Going back to work – How to keep your staff safe
As the UK Covid-19 pandemic is controlled, employers must plan how they can re-open their workplaces safely.
Many of us have spent most of the last 12 months in our social bubbles working from home. Now that the COVID-19 pandemic is subsiding things are starting to open up again, schools are opening up from March 8th and offices are planned to open in April.
However, the thought of returning back to the workplace is likely to affect each of us differently. Some may feel relief in being able to get back to a sense of normality and to see people, but for others they may feel anxious and apprehensive to go outside and into the workplace again. For example, a recent poll of employees by Honeywell and Wakefield identified that 71% of respondents stated that they were apprehensive about going back to their workplaces. So, what can employers do to make their staff feel safe in the workplace safe. Here are some guidelines:
1. Have a COVID Risk Assessment Plan
Employers are required to have a strategy to prevent the spread of COVID in workplaces. This is should be described in a COVID-19 Risk Assessment and should include steps such as:
2. Adopt flexible work patterns
The current advice from the government is that staff should work from home where reasonably practicable. However, there are exceptions and the Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD) which represents HR professionals has stated that no one-size fits all. It will depend on a range of factors, including the individual and their circumstances, the type of work in question and the work environment.
The CIPD state that employers have a duty of care to all their staff and [must] treat people reasonably and fairly, so will need to consult with individuals and be as flexible as possible when dealing with any concerns people will have over attending the workplace.
But employers could be breaking the law if they demand staff return to the workplace after staff have informed them that they are shielding because they or an immediate family member is clinically vulnerable.
Also, COVID-19 has enabled businesses to consider ways of working flexibly. It may be possible to explore more flexible ways of working with staff once they return to the workplace.
3. Supporting staff
As stated above, staff may be apprehensive about going back to work for a variety of reasons including physical and mental health issues. For such staff additional support may be required. This may involve employers arranging:
For larger organisations this may not be practicable and a video presentation could be produced and circulated to staff to outlining any new office layouts and/or safety procedures that need to be followed.
Staff with existing mental health issues may also need additional support from managers. The mental health charity Mind provides useful information and guidance on supporting staff with mental health issues. Free and impartial information on work-related health is also available from the organisation Fit for Work.
And finally, remember whatever feelings staff have about returning to the workplace these are normal. If staff have any anxieties about returning to work, they should discuss their concerns with their manager. Their manager should be able to put staff at ease by sharing how the workplace has been made safe to return to work, and providing additional support if needed.