Over the weekend the government advised that those industries where workers cannot work from home should now return to work. Although there is no fixed date as to when the overall lockdown will end, businesses should now start planning what a return to work will look like for their employees.

Official guidance has now been published on how to make workplaces safe for employees. It sets out practical steps for businesses focused on 5 key points, which should be implemented as soon as it is practical:

  • Staff should work from home if they can.
  • Carry out a risk assessment, businesses with over 50 employees are expected to publish the results on their website. You can find template risk assessments on the HSE website.
  • Maintain 2 metre social distancing where possible.
  • Where people cannot be 2 metres apart, manage the transmission risk by putting in barriers, creating workshift patterns or face colleagues away from each other.
  • Reinforce cleaning processes paying close attention to high contact items like keyboards and door handles.

The government guidance is broken down into the following sectors:

There is no one-size fits all approach, and ultimately each business needs to devise its own strategy based on the guidance but also their own individual circumstances.

There will be many other wider factors to consider as the country returns to what is likely to be a ‘new normal.’ These will include:

  • Businesses unable to afford to take staff back at the end of the furlough period (now the end of October). Many will need to consider offering unpaid leave, reduced hours / salary or redundancy.
  • How employees will travel to and from work safely if many rely on public transport.
  • How to continue with remote working, inevitable for many businesses.
  • Motivating returning staff and helping to protect their mental health (see our blog post on supporting employee wellbeing).
  • Managing staff holidays, with returning staff expecting to take holiday during the second half of the year.
  • Addressing the issue of business travel in the future.

Employers now have a huge responsibility to take care of their staff and ensure their physical and mental wellbeing whilst at work. Many will be anxious about returning, and many may be keen to continue with the remote working they have experienced so far.

Our advice, in addition to the official guidance, would be to assess the following areas:

  1. Infrastructure

Assess the workplace in the first instance with a risk assessment to identify how it will work best to bring staff back in. Consider:

  • Social distancing at work stations / meetings / communal areas such as toilets and kitchens. If in larger buildings then use of lifts and access to and from the building.
  • Provision of protective items such as hand gels / sanitisers / handwashing facilities and possibly the provision of gloves and masks.

A phased return is generally being advised so you will need to consider how many staff can return to the workplace, when and why. Be careful not to discriminate against staff when making these decisions and take into consideration different circumstances.

During this time, it would be advisable to review staff holidays and encourage employees to take some time off now or consider rolling over to next year to protect the business in the second half of the year.

If the business is not able to afford to bring back employees fully after furlough then it may have to consider: offering reduced hours / salary or redundancy.

  1. Admin

Recalling employees and getting the business back up and running will require notice and all staff will require return to work letters (including those on furlough).

Payroll will also need to be notified to make salary adjustments.

Sickness policies and employment contracts may need to be updated to reflect the new set of requirements.

  1. Staff motivation and mental health

This has undoubtedly been a stressful time for everyone, and many employees may feel anxious about returning to the workplace. Consider a re-induction process for returners to reset targets, assess priorities and gain a sense of how they are feeling. Employers will need to be flexible to deal with staff requests and understanding about how this new situation is likely to affect their performance.

There may also be increased requests for flexible working as many employees try to reset the work / life balance they have experienced during lockdown.

For advice and guidance please get in touch and one of our consultants will be happy to help. Download our Return-to-work-checklist.pdf for preparing for return to work. Information correct as of 12th May 2020.