Returning to the Workplace

With the Government expected to announce today that those who have been working from home can now return to work, what do you need to do to prepare?

Bear in mind that at the time of writing this, those who have been Shielding have been advised that they can return to work from 1st August 2020.

1. Planning and preparations

  • This isn’t one size fits all. Plans will be specific to your business. Consider the short term and longer term requirements of the business. What work needs to be done, by when?
  • Be prepared to be flexible and adjust your plans as you go along – we don’t know what is round the corner (another lockdown?).
  • Prepare for disruption to your plans due to events such as the Test and Trace service advising employees to self isolate, a local lockdown being announced or staff who have gone on holiday being stuck in a local lockdown in the UK or abroad. What is your plan B? Who will cover the work of individuals if they can’t do their jobs as planned?
  • Communication is key. Be open and honest with your staff and give as much information as possible. Explain what you are doing and why you are doing it. 
  • Keep staff updated on any plans and COVID-secure safeguarding measures being put in place.
  • Complete a COVID-19 Risk Assessment and follow the guidelines that are available to make sure your premises are safe to return to. Further information is available at:

Make your workplace COVID-secure – Working safely during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19) – Guidance – GOV.UK

  • Ensure employees are fully briefed complete training on any new new COVID-19 Health and Safety procedures that you have put in place and that they know the procedures that they need to follow when they return to the workplace.
  • Give as much notice as possible of any changes that will affect your employees.
  • Consider:
    • Do you have any staff who have been told to shield for 12 weeks? Have they been told to continue shielding until 1st August 2020?
    • Some employees may feel stressed or anxious about returning to work. Provide all employees with access to Mental Health / Wellbeing courses (see the section at the end of this article).
    • Arranging Mental Health First Aider Training.
  • Write to employees to confirm when they will be coming back and their place of work (if you have multiple locations).

2. What if employees are refusing to come back to the workplace?

  • Be fair and reasonable.
  • Staff are not obliged to return to work if the environment is not safe and the company is not fulfilling its H&S obligations and there is “serious or imminent danger”.
  • Bear in mind that employees may be concerned about travelling on public transport, worried that the workplace is not safe, have childcare issues as schools are still closed, have suffered a bereavement due to COVID-19 etc.
  • However, if an employee has not been advised by the government or medical practitioner to stay at home, then you can expect them to come back to the workplace.
  • Speak to employees individually to understand what they feel is stopping them from coming back. 
  • Explain the position that the business is in, why you need them to return to the workplace.
  • Turn the question back onto them – Ask what they want you to do / what can you do to make them feel able to return to work? Try to find solutions that suit both parties.
  • Ask how long they think it will be before they can return to the workplace. Can you accommodate that amount of time away from the workplace?
  • As a temporary measure, offer holiday or unpaid leave (confirm in writing with an end / review date)?
  • If the employee has childcare issues due to schools being closed:
    • Can they temporarily work different hours / days / weekends on a temporary basis?
    • Can they temporarily work from business premises for some of their hours and from home for the rest?
    • Ask how they would normally deal with childcare eg during school holidays?
  • If they are living with someone who is shielding:
    • They don’t have to shield themselves, but should follow social distancing guidelines, available here: Shielding Guidelines
    • On a temporary basis, give them a job in the workplace away from others?
  • If they are concerned about using public transport:
    • Introduce staggered start times so that they can travel off-peak?
    • Provide them with the guidelines for using public transport: Safer Travel Guidance for Passengers
    • Ask how long they feel they will not be able to use public transport for? Can you accommodate that amount of time away from their workplace? Do they need to consider finding a job closer to home?
  • If you feel that the reasons for not returning to the workplace are not valid: 
    • Ask them to confirm their reasons for not returning in writing, so that you can give a formal response?
    • Offer a short period of holiday or unpaid leave before you expect them to return?
    • Consider a phased return ie put a plan together, covering a few weeks ,enabling them to work from home some days and from the business premises on others. The amount of time in the workplace should be increased each week until they are doing their full hours at work.
    • Offer a visit the workplace when it is quiet to see what measures have been put in place?
    • Ask them to confirm if they still wish to work for the company? 
  • As a last resort, begin the disciplinary process for failure to follow a reasonable instruction and / or being AWOL – seek advice first!

Important: 

  • Document all discussions and decisions.
  • This is a good time to re-issue your company Disciplinary Policy, reminding staff of the consequences of failing to comply with H&S requirements and putting others at risk.
  • To minimise the chances of an employee resigning and claiming constructive dismissal, make sure they are treated fairly and reasonably, in line with all existing UK employment procedures and laws.

Free Mental Health & Wellbeing support

And finally, as a bit of fun, spot the “working safely during coronavirus” fails in the image below!