We have already seen many countries start to implement strategies to release their own lockdowns such as Spain and Germany.
Here in this country businesses have been calling for an end to the lockdown in order that they can survive this crisis. Many small business owners want to see a plan for this lockdown to end and while the most important issue is to protect lives the Government has started to consult with organisations as to how we come out of this crisis without jeopardizing peoples’ safety.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has published some draft guidance on how the lockdown could look like for employers. This has been in consultation with trade unions, businesses and executives and moves through three phases.
What should a company do in order to prepare for this next phase of coming out of lockdown, adaptability and flexibility will be likely the key words in any strategy.
Preparing the workplace for a return to work
Here are some of the main steps an employer needs to consider before asking employees to return to an office environment:
• Have a strategic plan of how you are going to communicate with your staff so that they are fully aware of what measures you are intending to implement and how you expect them to behave when they return to work.
• Carry out a health and safety risk assessment of your office facilities and establish whether it is practical for employees to social distance. How much space do you have in your offices: is it open plan or do people have their own offices where the risk of contamination may be lessened. If you decide the work can continue in the office then consider if all staff could work side by side rather than face to face. You may have to put special measures in for people for underlying health conditions such as working from home until a vaccine and/or therapeutics are in place.
• Consider flexible working to reduce the number of staff in the office at any one time. Is it possible to assign staff to different teams and stagger their working hours. Also look at how people travel to work, do they have to use public transport and can you adopt a car sharing policy for people to get to work.
• Look at facilities such as kitchens and rest areas: does your business need to put rules in place that people should not congregate in these areas and should continue to practice social distancing when taking breaks. There should be limited social interaction at work. Should rules be put in place that staff use their own cutlery and crockery when having lunch in the office – is it an end to businesses providing their staff with crockery?
• Has your business enough hand sanitisers and cleaning products in place so that employees feel comfortable that they are not being put at risk when they return to work.
• Consider what happens about cleaning of work stations in the office and perhaps increase the frequency of cleaning procedures in the office throughout the day. It may be necessary to provide disinfectant to staff to make sure they wipe down their workstations but also bearing in mind the health and safety in terms of the products used.
• If as a business you regularly see clients in the office, consider limiting the number of face to face meetings and carry out meetings by platforms such as Zoom or Teams. Do you have a policy in place for your clients that they understand the procedures when they do visit the office. Consider making it accessible on your website because it will be important to let your clients know about any change in policy.
Return to work
Once all of the above has been considered then employers will need to amend the relevant policies to take account of the new measure in place.
• You may consider giving the furloughed staff written notice of when they are expected to return to work. If you do not have the work for the furloughed staff to return to, should the business consider redundancies, unpaid leave or reduced wages.
• How do you incentivise staff because of the upheaval of returning to work? While businesses will not have the finances to provide bonuses they could consider rotating people on furlough if the system operates past the June deadline.
• Consider amending health and safety, disciplinary and sickness policies to take account of any new procedures you put in place such as changes to seating arrangements, sickness reporting and any new procedures relating to the kitchens and rest areas. Also consider holiday polices and if you need to amend so everyone does not take holiday at once when they return to work.
• How do you manage peoples’ worries and concerns? Managers are going to have to be aware about employees’ mental health and how they are coping with their worries about contracting COVID19.
The easing of the lockdown is likely to be a gradual process and also may change if the reinfection rates increase, so employers need to have a number of contingency plans in place to cover these eventualities. Also, companies need to regularly check the government website as the guidance is being updated daily.
If any business needs assistance in navigating their way through this guidance please do get in touch as we are here to help.
To speak with Jane directly about this or any other employment-related matter, please email JZC@hartbrown.co.uk or call 01483 887766.
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.