At this time, many employers are considering their next steps as to how they will manage a successful return to work from a period of furlough or a return to the premises after restrictions have been eased. Presently, there has been no official indication when the restrictions will end or any guidance on the measures that will be implemented going forward or for what duration.

Throughout this whole period of uncertainty, employers have been required to react and make decisions quickly. Before returning to work, we would encourage Companies to take the time now to consider all options to enable a return to work as this will be valuable in mitigating any difficulties further down the line. 

For some businesses, all employees have been able to continue working from home, for others, all or the majority of staff have been furloughed during this period, therefore a return to the workplace will impact some differently than others. It will be essential to have some consideration for the health, safety and wellbeing of your employees when making plans for their return to work.

This guidance document outlines how to effectively manage the return to work process and identify some difficulties which you may face during this process.

Considerations when bringing employees back to work.

As it appears likely that social distancing will remain a requirement for the near future, employers will need to consider different approaches to minimise the risks to staff and others in the workplace. Any plans to return to the workplace should be based on the most recent Government and public health guidance in relation to Covid-19.

As the health, safety and wellbeing of employees is a priority for their return to the workplace, it is crucial that you work closely with, and take guidance from, your health and safety teams and/or advisors to ensure the necessary practical measures are taken. This applies to before, during and after the employees return and it is essential that these measures are communicated clearly and effectively to all staff returning and management who will be ensuring the measures are adhered to. Please click the below link for a comprehensive guide and a risk assessment template in regard the health and safety considerations in respect of Coronavirus and the workplace. https://www.willisinsurance.co.uk/media/2052/covid-19-guidance-risk-assessment-template.pdf

The measures required may vary depending on your industry and the work employees will carry out, therefore it is vital that you seek guidance from a health and safety professional to ensure the appropriate measures are taken in line with the most recent Government and public health guidance.

As well as considering employees’ physical health and safety, a major element that should be considered is the emotional and psychological wellbeing of your employees as the risks to people’s health from the pandemic are not limited to physical risks. This could include anxiety about the ongoing crisis, fear for family and friends, financial worries, bereavements and childcare worries. People are having to come to terms with a significant change to the ways in which we live our daily lives and some may take longer than others to readjust to working life. If your business has an Employee Assistance Programme or access to Occupational Health services, it may be beneficial to promote these support facilities.

Managing the return to work process

Once you are confident that you have established safe operating procedures to enable employees to return to work, you will be required to identify if all employees are required to return, can this be done safely? - or whether you only require a select number of employees to return.

Selecting employees to return

In situations where it is not deemed necessary to have all staff return to work, Companies will be required to ascertain which employees need to return and which employees must remain furloughed while the Job Retention Scheme is in place.

It would be our advice to firstly identify what work needs to be completed and what essential skills are required to complete the available work. Once this is established, it will be necessary to identify which employees can complete the work, as not all employees have the same skills and qualifications. To fairly select individuals to return to work, in the first instance it is advisable to ask for volunteers. If you receive too many volunteers than is necessary, randomly select the appropriate numbers from the group. If you do not receive any volunteers, again, our advice would be to randomly select from the group of individuals with the right skills and experience to return to work. You may also wish to consider offering those who were placed on furlough first to return to work first if employees were placed on furlough at different times. It is important that any selection is fair and is not deemed to be discriminatory.

Matters which may impact an employee’s ability to return to work

If an employee is required to return to work because there is work available and they refuse, it will be necessary to have a discussion with the employee to understand why they are refusing. In most situations, employees will have some fears or hesitations due to their own or family’s health and safety. It is therefore important to outline the measures the Company have taken in line with appropriate guidance to provide reassurance.

If it is determined that the appropriate health and safety measures are in place and the employee  continues to refuse to work, you should inform the employee that they will no longer be considered to be furloughed and this will be treated as unauthorised absence, save for the following circumstances;

  • They are unable to attend work during to caring responsibilities due to Covid-19;
  • They have been advised to shield in line with public health advice.

If an employee informs you that they cannot return to work due to one of the reasons outlined above, once you obtain written confirmation of this advice, it is at the employer’s discretion for the employee to continue to be furloughed until the end of the Job Retention Scheme.

Process of informing the employee

It will be necessary to communicate to your employee that they are required to return to the workplace. In most cases it was set out in the letter confirming the period of furlough that they might be asked to return to work at any time. We would advise that you write to your employee to inform them that they will be returning to work, setting out the end date of the furlough period and outline briefly the health and safety measures which have been implemented. You should provide a reasonable period of notice requiring them to return to the workplace.

It will be important that your payroll staff or provider are aware that furlough has ended for these employees and they return to full pay.

Return to work

We would recommend that a re-induction process for returning staff could be hugely beneficial in assisting employees on their return to the workplace. Managers should be encouraged to have an informal one to one return to work meeting with each returning employee, focussing on health, safety and wellbeing in the workplace. This is an opportunity for managers and employees to have an open discussion about any measures which have been taken to protect staff at work and any additional adjustments or support that may be required. In some cases, it may be determined that it is not possible to schedule individual meetings on the first few days of returning to work, however it would be advisable to encourage employees to speak to their manager if they have any individual concerns.

For staff who have been furloughed, this would also be an opportunity to update the employee of any company issues which have been ongoing in their absence such as any changes to their work duties or tasks.

The key point of this meeting is to demonstrate the support being given to those returning to work and to deal with their concerns sensitively and to reassure them that the appropriate measures have been taken to minimise the risks to health, safety and wellbeing.

Conclusion

As the pandemic continues, we may soon start to see some changes in the restrictions or guidelines as set by the Government or Public Health. However, it is important for those businesses who have returned to work or those considering returning to work, to consider and plan accordingly.

We have found that communicating with staff has been beneficial throughout this process. If you decide that only some staff are required to return to work at this time, take the opportunity to communicate with those who remain furloughed. Not only will this be effective engagement but it may also assist with mental wellbeing by demonstrating that they are valued and supported by their employer – and that you continue to prioritise their health and safety.

You may come across further challenges during the return to work process. So, please do not hesitate in contacting your HR or Health and Safety Consultant at Willis Employment Services for assistance.

To find out more call 02890329042 or use the contact form below.

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