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Returning employees to work during COVID

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

For both employers and employees alike, there are many considerations for those returning to the workplace after a long break. We are now in a society where we have all weathered the pandemic differently - each with our own experiences and views. Some have worked all the way through, some have lost jobs, been furloughed and some were flung into home working with an immediacy that gave little opportunity to think too much about if it would be 'nice' or not. Some will gladly take the vaccine, others do not wish to. The level of adherence to rules has greatly varied too which has caused divide between friends, families and colleagues with differing views.

Any change can be unnerving and cause stress and anxiety, therefore just as it was a large change for many when employees stopped working in the office, it will be as big a change to have employees return again. Many employees have now got used to their new regime and created new habits, routines and familiarity with their new environments. Employers have predominantly managed to remedy IT issues and other teething problems.

Ensuring a COVID Secure Workplace

From an Employer perspective, it is important to ensure that the workplace is COVID Secure, still a requirement in law at the time of writing this article. This means you must utilise the governments ‘Working Safely During Coronavirus’ guidance available here. There are specifics for different sectors, but there are some fundamental requirements for all.

- You must have a COVID risk assessment in place and the controls you put in place must follow the steps laid out in the guidance.

- You should communicate with your employees regularly about what is in place and what is permitted and not permitted (sharing the risk assessment also)

- You should allow two way consultation, providing an environment where employees can ask questions and have fears allayed.

- You must display your COVID Secure poster, once you have complied with all of the requirements of the guidance applicable to your business.

However, whilst this covers what we ‘must’ do, what about employee concerns? Many employees returning to the office will find this a worrying time, and may feel as though raising concerns will leave them being seen as a problem. Reassuring your employees that they are free to raise concerns is key.

Employee Concerns

Hopefully throughout the pandemic, you will have communicated regularly with your at home employees to ensure they still feel included and are kept up to date. Continuing to communicate with employees after their return is as important.

Here are some other helpful tips to help your employees return to the office successfully and without undue worry.

  1. Provide clear, concise information regarding what controls are in place prior to their return

  2. Provide a video tour of the offices distributed to staff to show how it looks after any changes and controls since they last attended

  3. Invite employees in prior to their official return date with the permission to stay as long or as little as they wish.

  4. Bear in mind that many employees have been much more sedentary during the lockdown phases. When returning to work, employees return to physical tasks should be gradual to avoid injury. For those doing more desk based roles, employees are likely to get tired much quicker, may struggle to concentrate and will benefit from regular breaks away form their workstations and access to break out areas or outside space.

  5. Be prepared for any questions and have suitable support where required. What if an employees wants to go home? Or they do not want the vaccine? You should have discussed these potential situations with your management team prior to the issues arising. HR advice can be extremely useful for ensuring situations such as these are dealt with effectively for both parties, without discrimination.

Ensuring you have a competent health and safety resource is vital. This can be someone inside the company or an external company such as Chameleon, however, you are required by law to ensure you have someone with the skills knowledge, training and experience to effectively manage the business’ health and safety (a 'Competent Person').

In summary, effective planning, competent people and effective communication will strongly affect the success of returning your employees to work.

(Vaccine’s are not discussed here as it is a large issue in itself with much to consider, and some information still not being determined in terms of what will be required).

Written by: Hayley Tollervey

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