19 June 2020
With the Government's advice still being to continue to work from home if possible, the mediation service Acas has noted that many employers and their staff remain concerned about the practicalities of physically going back to work.
“Some people may feel that they are unable to go back to work due to health, safety or childcare concerns,” Acas Chief Executive, Susan Clews, said. “Our new advice includes guidance in these areas.”
Acas recommends early discussions between employers and employees about any plans to return to work so that they can try to come to an agreement.
These talks should focus on when staff might return to the workplace, how they will travel to and from work and how health and safety is being reviewed and managed, including sharing the latest risk assessment.
Any planned adjustments to the workplace, such as additional handwashing facilities, staggering start and finish times to avoid overcrowding or floor markings to help people keep two metres apart, should be mentioned as should the possibility of a phased return of the workforce, with some staff returning before others.
Where employees do raise problems with regard to returning to work, Acas suggests that employers should look at practical options such as arranging for them to work different hours temporarily to avoid peak time travel, keeping them on furlough or providing extra car parking, if possible, so that people can avoid using public transport.
Employers and managers should take any issues raised by staff seriously, Ms Clews emphasised.
The Acas guidance on returning to the workplace can be found at https://www.acas.org.uk/working-safely-coronavirus/returning-to-the-workplace.
Comment by Peninsula Associate Director of Advisory Kate Palmer
Acas guidelines are not legally binding on employers, but they do offer credible and useful advice on how best to implement statutory provisions.
Therefore, employers may take this guidance and apply according to their individual business needs. Many may welcome this news as a chance to unstick their business from the coronavirus mud, but others may find that alternative interpretations of the law work best for them.
However, the latter group must be careful not to misinterpret the law, which could cause a breach of Government guidelines.
Ultimately, employers should realise that their staff may want to feel that their mental and physical health matter to their employers.
Reaching a suitable arrangement with them as to when and how they should return to work could increase morale, as well as contributing towards enhancing staff performance whatever the arrangement, whether it be full/flexible furlough or part-time work.