In January 2021, the Health and Safety Executive announced that it has received 134,000 covid workplace complaints since the start of the pandemic. In the same month, it was reported that one in eight employees have been ordered to attend the workplace despite government guidance to avoid workplaces where possible.
In early April, employees at the DVLA headquarters in Swansea began a four-day strike due to employees being ‘scared to go to work’ because of growing concerns around COVID-19 safety measures.
If you, as an employer, are looking to start encouraging employees back into the workplace, it is important that you adhere to COVID-19 health and safety guidelines to help alleviate any concerns that employees may have.
Employment lawyer, Owen John, outlines some key tips for safely managing a return to work:
1. The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been extended to 30 September 2021, including its options for flexible furlough. If suitable, it would be beneficial to take advantage of this to stagger the employees returning to work and reduce the number of people at the 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, which 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 and implement those that you can. Each employee is different, so applying the same solution to all employees may not be apt.