Selene, Greg and Angharad from our Employment Team recently joined recroot as part of their regular HR Forum programme to discuss how employers should prepare for a return to the workplace. Here are our top tips:
Consider your approach towards homeworking going forward
Many employers are considering a “hybrid” pattern of working, involving both home and workplace-based work, rather than a full return to the office. This was certainly reflected in our poll carried out at the HR Forum – 76% of delegates were planning a hybrid arrangement. Whatever your approach, be sure to get feedback from your employees about any potential changes and understand how it could impact people individually. If you are considering a new hybrid or homeworking pattern of working, you should take advice on the practical/legal implications and introduce a written policy.
Health & Safety obligations
Employers have a statutory duty to protect the health and safety of their staff. Therefore once a decision has been taken to return to work, employers will need to carry out risk assessments to ensure the workplace is COVID safe and consult with employees about any arrangements put in place to manage the risks associated with COVID 19. Risk assessments should be carried out in accordance with government’s ‘COVID-19 Secure’ guidelines. (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19). The assessments should be shared with staff and be kept under close review.
Consider your approach towards testing/vaccinations
There is currently no legal requirement to be vaccinated (although vaccinations may soon be made compulsory for NHS and care home workers). Employers can encourage staff to get vaccinated, but insisting that employees are vaccinated could risk exposure to claims.
It is recommended that private-sector employers offer their on-site workforce access to a minimum of 2 lateral flow tests every week. (Coronavirus (COVID-19) workplace testing: guidance for private-sector employers and third-party healthcare providers). Some employers are asking for test results and, in that case, careful consideration will need to be given to data protection obligations, and a data protection impact assessment should be put in place.
Communicate with staff
Employers should consult with staff (and their representatives if required) as soon as possible about returning to work and about any arrangements for home or hybrid working. Regular communications with staff should also cover any travel arrangements and any planned adjustments to the workplace following the risk assessment.
Don’t underestimate staff anxiety about coming back
Acas recommends that employers should talk to any employees who are anxious about returning to work and to try to resolve concerns together. Employers could also consider putting in place a ‘wellness action plan’ to help manage any challenges that employees are facing, for example concerns regarding health, finances or caring obligations. Regular communication with these staff members is important.
Guidance for the public on the mental health and wellbeing aspects of coronavirus (COVID-19) – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
Supporting your staff’s mental health: Coronavirus (COVID-19) and mental health at work – Acas
Be prepared for flexible working requests
Many people will have become accustomed to working from home and may want to continue. Remember that the statutory right to make a flexible working request applies to all employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous service. The request must be made in writing and can only be made once in any 12-month period. A request for flexible working under the statutory scheme, including home working, must be dealt with by the employer in a “reasonable manner” and can only be refused on one of the key prescribed grounds. The statutory scheme is supported by an Acas Code of Practice (Acas Code of Practice on flexible working requests | Acas) and an Acas guide (Asking for flexible working: Making a flexible working request – Acas).
Think about holiday arrangements
Give some thought to your policy on holiday requests this year and communicate this to staff. Staff may need to quarantine if they go abroad and employers will need to consider whether staff can work from home during that time, take additional holiday or be permitted to take unpaid leave.
Review relevant policies
It is well worth carrying out a review of all HR policies and update them if necessary, particularly Sickness Absence & Pay, Annual Leave, Disciplinary and Flexible Working Policies. As mentioned above, you should put in place a homeworking or hybrid working policy if you are considering these working arrangements. You may also want to consider introducing a vaccination policy if you are seeking to encourage employees to get vaccinated.
Please join us on 8th July at 1.30pm for our next HR Forum about Transgender rights.
Selene Holden (email@example.com ~ 01284 717436)
Greg Jones (firstname.lastname@example.org ~ 01284 717446)
Angharad Ellis Owen (email@example.com ~ 01284 717453).
Katie Harris-Wright (firstname.lastname@example.org ~ 01284 717442)
For more information on the services offered by Greene & Greene Solicitors please visit www.greene-greene.com and follow on Twitter @GreeneGreeneLaw.