Posted: Mon 22nd Mar 2021
As the UK Covid-19 pandemic is controlled, employers must plan how they can reopen their workplaces safely.
Many of us have spent the last 12 months in our social bubbles working from home. Now that the UK Covid-19 pandemic is subsiding, things are starting to open up again - with retail and outdoor hospitality opening in England from next month.
However, the thought of returning back to the workplace is likely to affect each of us in different ways. Some may feel relief in being able to get back to a sense of normality and to see people, but others may feel anxious and apprehensive about going outside and into the workplace again. A recent poll of employees by Honeywell and Wakefield identified that 71% of respondents feel apprehensive about going back to their workplaces.
So, what can employers do to make their staff feel safe in the workplace?. Here are some guidelines:
1. Have a Covid-19 risk assessment plan
Employers are required to have a strategy to prevent the spread of coronavirus in workplaces. This should be described in a Covid-19 risk assessment and should include steps such as:
Ensuring that staff observe two-metre social distancing wherever possible
If that is not viable, staff should observe one-metre social distancing with additional precautions
Frequent cleaning of surfaces, objects and communal areas
Extra hand washing facilities
Introducing one-way systems to minimise contact
Using screens or barriers between staff
Using back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than face-to-face) whenever possible
Staggering start/end times
Collecting visitors' contact details for NHS Test and Trace
Detailed guidance is available for a number of different industries including construction, hospitality and manufacturing.
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) 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.
Employers have a legal responsibility to ensure that their staff are treated reasonably and fairly and should be as flexible as possible in regard to any Covid-related concerns that arise.
Covid-19 has enabled businesses to consider ways of working flexibly. As the lockdown eases the prospect of staff returning back to the workplace should enable businesses to discuss with staff any opportunities for more flexible ways of working.
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:
A work visit before return, which may be useful in helping staff to familiarise themselves with any new office layouts and/or safety procedures. For larger organisations this may not be practical; 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.
A phased return back to workplace, which may involve staff initially working only a limited number of days a week in the workplace.
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 Fit for Work.
Finally, remember whatever feelings staff have about returning to the workplace, they're all 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.