Returning to the workplace after lockdown

Many businesses across England are resuming operations after almost seven weeks in lockdown, employees are being encouraged to return to work, providing working from home is not possible; whilst employers are now required by law to comply with government sector specific guidelines to ensure the workplace is COVID-19 secure and with the necessary precautionary measures in place.

Key Areas for businesses to consider

The UK government has published eight guides for businesses operating in construction and other outdoor work, factories, plants and warehouses, labs and research facilities, offices and contact centres, other people’s homes, restaurants offering takeaway or delivery, shops and branches and vehicles including couriers and lorry drivers.

Each guide covers eight areas designed for each sector that businesses need to take into account before resuming operations:

  1. Thinking about risk – assess and manage risk within the workplace.
  2. Who should go to work? – consider, plan, monitor, communicate and provide equipment to facilitate working from home.
  3. Social distancing at work – wherever possible observe social distancing measures.
  4. Managing customers, visitors, and contractors – minimise the number of visitors and encourage the use of online meeting tools.
  5. Cleaning the workplace – assess all parts of the workplace to ensure high levels of cleaning.
  6. Personal protective equipment PPE and face coverings – if required depending on the type of workplace.
  7. Workforce management – organise workplace access, stagger start and finish times.
  8. Inbound and outbound goods – maintain social distancing and avoiding surface transmission.

The consistent recommendation for business trading fully with all or with the majority of staff working from home is to continue to do so; otherwise, businesses must consider, evaluate and manage risk to provide a safe working environment for employees before asking employees to return to the workplace.

CIPD COVID-19 support guide

To assist business with this the CIPD has published a guide “COVID-19: returning to the workplace” outlining the importance for companies to plan the next steps. It recommends companies consider all the options to react quickly should current measures change. Since returning to work proves more challenging for companies due to ever-present concern of a second spike in COVID-19 cases, the CIPD advice businesses to consider the following 3 key test questions before asking employees return to the workplace:

Is it essential?

Are employees required to be at the workplace? If working from home is not currently possible, the company could offer other arrangements. For instance, the option of keeping staff on the Government’s Job Retention Scheme now extends until October 2020.

Is it sufficiently safe?

Has the company carried out COVID-19 risk assessments to establish what guidelines are needed to safeguard employees?

Is it mutually agreed?

Communication is key, employees should be able to share their concerns with returning to work, especially commuting to and from work which possesses greater risk. Companies need to able to offer flexibility and accommodate employees needs while operating as safely as possible.

Risk Assessment information

Additionally, the CIPD has made available a safety risk assessment template. This template can be used by companies to identify the control measures needed before employees return to the workplace. This template is available in the following link: Similarly, the HSE has a brief guide to controlling risk in the workplace available which can be used in conjunction with the CIPD guide:

The CIPD guide also provides information on how to manage return to work depending on the current business situation. Once this is established the company can address each of the sections outlined in the sector-specific guides. The guide also outlines the legal considerations companies should be aware of. It also highlights what decisions to make in regards to short term working and/or redundancy.

Lastly, the CIPD offers some guidance on how to manage staff who have been advised to self-isolate, suffered losses during this difficult time and how to manage holidays should employees request to carry forward some of their statutory holidays. Also, it provides some information on other issues worth considering regarding international travel and quarantine measures imposed for returning passengers, and the implications Brexit will have on recruiting EU nationals and international trade.

The ease in the lockdown measures and return to work requirements will affect each sector and business differently. Therefore, companies need to ensure to have the correct safety measures in place before asking their employees back to work. The wellbeing of employees and their safety should be the priority for all companies.

Read the full guide here