InsightsInsight - Employment & HR - POSTED: March 18 2021
COVID-19: Top tips – returning to the workplace
Our top tips on steps to take now to prepare for returning to the workplace and supporting your employees’ wellbeing when doing so
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The current government guidance is to work from home where possible, with people expected to only attend their workplace where they cannot reasonably work from home.
But with the recent announcement that there will be easing of these restrictions from 21 June, we recommend that if you are an employer, you start thinking now about how you will deal with a return to the workplace.
This will look different for different employees. For some it may be a return from a period of furlough leave, or for others a physical return to the office environment. Some may have been though challenging times during the pandemic (they may have been ill, or suffered loss), so the impact on wellbeing will vary.
In our recent webinar, delivered with partners West Kent Mind, we covered the legal considerations for employers on how to address employees’ mental health during this difficult time and the general steps you can take now to prepare for a return to the workplace and support employees’ wellbeing when doing so.
Read on for a top tips summary.
Top tips – returning to the workplace
1. Start thinking about the approach you will take as a business
Will you be looking to introduce a phased return? Will you be expecting all employees to return at once? Is homeworking going to become more permanent? Any changes to contractual terms such as place of work or working hours, will need to be considered and agreed with employees in advance.
Carrying out workplace surveys can be a good starting point to finding out how employees are feeling about returning to work.
Regularly communicate with staff and continue to keep these lines of communication open.
Making sure staff are updated on the return to work plans will help to support their wellbeing, as will ensuring they are updated on any practical measures being taken including risk assessments and any social distancing, hygiene measures and any other health and safety guidelines being put in place.
3. Risk assessments
Make sure appropriate risk assessments are in place to safeguard your employees’ health and safety and control risks in the workplace.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides advice on how to carry out risk assessments, and ensuring working environments are COVID secure. There is also guidance available on how to manage stress at work. This is explained in more detail in this article.
4. Reassure your employees
Communicate to employees that their health and wellbeing is being considered and taken into account in your return to work plans.
Let employees know what support is available to support their mental health and wellbeing. This may be signposting to the details of an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), or other support available. For example, through Occupational Health.
Also let them know what steps you are doing to keep them safe, for example the use of face coverings or other PPE.
5. Induction processes
Think about putting induction processes in place for returning staff, particularly those who have been on furlough leave.
Consider whether any training needs to be offered for those who may have been out of the business.
6. Listen to concerns
If employees have concerns about returning to the workplace, it is important to listen to these and take them seriously. Particularly so if the person is refusing to return to the workplace.
Consider what measures can be put in place to alleviate their concerns or whether any adjustments can be made. This could include, for example, allowing remote meetings to avoid travel, or to allow a longer period of working from home.
Employers should be mindful of the duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees with long term physical or mental health conditions, who may have protection under the Equality Act 2010.
7. Support staff
Be aware of ways you can support staff who continue to have caring responsibilities once they return to work. This could include directing them towards your policies on parental leave or time off for dependents leave where people are eligible, allowing them to use annual leave or in some circumstances placing them on furlough leave.
Make sure these policies are up to date. Also ensure that managers are trained on how to use them consistently.
8. Flexible working
Finally, we anticipate that employers will see a rise in flexible working requests when workplaces reopen. Think now about how such request will be handled, and be prepared to deal with these in a fair and consistent way.
For further guidance on the issues covered in this article, book a free 30-minute consultation with our Employment team today.
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