The Prime Minister has informed us that those who can work from home, should continue to do so. Those who cannot work from home, should now be returning to work. What does that mean for you as an employer?
You will need to have a risk management plan in place before you allow anyone to return to work. This plan should evaluate the risks of infection and transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace, and how you will mitigate those risks in addition to social distancing. The plan should also contain information around what PPE and associated training will be provided for employees. You have a duty to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of your employees, especially in these circumstances. Review your workplace and evaluate how you can enforce social distancing, or at least protect employees, if your type of work doesn't allow for social distancing. Your risk mangement plan should also include what additional hygiene measures you will take to support the safety of employees at work. Consider getting a deep clean done before employees come back to the workplace.
Make sure you have a very clear absence procedure in place and ensure all employ, either at home or in the workplace. Consider how you will manage employee morale if a colleague does need to self isolate due to COVID-19 symptoms. Remember that, telling everyone Joan on Reception has Coronavirus would be considered a breach of confidentiality, so be sensitive and tread carefully. Have a clear plan of what you will do and when, if an employee calls in with symptoms. You need to ensure you are consistent in managing this in order to treat everyone fairly.
Think very carefully about how you will select employees to return from furlough if you are considering a phased approach. It will be very easy for you to fall foul of discriminatory decisions here, so the best way is to base it on what skills you need to be able to start up again. You can end a furlough period at any time by simply writing to the employee to notify them of the need for them to return to work (although if it's within a three week period you will be unable to claim your 80% back). You will need to give employees reasonable notice to make arrangements for childcare or care of any family members. As soon as employees are out of furlough, their pay must be reinstated to their basic pay, pre-furlough. You may want to consider a sort of re-induction process for staff coming off furlough to make them aware of any new safety, hygiene or PPE procedures.
Bringing Home Workers Back In
The Prime Minister has said that those who can work from home, should. However, if you are considering asking some home workers to return to the workplace, you can do so by writing to them to inform them of the change to their place of work. Be prepared for challenges to such requests and also be prepared for flexible working requests. Ensure employees coming back to work have the same re-induction process as those coming back from furlough.
Although the Working Time Regulations have been amended to allow additional carry over of holiday due to COVID-19, it's important to think about when and how you would like staff to take their remaining holidays. You need to make sure they are still able to take a break and also maintain business activity.
This always sounds rather fluffy to me, but in times like these, people need looking after. Everyone has had a completely individual experience of this lockdown and the virus in general. Some have had it much worse than others and it's therefore important that you talk to your staff before they come back to work, to understand how you can best support them. Consider allowing bereaved employees additional paid time off and, if you don't already have an employee assistance programme, consider drafting in support for your employees from local counsellors, hypnotherapists and therapists to give your staff the best support possible. Remember that people have now adjusted to this "new normal" and it will take some time for people to adjust to the new "new normal".
How to Handle Employees Refusing to Come Back to Work
If an employee perceives there is a serious or imminent danger to their health and safety in the workplace, inappropriate management of the situation could lead to claims of constructive dismissal based on breaches of health and safety or whistleblowing. It is therefore extra important that you do your risk management plan, that you tell your staff all about it and that you document it all. If you can evidence you have taken all reasonably practicable steps to mitigate risk, there is no reasonable cause for an employee not to come back to work. If employees still are reluctant to come back, listen to them. What are their anxieties and can you appease them? Encourage the employee to come in for a brew and a chat for an hour to see what you have put in place. You could even agree a phased return to work to support the employee in building their confidence again. Remember, this is a weird and stressful time for everyone, not everyone is as resilient as you and not everyone has the same experiences as you.
Stay tuned this week for a special offer which will provide you with the tools you need to get through this process of returning to work.
Stay safe and remember, Lilac HR's got your back.