Thoughts on returning to work

Posted on Jun 8, 2020

As I sit here in my home office, and the country starts to think about reopening, I have been contemplating what the new “normal” will look like. (OK, it’s not really a home office but my conservatory, which is unbearably hot most of the day and freezing the rest of the time, and is the only place where I can shut out the rest of my family who have either been furloughed, migrated back home or are online schooling. Those of you who have been on our webinars and seen me present from my youngest’s bedroom (complete with Ipswich Town FC wall sticker) will also know that I get kicked out of it at random times because my son needs access to the drumkit that takes up one corner).

Back to the point of this piece. I find myself thinking: Do I want to get back in my car and drive to the office? Do I want to squeeze everything into working hours and dash back to make dinner? Do I want to travel to meetings when Zoom/Teams/Hangouts/[insert here any other amazing video conferencing platform] means I can connect with people without leaving my chair? Above all, is it safe to “go back out there”?

All of these issues will be in your minds I’m sure as we slowly take the wraps off the office furniture and contemplate reopening for business. This is however a time for understanding and empathy for your staff, some of whom may face more difficulties than a lot of us. Bottom line: do as much as you humanly can in order to accommodate people’s concerns, worries and difficulties before even contemplating disciplinary or worse.

Do you have employees who are scared to return/use public transport?

Undoubtedly a lot will still be shielding or have childcare issues.  Some you may feel, are simply too comfortable at home on furlough.  Some however may tell you that they are anxious about coming back to work.  You may decide that you don’t want to furlough them because you have work for them to do and you want them back.

But before you jump to putting them on unpaid leave or even worse disciplining them, consider this: under the Employment Rights Act, employees have an element of protection if they believe that returning to work would put them at risk of serious and imminent danger. Here’s some steps to consider first:

  • Have you carried out a risk assessment?
  • Has the place of work got in place measures to deal with the risks you have identified? These may include social distancing measures, closing canteens, deep cleaning, hand sanitisation, plastic screens, to name but a few examples.
  • To deal with issues around travelling on public transport, have you discussed varying start and finish times?
  • Can your staff work from somewhere else? If you have retail staff, is there a branch closer to their home, making travel easier?

Furloughing: the scheme is open until October 2020 and can be used for:

  • Those still without work to do;
  • From 1 July 2020, those with some work to do but not enough for the full role (this is a change from the current terms of the Scheme).
  • Shielding employees or employees who live with those who are shielding.
  • Employees who will struggle to return because of childcare issues – remember that from 1 July 2020 furloughed staff can work part-time so perhaps you can be talking to staff in case they could work for some of the time. They may have a partner who can also do the same. Do not assume that it’s all or nothing (although it might still be nothing until September when the schools (fingers crossed) are fully open.
  • Employees who are off sick – as a minimum, they should be getting statutory sick pay, but with your agreement, they can be furloughed.
  • Cut-off date for furloughing employees for the first time is 10 June 2020.

We hope that helps.  Back to staring into the garden ….  Stay safe and well.