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Returning to Work After Lockdown & Covid

Aug 18, 2021

Lockdown easing has been happening for many months in England now, with one aspect being the changing of ‘work from home where possible’ guidance which was in force until 19th July 2021. This means more employers and employees may be focused on returning to work after lockdown and Covid – moving from being home based to office based once again.

Here we look at how, as an employer, you can go about creating an effective return to work process for those that are returning to work after lockdown and Covid.

Should employees be returning to work?

Stage 4 of the lockdown easing in England which took place on 19th July saw official instructions for people to work from home where possible removed. Instead this was replaced by a recommendation that people return to the workplace gradually over the summer and that those who can work from home continue to do so during this time.

We are however now in a position where employers can decide whether to allow employees to continue working remotely, or to ask them to return to the workplace rather than it being mandated by the government.

Can employees decide whether to return to the workplace?

As above, many of those who can work from home are still being encouraged to by the government over the summer to ensure a gradual return to the workplace.

If your employer is requesting that you return to the workplace, you can ask if you can continue to work remotely if you do not yet feel comfortable with returning to the workplace during COVID-19.

Do bear in mind that employers do not have to agree with requests to continue to work remotely.

However, much of the advice coming from HR professionals is for employers to take a collaborative approach to the return to the workplace and to see this as a joint decision which prioritises the physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing of the workforce.

What must employers do to keep employees safe when returning to the workplace?

As an employer you still have the responsibility to keep your employees safe and manage any risks linked to the workplace.

Updated ‘Working Safely During Coronavirus’ guidance has been issued by the government for employers to follow. The guidance provides steps businesses can take to keep their employees and customers safe and manage risks linked to COVID-19.

Employers must still fulfil their legal duty to manage risks and ensure the health and safety of employees so it will be vital to carry out risk assessments and implement the actions highlighted in the working safely guidance. Refer to guidance specific to your sector and refer to more than one of the guides if necessary.

As an employer, when it comes to the return to work, key actions to take will include:

  • carrying out risk assessments
  • taking actions to address risks highlighted by your assessment
  • listening to employees’ concerns
  • keeping evidence of the measures that you have taken to create a safe working environment

Taking a collaborative approach to the return to work

When it comes to the return to work after lockdown and Covid, the CIPD are suggesting the best way to manage this and create an effective return to work process is by taking a collaborative approach between both employer and employee.

Keep in mind that some employees may have been working from home for well over a year now, the disruption and anxiety which COVID-19 has caused people and ongoing legitimate concerns people may have particularly with numbers of COVID-19 cases at a reasonably high level.

  • Carry out risk assessments to identify any risks to your workforce
  • Implement actions to mitigate these risks. Refer to the working safely during Coronavirus guidance from the government and advice on the HSE website
  • Communicate these actions to your employees and ensure they are aware of the safety measures which will be in place and what is expected of them e.g., will they be expected to take part in regular testing or wear a mask in the workplace?
  • The CIPD recommends that consultation with staff about the return to work could help create a smoother process which prioritises staff wellbeing
  • Consider how flexible or hybrid working could feature in your working practices in the future and have a well-defined stance on this so that employees know what is expected of them

Despite most Covid restrictions now having been lifted in England, Covid risk has not gone away. There are many areas for employers to consider when it comes to creating a return to work process which not only works for your business but also supports your staff and recognises the impact COVID-19 has had. Whatever process you ultimately follow for the return to work after lockdown and Covid, you must deliver continued high levels of consideration for health and safety and risk management, keep your employees safe and uphold your duty of care and legal responsibilities.

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