Return to work after coronavirus—lockdown guide

29 May 2020

With lockdown restrictions set to lift soon, there are important health & safety requirements your business must address before a return to work after coronavirus.

The reality is you can’t head back as normal. Not without first considering the welfare of your workforce.

To help you get started, we have advice for you about reopening your business after coronavirus. And you can contact us on 0800 028 2420 for extra support.

You can also read, in this guide, about essential pointers to get you up and running safely.

Your return to work strategy after lockdown

You need to make your business safe. Bringing employees back to work legally requires considering your duty of care to staff—and introducing new safety procedures.

Below are the key health & safety considerations for you to bring back employees after coronavirus:

  1. Is their return essential?
  2. If so, can they work safely?

To go about understanding this, your return to work plan after lockdown is a process of:

  • Implementing new procedures.
  • Adjusting when necessary.

You need to consider the following—and put in place procedures:

  • Preparing your premises for a safe return.
  • Providing advice and training to employees about social distancing.
  • Deciding which employees should come back. Current guidance advises that, where employees can still work from home, they should continue to do so. That’s unless your business requires them in due to their skill or for resource requirements.

Should an employee develop coronavirus upon returning to your business, you should have a strategy for this scenario. Steps you can take include:

  • Sending the affected employee home.
  • Returning other employees to remote working to limit infection.
  • Furloughing staff if they can’t do their role from home.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting procedures are also a requirement—staff need to know they’re working in a clean area.
  • Under The Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981, you should also consider how first aiders can act. For example, mouth to mouth resuscitation may be too high a risk. The Resuscitation Council UK (RCUK) advises against it right now. However, you may wish to supply PPE to an employee so they can carry out basic CPR.

Who can return to work?

Under new UK government guidelines from 13th May 2020, those who can’t work from home should now look at returning. For example, those working in:

  • Food production.
  • Logistics distribution.
  • Scientific research laboratories.

Hospitality and non-essential retail businesses are still to remain closed. But from 15th June they can reopen.

And businesses with staff who can work remotely should continue to allow it.

The return to work after furlough

This period of temporary leave lasts for three weeks—or more. If you’re removing staff from furlough, consider:

  • Whether the employee can remote work.
  • If they have the right equipment (such as a computer with internet access).
  • Alternatives options, such as redeploying them in a different role.
  • Whether you need to extend their furlough period.

You should have a meeting with them to determine the best course of action.

If they’re set to return to your premises, you can then run them through any important health & safety initiatives you have in place.

How to safely bring employees back to work after lockdown

You should perform a risk assessment of your working environment. The steps you’ll need to take will depend on your circumstances.

However, there are also a few things all businesses can do to ensure the safety of staff:

  • Enforce social distancing rules.
  • Review normal daily activities and consider different approaches. Such as replacing meetings with video conferencing.
  • Only return essential staff.
  • Allow employees who can work remotely to continue doing so.

If you can’t return staff to work

There are return to work alternatives and employee wellbeing practices you can consider. These include:

  • Allowing staff to work remotely.
  • Offering unpaid leave.
  • Laying off.
  • Redeploying staff, temporarily, into new roles.
  • Offering early retirement to volunteers.
  • Retraining staff into new roles.
  • Offering sabbaticals.
  • Providing short-time work.
  • Making employees redundant.

There’s also the UK government’s Job Retention Scheme. You have the option to furlough employees, which provides them with 80% of their wage.

This option is now available until October 2020—this may change, depending on future developments.

Social distancing measures at work

There are steps you can use that limit the dangers of spreading coronavirus. These can include introducing procedures such as:

  • Staggering the return of employees to avoid the risk of infection.
  • Banning the use of lifts—or limiting them for specific staff members.
  • Banning hot desking, such as in a call centre.
  • Training and advising employees on their responsibilities.
  • Limiting meetings to phone calls or video conferencing.
  • Placing physical markers (such as sticky tape) on the floor so employees can see the two-metre distance.
  • Creating work group “bubbles” so that there’s a limit on employee mixing.
  • Changing shift start and finish times to avoid mixing and overcrowding.

Hygiene measures at work for COVID-19

Providing details on hygiene practices is essential—it’s part of your duty of care. To approach this, you can:

  • Enforce the UK government’s social distancing guidelines.
  • Regularly sanitise the working environment.
  • Where necessary, provide employees with personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Remind employees they also have responsibilities, such as regularly washing their hands.

As this is a collective effort, you can place posters with important health & safety information around your workplace to act as reminders for staff.

Do employees with underlying health condition have to go back to work?

For employees in risk groups, a return to work poses more of a problem. The guidelines are as follows:

  • High risk: Clinically extreme vulnerability, such as those with long-term illnesses.
  • Moderate risk: Clinically vulnerable, such as anyone 70 or older—or if an employee is pregnant.

The UK government “strongly advises” remote working for these employees. So, you should take steps to accommodate this where possible.

You can take other approaches, such as suggesting affected employees work in a different role. That’d be a temporary arrangement.

A risk assessment is good business practice during this time, so you can understand what you can do to help the individual work. 

Any employees with serious health conditions, however, will receive an official letter from the NHS. In this case, they require “shielding” from the dangers of coronavirus.

And in this instance, they shouldn’t attend work.

Advice about working parents

Regarding employees with children still at home, do they still have to come to work? Yes, in certain situations.

For children of “key workers”, they’re attending school. And that means employees must attend work. This is a list of recognised key worker industries:

  • Health and social care.
  • Education and childcare.
  • Public services.
  • Local and national government.
  • Food and necessary goods, such as production and distribution of foodstuffs.
  • Public safety/national security.
  • Financial services.

What if staff refuse to return to work?

You must take their request seriously and respond fairly. An employee refusing to return to work after lockdown is a situation you may well face.

Employees should bring this issue up with you as soon as possible. Rather than, for example, during a shift. They should tell a line manager at the earliest opportunity.

Then your business can consider ways around the situation. Such as offering remote work or a reduction in hours.

Get quick answers to your questions

For any business questions you have about coronavirus, you can get in touch with us now. We’re here to help: 0800 028 2420.

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