Returning to work after lockdown
Updated as of 10 November 2020
The Government has published a range of guidance to support employers re-opening their workplaces after lockdown restrictions and to facilitate employees returning to work. How can employers best prepare for the end of lockdown?
The Government has recently updated its published detailed sector guidance, first published in May, to assist employers in maintaining workplaces secure from Covid-19 risks; https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19
There are 14 guides covering different categories of work environment, for example:
- construction and other outdoor work
- factories, plants and warehouses
- offices and contact centres
- restaurants, pubs, bars and takeaway services
- shops and branches.
Each of the guides is structured around the following framework:
- carrying out a Covid-19 risk assessment, and sharing this risk assessment with employees
- identifying who should come on-site into the workplace – including protection for people at high-risk and those who need to self-isolate
- social distancing at work – maintaining the 2 metre rule wherever possible, including on arrival and departure, and while travelling between sites
- managing customers, visitors and contractors
- cleaning the workplace
- personal protective equipment (PPE) and face coverings. The guidance advises that, with some exceptions such as clinical settings, additional PPE is not beneficial as a means to manage Covid-19 risk, but face coverings may be marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure.
- workforce management – covering the organisation of shift patterns and working groups, the management of work-related travel, and communications and training
- handling of inbound and outbound goods.
It is important for businesses to consider these recommendations in the wider context of their statutory duties and responsibilities as employers under health and safety legislation, such as the duty to provide and maintain a working environment which is safe, free of risks to health and with adequate provision of welfare facilities and arrangements.
This guidance applies to workplaces in England. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own guidance in place.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has also recently updated its range of guidance on making workplaces COVID-secure and the steps which employers can take to protect people in the workplace: https://www.hse.gov.uk/coronavirus/index.htm
The topics which are covered by the HSE guidance include:
- completing a COVID-19 risk assessment
- how to maintain social distancing in the workplace
- cleaning, hygiene and handwashing in the workplace
- communications to staff and providing information
- how to protect home workers
- protecting vulnerable workers.
Reintegration as part of re-opening
Alongside the physical aspects of reopening the workplace, employers also need to consider the intangible and cultural aspects of this process, particularly where some employees have been away from the business for many months on furlough. In some cases a re-induction process for returning staff will be appropriate, so that as well as understanding new workplace procedures they are brought up to speed with changes to the business. Equally by running a concerted programme of return to work meetings, managers can discuss with their employees any changes in their health, personal circumstances or career objectives since they were last in the workplace.
Employers should continue to take a flexible and supportive approach towards their staff working from home as much as possible, particularly vulnerable employees who are higher risk from coronavirus and employees who need to balance their work duties with their caring responsibilities. They should also recognise and embrace the rapid evolution in working practices and methodologies which has occurred during the course of this year.
At the same time employers should consider fresh and innovative measures to optimise engagement and integration where many of their workforce are now working from home. Remote working can create additional challenges in achieving the successful delivery of training and supervision. Employers also need to take active steps to look after the health and well-being of their home-working employees, for example where they are struggling to work effectively in isolation from their colleagues or to manage their working time.
Please contact our Employment team for advice and support on any of these issues or if you have any queries.