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Managing Your Employee’s Return To Work: Post COVID-19 Lockdown

Article Background

As the UK starts to ease lockdown we are speaking to many organisations about their return to work. How do you feel about your team coming back? Has lockdown given you time to reassess flexible working options? Do you have the right team in place?

As well as keeping up-to-date with the latest Government guidance, here is our advice to employers looking to manage their team’s return to work:

Communicating with your teams

As an employer, it will be your duty to ensure that you discuss any plans for your employees to return to work as soon as possible. We suggest talking about:

  • When they might return to the workplace
  • How they will travel to and from work
  • How health and safety is being reviewed and managed – you should share the latest risk assessment where possible, more advice on this will follow below
  • Planned adjustments to the workplace, for example additional hand washing facilities, staggering start and finish times to avoid overcrowding or floor markings to help people keep 2 metres apart
  • If there will be a phased return of the workforce, for example some staff returning before others
  • Flexible/working from home arrangements and support

Wherever possible, you should speak to your staff before making a decision or putting plans in writing. This can help you better understand  their needs and concerns and supports an ethos of being included in organisational decisions.

Phased return stages

Where employees have been furloughed, you should consider to operate a phased return. It is necessary to reduce the numbers of people at the workplace to comply with social distancing, plus the workload is likely to slowly increase over time rather than immediately returning to pre-pandemic levels.

WIth many worried about their employment status during and after this pandemic, it’s important to ensure that you communicate that the phased return is purely for employee welfare and safety and not necessarily a reason to doubt future employment.

Across London and the rest of the UK, thousands of employees are being asked to return to work. But many employers are faced with a furloughed employee who refuses. If this situation arises, you will need to look for compromises. Be proactive in speaking to the employee to determine their specific issues and concerns and then work with them to look at alternative options. Can they work from home and, if an employee is unable to work from home, what specific health advice is available to you as their employer that could be shared with them. Could they be placed in an alternative role in the business in which they do feel safe? These factors will need to be taken into consideration during what is a concerning period for many.

Workplace Risk Assessment

Preparing the workplace is essential. Setting out clear standards and processes will reduce the worry for your teams and minimise health and safety risks for you and your employees.

  • In every workplace, increasing the frequency of handwashing, and surface cleaning
  • Government guidelines suggest that employers should make every reasonable effort to enable working from home as a first option. Where working from home is not possible, workplaces should make every reasonable effort to comply with the social distancing guidelines set out by the government (keeping people 2m apart wherever possible).
  • Where the social distancing guidelines cannot be followed in full, in relation to a particular activity, such as meetings and group activity, you should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the business to operate, and, if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between your staff. i.e:
    • Ensuring the activity time is as short as possible
    • Using markers/barriers to seperate people
    • Side-to-side working rather than face-to-face
    • Fixed teams/partnering to reduce the number of people each person comes into contact with. With limited people in the office/workplace per day.
    • Introducing a one-way systems
    • One-to-one assessments with every employee returning to the workplace must be conducted to establish the level of vulnerability to COVID19. The government has clearly stated that No one is obliged to work in an unsafe work environment.

Coming into and leaving the office

The government has highlighted that the steps that will usually be needed are:

  • Staggering arrival and departure times at work to reduce crowding into and out of the workplace, taking account of the impact on those with protected characteristics.
  • Providing additional parking or facilities such as bike racks to help people walk, run, or cycle to work where possible.
  • Limiting passengers in corporate vehicles, for example, work minibuses. This could include leaving seats empty.
  • Reducing congestion, for example, by having more entry points to the workplace.
  • Providing more storage for workers for clothes and bags.
  • Using markings and introducing one-way flow at entry and exit points.
  • Providing handwashing facilities, or hand sanitiser where not possible, at entry and exit points and not using touch-based security devices such as keypads.
  • Maintaining use of security access devices, such as keypads or passes, and adjusting processes at entry/exit points to reduce risk of transmission. For example, cleaning pass readers regularly and asking staff to hold their passes next to pass readers rather than touching them.
  • See here for further government guidance on travelling to and from work.

New ways of using your workspace

  • Reduce movement and discourage non-essential trips within the office, for example, restricting access to some areas, encouraging use of telephones and cleaning them between use.
  • Restrict access between different areas of a building. Ie. 2 people in the kitchen at any one time and Sharing the responsibility of wiping down surface areas upon leaving the space.
  • Reducing job and location rotation.
  • Introducing more one-way flow through buildings.
  • Reducing maximum occupancy for lifts, providing hand sanitiser for the operation of lifts and encouraging use of stairs wherever possible.
  • Managing use of high traffic areas including corridors, lifts turnstiles and walkways to maintain social distancing.

Managing holidays and employee wellbeing

As an employer, you know it's your duty to ensure that you support your team’s physical, mental and environmental wellbeing.

Your approach to holiday is likely to depend on how much work there is in the pipeline. If, even after lockdown restrictions are lifted, workload is low, you may want to consider preventing employees from cancelling their previously approved holiday to ensure employees are available later in the holiday year when workload may increase.

Quite fairly, you may have employees who are reluctant to take holiday whilst many travel restrictions are in place, as an employer you can also require them to take leave, subject to legal requirements under the Working Time Regulations/any procedure set out in a collective agreement or contract of employment.

You should also be mindful of various issues including health and safety obligations in ensuring that employees have reasonable breaks for their mental and physical wellbeing. Share government health advice and helplines for wellbeing if they need further support that you feel you are not able give,

To conclude, there are many factors to consider to ensure that you, your business and your employee are safe during this period of further transition back into the workplace.

The CIPD suggests that it is important to ensure you can meet three key tests before bringing their people back to the workplace:

  • Is it essential?
  • Is it sufficiently safe?
  • Is it mutually agreed?

We are speaking to many clients who are phasing returns for their teams and will make it our duty of care as recruiters to share best practice. If you need any support with your plans, we are here to help. Contact your specialist recruiter for immediate support Here, email  or call 020 7269 6333