back into the workplace. It will be a great opportunity to address any concerns. The aim will be to get your business running smoothly and quickly so addressing issues first enable this.
  • Ensure that hand sanitisers are readily available and encourage washing hands frequently.
  • Are there any alternatives to touch based security pads? Are you able to limit numbers using the lift? Is it possible to have more entry and exit points? Think about having one entrance and one for exiting a workplace.
  • Businesses may want to think about social distance markers on the floor in the hallways/canteens/kitchens. Don’t make drinks for others and if you share a fridge or kitchen ensure food is securely wrapped up. Employees should use their own mugs/crockery/cutlery to minimise any spread of the virus.
  • Avoid working face to face and encourage working side by side. Do you need to put up any screen divides?
  • Reduce job and location rotation where possible.
  • Travel- if employees need to use public transport (buses/trains) there are number of factors to think about. The frequency of the transport may not be as it was and therefore could affect working times. Employees may be too scared to go on public transport and therefore masks may be advised and ensuring social distancing.
  • Unfortunately not all businesses are going to be able to get back up and running to how they were before the lockdown and if once the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme ends the work has decreased redundancies and short time working may be options to think about. You may want to start thinking about this now to ensure that financial impact in minimised. We strongly advise that you seek legal advice in this area.
  • How are you going to manage those who are shielding or have caring responsibilities? Think about what reasonable adjustments you can make (where appropriate).
  • If you haven’t addressed the health and well being of your staff do so now! You may find that employees are anxious and fearful about returning to the workplace. How will you manage this? What if an employee refuses to return- what will your response be? Each case should be dealt with on a case by case basis. However, if you have carried out a risk assessment and undertaken the above measures (where applicable) disciplinary action could be taken.
  • You may find that more employees have mental health issues and business will need to manage this. Take advice from occupational health and mental health specialists on how to get them working effectively.
  • Create an environment where employees feel supported and included. There may be tensions between those who were furloughed and those who were not.
  • Review your policies- for example what happens if an employee falls sick at work? What will be the process?
  • Expect an increase in flexible working requests and think about how you are going to manage them? Use your flexible working policy and contact us if you need any support on dealing with requests.

 

Review…

Continually review your workplaces and systems to ensure that it is a safe place to work for your employees and always keep up to date with the latest government guidance. Maintaining employees trust and confidence during this time will be key for a smoother transition and a quicker bounce back for your business. Take this opportunity to learn what can be improved within your business and how it is run. What can be done better moving forward?

This period can be overwhelming especially as the above list is not exhaustive and each business will have their own challenges. We are here to help you manage these situations from a HR perspective or indeed provide robust legal advice. Get in touch to speak to our employment law solicitors and HR consultants.


What to think about when returning to the workplace

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