As lockdown eases and more businesses start to re-open their doors, are you thinking about returning to the workplace? Whether you’re rushing back in or planning a phased return, there’s lots for your business to consider.
To help you comply with your legal obligations and hit the ground running, we’ve set out some key considerations for your business below.
To check each step off as you go, download our free return to the workplace checklist!
1. Safety first!
You must carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment before re-opening after lockdown. If you still need to do yours, use our template COVID-19 risk assessment; it’s updated regularly, in line with the latest Government guidance. You must consult with health and safety representatives in your business when you’re carrying out your risk assessment, but consulting with staff more broadly may also be a good idea. It will help to make sure you address all of the risks and may ease anxieties they have about returning if they feel part of the process.
Once you’ve completed your risk assessment, make sure you put appropriate measures in place to address any risks you’ve identified and to make sure your workplace is COVID-19 Secure before you head back in. For example, you’ll need to ensure that staff can socially distance and that you’ve implemented good cleaning and hygiene processes. The Government has also advised employers to share the results of their risk assessment with staff, and if you have more than 50 employees, they recommend publishing it on your website.
Remember that carrying out a risk assessment isn’t just a box ticking exercise and you’ll need to make sure you stay up to date with any new Government guidance. Put a process in place to keep your safety measures under review and make sure someone is made responsible for keeping it up to date!
We recommend that you give our Q&A on health and safety when returning to work during coronavirus a read to make sure you’re opening safely!
2. Knowing when to take extra care
Staff who were previously shielding before the guidance was paused for them, or those who are in clinically vulnerable groups, may be particularly worried about returning to the office. You’ll need to take extra care to ensure that they’re able to properly socially distance, and it may be more appropriate to continue to allow them to work from home to ensure their safety. Remember that if their medical condition amounts to a disability, you must make reasonable adjustments for them!
3. Listening to concerns
Whilst some of your staff might be eager to return, others may have concerns. To help ease any anxieties it’s a good idea to tell your staff what steps you’ve taken to make sure their work environment is safe and to listen carefully to them to see what you can do to help. For example, if staff have concerns about the commute, you could think about how to help them avoid travelling at peak times; from providing extra car parking spaces or bike racks, to allowing them to stagger their start and finish times.
If staff simply refuse to come back in, you could make it a disciplinary issue, but we recommend trying to reach a compromise first. It’s important to tread carefully to avoid claims of discrimination or even unfair dismissal if you fire an employee for not coming back in.
4. How flexible are you?
When you decide to return to the workplace, you might find that some staff want to discuss their ongoing working arrangements with you. This might be because they have ongoing childcare or caring responsibilities, they might be anxious about returning or they might simply have enjoyed working from home and want to carry on!
Whatever your business’s policy on flexible working, it’s a good idea to listen to staff members’ individual circumstances and try to reach an agreement with them. Your health and safety obligations towards staff extend to their mental health, which includes work-related stress and anxiety. You should also remember that some employees have a legal right to formally request flexible working, and although you don’t have to agree, you have to handle these requests reasonably and can only reject them for specific business reasons. To find out more, read our Q&A on flexible working.
If you don’t already have a flexible working policy in place, now would be a good time to draw one up to make sure you deal with requests consistently and transparently. Use our template to put one in place!
5. Smoothing the transition
If some of your staff have been on furlough for a long time and will be coming back to work when you re-open, it might be helpful to re-onboard them. Not only will this smooth their transition back into work after a long period of absence, but it will also help to bring them up to speed with any new policies, procedures or technologies (or even changes to your workforce!) that you’ve put in place in the meantime.
Before joining Sparqa Legal as a Senior Legal Editor in 2017, Frankie spent five years training and practising as a corporate disputes and investigations lawyer at leading international law firm Hogan Lovells. As legal insights lead, Frankie regularly contributes to Sparqa Legal’s blog, writing content across employment law, data protection, disputes and more.