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Returning to the Workplace

As the whole nation was propelled into working from home, and have been doing so for the past 14 months, it’s going to be a big change for a large amount people when returning back to the office. Deciding when to return to the workplace is the first consideration that employers need to look at. Working in line with the government guidelines, they have confirmed the ease of social distancing rules but their advice is to still work from home if you can until the next stage of the roadmap (21st of June). They have however, said that employers may let employees return where homeworking isn’t appropriate e.g. their mental or physical health or challenging home environments.

With people returning to the office after such a long amount of time at home, there are certain barriers that must be considered along with implementation of procedures, for the safety of every individual. Lets take a look at a few considerations you should look into before returning your employees to the workplace:

Employees may refuse

In any other time, if an employee refuses to do as instructed by employers, then they are breaching their employment contract and can face the possibility of being dismissed. However, due to Covid, this is slightly different as where an employee reasonably believes they are in serious or imminent circumstances of danger, they can refuse to return to the workplace. If an employee is dismissed in these circumstances, they can make a claim for automatic unfair dismissal. Therefore, it is essential to have open conversations with your employees and if they are refusing, understand their reasons for doing so and then act accordingly. Workplaces still carry a risk of Covid-19 therefore the right safeguards and policies must be in place before reopening, to ensure everyone is kept as safe as possible.

If you find yourself with employees who are refusing to return to the office, there are a few things you can do to manage the situation:

  • Talk to them informally first to really understand they’re reasons

  • Agree to a flexible working request so the employee can continue to work from home

  • Agree to a request for them to remain furloughed

  • Offer the use of annual unpaid leave

  • Go down the disciplinary route (ensuring the appropriate workplace safeguards are in place)

Flexible working options

Returning to work will be high on the agenda for many businesses over the next few months however, many will look to return on a much more flexible basis. As we return to ‘normal’ life it is an ideal time for employers to harness more agile and flexible working to meet the new expectations of employees, increasing employees work-life balance and job satisfaction. If you do choose a more agile working option, there are some considerations you must consider for long-term home working environments:

  • Safety & risk assessments – are employee homeworking provisions safe and have you explained how to carry out full workstation assessments?

  • Suitability and employee wellbeing – how does homeworking affect mental health? Do you have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) in place so employees can access confidential support and advice?

  • Legalities and contracts – what is the impact on employee contractual terms? Have you had a proper conversation with the employee about this change to the terms of employment?

  • Security – Are their premises safe? Do they have paperwork that needs to be kept in a secure place?

  • Ongoing management – How will you manage, monitor and engage with employees and keep a good team morale, if they agree to homeworking?

With whichever route you choose to go down, it is important it’s the right decision for your business and your employees. Considering your employees wellbeing is paramount in continuing to have a successful business. Opening communication is vital, the more transparent you can be with your employees about your plans to return to the workplace the better. Moreover, providing clear timeframes in which you hope to conduct this transition, gives your employees a better understanding of what they are working towards and offers them the chance to ask any questions or raise any concerns.