In early April, employees at the DVLA headquarters in Swansea staged a four-day strike following a large outbreak of Covid-19 in their workplace.
The employees complained that large numbers of staff were being unnecessarily required to attend the office at the same time, and that the safety measures put in place by the DVLA to mitigate the dangers of this were inadequate. It has been reported that this has led to over 560 cases of Covid-19 among DVLA employees.
Both the outbreak of cases and the bitter dispute that has followed demonstrate some of the challenges employers face in returning staff to a physical workplace.
Employment lawyer, Owen John, from Darwin Gray, outlines some key tips for safely managing a return to work:
1.The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been extended to 30 September 2021, and this includes the option to flexibly furlough employees. If suitable, it may be beneficial to take advantage of the scheme to stagger employees returning to the workplace and reduce the numbers at a premises at any one time.
2.Consider whether any employees will be able to continue working from home effectively and prioritise the return to work for those employees who need to be on the premises to do their job.
3.Ensure that you have an up to date and comprehensive risk assessment in place that is available to all employees. The health and safety guidelines are continuously updated so make sure to keep on top of the changes and ensure your workplace practices adhere to the guidelines.
4.Be mindful of employees who may be anxious about returning to work, whether it be because of their own health conditions or caring for someone vulnerable. A requirement for everyone to return to work regardless of their circumstances may give rise to potential discrimination claims.
5.Communicate with employees about the return to the workplace and listen to their concerns. Make sure to explain what safety measures are in place to protect them. This will in turn give employees more confidence that their safety is the paramount concern.
6.Try to be flexible where appropriate. Duly consider any flexible working requests and any reasonable adjustments which could assist employees with easing back into the workplace. Every employee is different, so applying the same solution to all employees may not be appropriate.