A guide to returning to the workplace

This guide can be used following a period of furlough or once lockdown measures start easing – it will help you to plan your organisation’s next steps.

Organisations need to start planning for what is likely to be staged return to the workplace over what could be prolonged periods.

They must take care of their people and safeguard their health and well-being. Many people returning to work will be concerned and anxious about actually being in the workplace, around people again and/or travelling to the workplace.
It is important organisations can show their support for physical and mental health of employees and are changing their thinking about flexible and remote working.

In this guide I will look at:

  • Managing returning to the workplace
  • Dealing with redundancies and related issues once the furlough scheme ends

Returning to the workplace
There are things we must consider when returning to work:

– Phased return
Don’t bring everyone back to work at once, have some coming back earlier whilst others remain on furlough/working at home

– Rotate
Have employees coming in one week then at home another week or working different days in the office

– Stagger start times
If employees use public transport to commute to work, allow them start earlier/later than ‘normal’ to avoid busy times.

– Identify natural gathering points
Restrict how many people can access toilets, canteens and meeting rooms at any one time

– Office setup
You will most likely need to consider moving office furniture around to maintain social distancing measures.

– Hygiene measures
If your premises have been closed for a long period of time it is advisable to carry out a deep-clean before you reopen. Also review your regular cleaning procedures, for example ensuring all phones/keyboards etc are wiped daily with anti-viral cleaner.

Depending on your working environment, you may need to consider providing additional PPE, including gloves, masks or anti-viral hand gel

– Mental health and wellbeing
This pandemic has had a profound effect on the majority of peoples mental wellbeing, for example anxiety about the ongoing health crisis and fear of infection, as well social isolation due to the lockdown. Many will have experienced challenging domestic situations, such as juggling childcare or caring for a vulnerable relative, as well as financial worries if a partner has lost their income. Some will have experienced illness, or bereavement. Being mindful of this is fundamental for the wellbeing of employees.

How to handle the end of furlough scheme

The furlough scheme is currently due to end on 30th June 2020; you might not need to bring the entire existing workforce back. If this is the case, you have various options

– Reduced working hours
If your business can reopen and has work for the staff, but not at the level before restrictions, you may want to consider asking staff to reduce their working hours on a temporary basis.
As this will be a temporary contractual change, people will need to agree in writing. It is legally possible to impose a change but this is a complex and time consuming approach which is also likely to destroy any goodwill with employees, so should only be considered as a last resort and following proper legal advice.
You’ll need to be clear about the reasons for reducing working hours and be prepared to respond to questions from staff.

– Redundancies
You might find that your business may not be able to continue trading, or you may only have enough business to require significantly fewer staff.
In this case you might need to make redundancies.
When making redundancies you must follow the correct legal process. You must remember to consult with staff before formally giving notice, even if there is no option but to make redundancies. This should include the reasons why they are being made redundant.
Redundant staff are entitled to receive notice (or payment in lieu); holidays and other contractual entitlements; and a redundancy payment if they qualify. This is a cost your business will have to pay.

If you would like to discuss returning to the workplace then please do not hesitate to get in touch.