Return to work what employers need to know

The relaxation of the lockdown from July 4 means that many businesses are now preparing to open for the first time in more than 100 days.

The three-month lockdown has been an incredibly frustrating period for very many companies – particularly those in the retail, tourism and hospitality sectors – and it is understandable that they will want to get up and running again as soon as possible.

But there is much work which needs to be done to be certain that the workplace can be reopened safely – and protect the employer from possible legal action by staff and customers in the event of a coronavirus outbreak.

Firstly, it’s important to bear in mind that employees who can work from home are still being advised to do so.

If you do have staff who can operate just as effectively away from the workplace, allow them to do so. Aside from the impact on morale of dragging people back in against their wishes, should they return and contract the virus, they may be able to bring a claim against you.

You should also consider very carefully what action to take against any member of staff who refuses to return, even if their work cannot be done from home. There is considerable – and understandable -  concern amongst many people, particularly those in customer-facing roles, about the risk of contracting the virus.

ACAS says employers should consult with staff to try to reach agreements about returning to work and that whilst staff should be ready to return, employers should also be flexible. So apply some judgement and treat each case on its merits.

Employers also have a responsibility to ensure the workplace is safe for staff. In terms of coronavirus that means carrying out a full risk assessment and implement risk management measures to safeguard employees' health and minimise the risk of infection.

You’ll need to stay on top of the latest Government guidance and consider a range of issues before opening up your doors to staff again. These include:

  • Ensuring staff are aware of any new measures you have introduced to keep them safe and are clear about what rules and procedures they should now follow, especially if they begin to feel unwell.
  • A thorough review of your workplace. You will need to ensure that staff can keep a safe distance between each other not just at their workstations but also in communal areas such as canteens. You will also need to consider what you need to do to minimise the number of people each member of staff interacts with and whether staggered shifts is an option.
  • A thorough audit of your hygiene provisions. Do you have enough hand washing stations? Can staff use the toilets safely? Is there an adequate supply of hand sanitiser? Have you briefed staff about how often they should clean their workstations and their hands? If you have been closed for the lockdown, consider a deep-clean of your premises before any staff are allowed back on site.
  • You may need to consider providing additional PPE, including gloves, masks or anti-viral hand gel. If this is the case you will also need to consider training staff on how to use PPE correctly and safely. And you may need to have a plan for testing staff for signs of Covid-19.
  • Continue to encourage remote meetings and video-conferencing where you can, and consider what additional protective equipment or facilities staff who have to travel or visit other company premises may need.
  • You’ll also need to consider the psychological impacts of returning to work on your staff. If you don’t have wellbeing policies in place, now is the time to introduce them. Many colleagues will have suffered bereavements, social isolation, stress and anxiety during the last three months and will need help to settle back into the work regime.
  • Ensure all staff are given access to return-to-work meetings which focus on health, safety and well-being. Be sensitive ion discussing people’s concerns and respond where appropriate. This is a good opportunity to also go through new procedures with staff so that they are aware of the steps you have taken to protect them.

The situation is changing all the time, so if you do have any concerns we recommend getting professional advice as soon as possible. Our free consultation is a great place to start. Just click the button and we’ll take it from there.

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