Step 3 of the Government’s 4 step ‘Road Map out of Lockdown’ was implemented on 17 May 2021. This latest step saw: the re-opening of venues indoors, limited indoor household mixing and overnight stays. However, despite the further relaxion of the current Covid-19 restrictions, the Government’s message of, ‘work from home wherever possible’ continued to apply.
Whilst we have started to see employees gradually filtering back to the workplace (albeit on a reduced basis), return to on- site working may soon become the norm again. The Government is due to review its current advice of “work from home wherever possible,” before Step 4 is implemented. As it currently stands, if step 4 takes effect (which will not be before 21 June), “all legal limits on social contact” would be removed and all businesses and premises would be reopened. Much will probably depend on whether “the science” supports such a reopening.
For the time being, employers need to ensure that they are considering several critical issues if staff are returning to the workplace to avoid potentially costly disputes.
Health & Safety
Health & Safety considerations continue to be of the upmost importance. Many of the necessary measures needed to return all or some of the workforce back to the workplace, such as social distancing, can seemingly provide barriers to optimising productivity however, as home working is not feasible for many, in the long run, it is vital that the correct COVID-Secure measures are put in place. Failing to do so not only carries the risk of sanctions and fines for non-compliance, but also claims from employees.
Possible measures to consider:
- COVID-19 Risk Assessments
- Are they extensive enough?
- Can you ensure that they do not discriminate against certain members of staff which could put you at risk of a potential claim from an employee?
- Use of face coverings and social distancing
- Have you got a policy in place? – Are you able to rely on your existing policies?
- What if staff resist?
- Can you manage non-compliance? – Are your disciplinary processes fair?
- Are you confident in how to fairly conduct disciplinaries and dismiss staff if conflict arises, to avoid claims?
Testing and Vaccination
Testing for Covid-19 has been significantly improved, with tests much more readily available and the time taken to obtain results reduced. The vaccination programme has been accelerating from the get-go with thousands more people being vaccinated every day. Despite this good news, businesses must find a way to deal with the challenges that testing and vaccination may bring to the workplace.
Challenges to consider:
- Do you have testing policy in place in your business?
- Managing Covid-19 absence and testing –
- Are your existing absence management policies up to date?
- How will you manage staff absence and pay?
- What if staff abuse the systems? – How can you protect the financial stability of the business and maintain operations?
- Are you at risk of possible claims for failing to follow the correct legal processes?
- Is it appropriate to make any policy mandatory and if so, how will you justify this is a necessary step?
- Have you considered how any vaccination scheme may be discriminatory?
- How will you manage staff should there be dispute over who has been vaccinated and who should return to the workplace?
- Do you require staff to travel abroad and if so, will vaccinations be a requirement for this?
Mental health in the workplace can be challenging to manage. Covid-19 will have exacerbated underlying mental health conditions and/or triggered them for many individuals. While approaching mental health in a positive and supportive way is something all businesses are encouraged to do, the pandemic has brought this issue back into sharp focus. When returning staff to the workplace, it is important to consider how to ensure the business can operate smoothly while also providing the support necessary for staff.
Organisations should be considering –
- What approach take with staff?
- Whether you can facilitate flexible working?
- If staff feel it is unsafe to return, how can you support them while implementing your plans successfully?
- Should you be offering training to your managers on how to identify issues and support staff?
The factors discussed in this article are just some of the challenges businesses and employers may face as the world continues its road to recovery. If you need advice on any of the key issues detailed here, or would like assistance in formulating a HR business plan, then please contact our Employment and HR specialist, Amanda Badley, on 0116 402 9019 or at Amanda.Badley@bhwsolicitors.com.