Last reviewed 11 May 2020
Ben McCarthy, lead researcher and employment law writer, explores the main points which employers may be faced with in the workplace after the pandemic.
During his “roadmap” announcement on Sunday 10 May 2020, the Prime Minister stated that employees in England who cannot work from home are “actively encouraged” to go to work. He also said that those who can work from home should still work from home. More detail is expected on exactly how a return to work should be managed, particularly from a health and safety point of view.
Lockdown will continue in Scotland and Wales for now. However, employers in those areas should still begin to consider how they will manage a return to work when the time comes, though area specific guidance may be put in place.
As we try and return to normality, and potentially see lock-down provisions softened, what should employers bear in mind?
For many companies, putting homeworking options into place may have been an entirely new venture that they had not previously considered. While the initial reaction to the pandemic ending may be to return all staff to previous working arrangements, some companies and their employees may have been satisfied with the homeworking situation and could wish to make it permanent. Ultimately, it is up to employers if they permit staff to work from home but they should consider the benefits of doing so, and the positives of being more flexible with employees in general.
Homeworking can be a useful way of helping staff to manage outside commitments, such as childcare, that may have been intensified by the outbreak. For example, if the UK lockdown eases but the schools remain shut, or adopt a phased re-open, staff may struggle to facilitate childcare. By allowing remote working on a more permanent basis, employers can help to encourage the loyalty and retention of staff. If such an option isn't possible, it may instead be advisable to explore other forms of flexible working, such as part-time homeworking or a change in hours.
Continued social distancing
It is very likely that a form of social distancing would continue. To this end, before bringing staff back to work, employers will likely need to make changes to the workplace that could permit a certain level of distance to be maintained between staff. Allowing remote homeworking to continue for some members of staff may offer a solution here as it will mean fewer bodies are coming into work. Again, in the absence of remote working, employers may need to consider other forms of flexible working to keep staff numbers down.
Some of the staff returning to work will have been furloughed, meaning they could potentially have been away from their job for a prolonged period of time. It will be important to consider if they will need any training on new or updated aspects of their job, or simply as a reminder as they will not have done it in a while. It is also crucial that employers are prepared to be patient with their staff; it may take them a few days to get back to previous levels of productivity. Constant communication should be kept open with a workforce in order to keep them updated on the company's current situation and invite them to bring forward any concerns they may have.
Employee Assistance Programme
The coronavirus pandemic has been difficult for everyone and may have impacted upon some members of staff more than others. Employers should therefore clearly signpost any counselling services it may offer, such as an Employee Assistance Programme, that could offer further support and aid to employees. Managers should also maintain an open-door policy to encourage anyone struggling with their mental health to ask for help.