Coronavirus: Employees Returning to Work

We have all undergone a huge transformation in terms of adapting to the ‘new norm’. Workplaces have implemented social distancing and all business decisions have revolved around safety for individuals. Lockdown is vital at this moment in time, however, with some lockdown measures now being slowly lifted, this will result in an increase in employees returning to work, so what should employers be considering? Our coronavirus return to work guide touches on some of these issues.

A few months ago, we did not recognise the word ‘furloughed’ in employment law and now ‘furloughed employees’ is a common and recognisable term. The majority of businesses in the UK have experienced disruption to their ‘norm’, including reduced sales, the inability to source materials for products, employees not attending work, and so on.

In many ways, we have adapted well to the coronavirus pandemic, which includes employees adjusting to working from home with the increased use of technology.

Technology and Employees

We have seen government ministers deliver interviews from their bedrooms and children interrupting senior employee video conferences. Our boundaries have changed in the way we view working relationships, which have softened and have allowed for a more personal side to be seen. This is completely acceptable, as we all need to support each other throughout this incredibly difficult time.

However, not all employees are comfortable with this change, and some will find it hard to adapt to change. As an employer, you will not have had the luxury of time to assist them with this process. Some employees will view it as an intrusion into their own personal lives; after all, you are seeing the inside of their home which is their private space away from work.

Zoom video conferencing has become the ‘norm’ for many employees. Indeed, some are finding themselves on back-to-back meetings throughout the day. Therefore, employers need to be careful to ensure those working from home don’t experience ‘burn out’. Where there is work to be done, there are generally fewer employees to complete it, hence this puts additional pressure on those who are working.

So, as an employer, will you decide that working from home is the ‘new norm’ for your employees returning to work? Such a debate would require a blog post all of its own, however, we have highlighted a few advantages and disadvantages below:

Advantages of working from home:

  1. Less travel time and more time for oneself before and after work, helping to maintain a good work-life balance.
  2. Increased productivity due to point 1.
  3. The employee feels empowered to manage their own workload, increasing engagement, and loyalty.
  4. Great for the environment if an employee usually drives to work – fewer emissions. Equally, reduced travel costs = more money for the employee, an indirect benefit.

Disadvantages of working from home:

  1. Reliant on good broadband service.
  2. The employee may struggle to get the balance correct; there could be too much work and burn out or too little work and performance issues.
  3. The employee may feel isolated and not part of the team.
  4. A poor work-life balance could have a negative impact on the employee’s relationship with their family.

Physical Workspace

If you have employees in the workplace, you must implement social distancing measures to ensure employee safety. When employees start returning to work, employers have to consider if they can accommodate all of the employees in the usual workspace, so they can continue adhering to social distancing.

What happens if it’s not possible to accommodate all employees returning to work? Employers will have to consider which employees remain as designated employees for the purpose of furlough and which are to return to work. Care has to be given to ensure no discrimination occurs.

On 11th May 2020, the Government published its Covid-19 Secure guidance which helps employers with safety in the workplace. Employers are required to have Covid-19 risk assessments in place and if you haven’t done this, it should be a priority as the HSE will be making random inspections. Further, it helps to demonstrate how good an employer you are taking the personal safety of all individuals seriously. An employee may choose not to attend work if they don’t believe it is safe to do so. Employers are also required to publish the Covid-19 risk assessments onto their websites.

Below are some examples of how employers are implementing such measures:

  1. Leave doors open so there is no requirement to touch the handles.
  2. Stagger start and end times of shifts – allowing for fewer employees needing to arrive/leave at the same time. This also allows employees to use public transport during less busy times.
  3. Stagger breaks.
  4. Ensure hand sanitiser is available and allow employees to wash their hands more frequently than normal.
  5. Move physical workbenches to ensure a distance of 2 metres.
  6. Change the workplace layout so employees are no longer face to face.
  7. Install protective screens.
  8. Create taped areas to show 2 metre distances.
  9. Some employers are testing employee temperatures on arrival to work.
  10. Implement a one way system where possible.
  11. Where employees need to work closely together or share equipment, try to keep the same employees rather than a larger mix of employees.
  12. Additional and constant cleaning, including handrails, door handles, worktops, keyboards, screens, kettles, etc.

Which employees should an employer choose to return to work?

In order to ensure the future financial viability of the company, employers will need to determine which employees return to work and which to leave as furloughed*. One of the considerations will be understanding the work requirements likely to be in place in the 3-week period during when an employee is furloughed. What happens if the employer gets a new contract or must deliver a service within the period where the employees required are furloughed?

*The job retention scheme has been extended until October, it remains in its current form until the end of July 2020. In August and until October the job retention scheme will encourage flexibility in the workplace with employees being allowed to return to work part-time. Further details are to be confirmed.

Employers may determine which employees have similar skills, experience, and qualifications, and then pool these people by creating a furlough rotation.

If an employer has to end a furlough period before the 3 weeks has expired, then the employer will be liable for the employee’s pay whilst they were off; this cannot be claimed as part of the job retention scheme grant.

Employers may choose to apply a matrix, as they would in a redundancy situation, and score each employee. They would then return those with the highest scores against the applied criteria. This could be an employee with a multi-skill set, resulting in fewer people returning at once, which would help the employer financially and with adhering to social distancing measures.

HR Policies and Procedures

Employers will need to consider if their rules require a change, especially as no-one can be sure how long the coronavirus and the resulting impact will last. There may be a requirement to consult with employees and change terms and conditions of employment, we can help with this if you wish.

Considerations should be applied to:

  1. Rules surrounding those that breach health & safety rules specifically connected to coronavirus – for example, not adhering to social distancing.
  2. Employees who choose not to attend work but offer no justification for their decision.
  3. Employees that have returned to work from being sick and who have been furloughed without actually physically returning to work. What happens when furlough ends; will they suddenly become unwell and not fit for work again? How would you manage this?
  4. Employees, that are unable to return to work due to government guidelines in place – for example, those shielding.
  5. Employees who are not able to return to work due to childcare issues.
  6. Current rules that may need to be amended – for example, timekeeping; if an employee has been allowed to arrive later to minimise the risk of public transport, be clear with the rules surrounding this.

Support for Employees Returning to Work

Employees returning to work will require support, and some will need more than others in terms of their concerns about returning to work. Some employees will have a psychological fear about returning to work and some may be concerned about the physical measures in place.

Employers should consider implementing an Employee Assistance Programme to support employees. Also, consideration should be given to managers; have they been trained to identify employees who are not dealing well with their return to work, and do they know how to help? Who helps the managers that are trying to deal with their own return to work, which may involve an increased workload and the added worry of supporting employees?

Disciplinary, Grievance and Flexible Working Requests

It is likely that all of the above will increase. Employers must ensure they treat everyone fairly and deal with formal procedures correctly. It is likely that the risk of an employment tribunal claim to companies will increase, so now more than ever is the time to get it right.

  • Employers are advised to ensure the relevant employees and likely managers are trained, know the procedures, and then follow these correctly.
  • Employees returning to work will need time to transition back into a routine. Therefore, some allowances should be considered in the first couple of weeks for any misdemeanours.
  • Employers must consider reasons for turning down any requests for flexible working carefully, as it will be more difficult to justify if homeworking has been successful as a result of coronavirus.

If you need HR Advice on how to plan a successful return to work for your employees post-lockdown, please call us today on 01455 231982 or 07716 91272. Or, email jude@jrhr.ltd and we will respond as soon as possible.

 

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