Boris Johnson has announced that from 1 August 2020, the Government is no longer going to advise employees to work from home if they can. Instead, employers will have more discretion to bring staff back to workplaces, if it is safe for them to do so.
As a result, many employers will take steps to bring their employees back to their place of work.
After spending lockdown working from home or on furlough, many employees are likely to want reassurance that it’s safe for them to go back. Below, we have answered some of commonly asked questions:
What do employers have to do to make the workplace of work safe?
The Government has published detailed “COVID-secure” guidance for workplaces of all descriptions. Employers should make sure that their place of work complies with the necessary guidance, which can be found here. This includes completing a risk assessment in line with HSE guidelines.
Alongside this guidance, you should listen to suggestions from your employees about changes that can be made to the workplace to minimise the risk of infection. Reasonable suggestions should, where possible, be built in to the risk assessment, which should then be published. Your risk assessment is your tool to show your employees that you have taken the steps necessary to provide them with a safe place to work.
Flexibility from both employers and employees will be key in making sure that the return to work will be both smooth and safe. Whilst employers should show a level of understanding of the concerns of their employees, employers can now legitimately request that their employees return to the workplace.
What about those who commute to work using public transport?
Current government guidance is that employees can use public transport, although they should use an alternative means if possible. This latter point is likely to change in the future.
Employees must wear a face covering and should maintain social distancing on public transport.
If your employees are worried about taking public transport to get to work, you could consider the following options:
- Adjusting their hours so that you aren’t travelling at peak times.
- Assessing whether additional parking can be made available to them so they can drive to work.
- Assessing whether a mix of working from home and in the workplace is possible.
Ultimately, the government guidance has changed to encourage employees back to work as part of the drive to open up the economy and therefore, employers are now in a better position to take a firmer line with employees who refuse to come back to the workplace. However, we recommend that you obtain advice before taking formal action against employees who refuse to return.
Do I need to provide face coverings?
This is likely to depend on your workplace. For example, the current guidance for offices is that employees do not need to wear a face covering while working, although you may, as part of your risk assessment, want to offer this to employees.
Even if you don’t require employees to wear a face covering at work, it’s probably a good idea to have a face coverings available (where employees do not already have their own) so that you are supporting the opening up of the economy and employees will have access to them to use when visiting anywhere where they are compulsory.
What about shielding employees – can they now return to work?
Shielding will be paused from 1 August 2020 in England and, like all other employees, you are able to request that these employees go back to work. Once again, the key to doing so is to ensure your workplace is COVID-secure.
However, employers should be sensible with respect to employees who are clinically extremely vulnerable or live with those who are clinically extremely vulnerable and should, where possible, facilitate those employees working from home.