Please note: The information contained in this article is correct as of 11/05/20. Due to the developing nature of the coronavirus situation and subsequent government guidance, information is subject to change. While we will do what we can to ensure the information in our blogs is up to date, we would always advise you speak with a solicitor for specific advice.

The government has today published “OUR PLAN TO REBUILD: The UK Government’s COVID-19 Strategy” setting out its roadmap to bring the UK out of lockdown.

The proposals on work are set out at page 26 and take effect from Wednesday 13 May 2020. They state “For the foreseeable future, workers should continue to work from home rather than their normal physical workplace, wherever possible.

This will help minimise the number of social contacts across the country and therefore keep transmissions as low as possible. All those who work are contributing taxes that help pay for the healthcare provision on which the UK relies.

People who are able to work at home make it possible for people who have to attend work places in person to do so while minimising the risk of overcrowding on transport and in public places.

All workers who cannot work from home should travel to work if their workplace is open. Sectors of the economy that are allowed to be open should be open, for example this includes food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research in laboratories. The only exceptions to this are those workplaces such as hospitality and non-essential retail which during this first step the Government is requiring to remain closed.”

It is important for businesses to plan effectively to achieve a smooth return to work and ensure that employees’ health is properly protected whilst enabling the business to run as efficiently as possible.

Factors to consider include:

  1. Management – Appoint key managers responsible for creating the return to work plan and how it will be implemented after reviewing government guidance.

  2. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – Consider what equipment may be required depending on the roles of your workers including gloves, masks and hand sanitiser. Depending on what PPE is required, you may need to implement training or a staff briefing on correct usage to ensure they are effective.  Check that the PPE meets the applicable health and safety standards, fits correctly and that you can maintain appropriate levels of stock.  Remind staff to regularly wash their hands and use the hand sanitiser provided.  Consider carrying out a deep clean of your premises if you have closed the site during lock down and diarise regular cleaning going forward.

  3. Risk Assessments – To ensure compliance with your duty to provide a safe working environment for your staff, you should carry out and implement suitable risk assessments which may include dealing with PPE, social distancing, contact with colleagues and members of the public. You will need to consider additional measures for any vulnerable and shielding members of staff. Reference should be made to the latest guidance from the government and Public Health England concerning COVID-19. There is also guidance on the Health and Safety Executive website. Keep risk assessments under review and be prepared to implement any changes in government guidance.

  4. Assess existing working practices – Consideration will need to be given to employees’ roles, hours of work, terms of employment, location, flexible working and remote working. Can staff maintain a safe 2 metre distance? Is it worthwhile considering the use of shift working to limit the number of staff on site to enable effective social distancing. Staff may have contractually agreed working hours and that change to these may require employee consultation and agreement.

  5. Staff wellbeing and morale – The pandemic has affected people psychologically as well as physically. Many people have had anxiety about the impact the virus has had on health, job security and the social isolation has been difficult for some to deal with whilst in lockdown. Workers are likely to need time to adjust following the easing of lockdown. Consider ways in which you can support staff in their return to the workplace. It will be important to clearly communicate the health and safety measures put in place and consult with staff to understand their concerns in returning to the workplace and consider how any concerns can be eased. Inform staff of any employee assistance programme that may be available.

  6. Consider how to ease the return of staff on furlough leave – Be particularly sensitive when reintroducing furloughed members of staff to the workplace. On top of concerns about how their safety will be managed when returning to work, these employees will have spent time out of their regular working patterns, may feel isolated, may be unaware of business changes and in some cases, may resent the decision to place them on furlough leave and fear that they are most at risk of redundancy compared to staff that were not placed on furlough leave.

  7. Use of annual leave to deliver phased return – HMRC has clarified that employees can take annual leave during furlough leave without impacting on payments reimbursed through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. You may wish to use annual leave periods effectively to ensure a smooth return to capacity. You should ensure you give the required period of notice to staff to take a period of annual leave and check any contractual terms in place regarding holiday. There are still some uncertainties concerning holiday and furlough leave so advice should be sought. Any selection exercise that is required to identify which employees will return from furlough leave must be fair.

  8. COVID-19 in the workplace – Implement a written policy to deal with any suspected or actual cases of employees contracting COVID-19 and communicate this to staff including when it is necessary to send home. Request that staff report if they are ill, have symptoms or are particularly susceptible.

  9. Termination of employment – Unfortunately, some businesses will need to consider cost saving measures including redundancies due to a downturn in work. These employers will need to decide whether they start the redundancy consultation process before staff return to work and possibly before the end of the furlough leave period. It is important to note that the usual redundancy process will apply and where there are 20 or more redundancies in a 90 day period, the collective redundancy consultation obligations will need to be followed.

  10. Insurance – Review your existing insurance policies to understand the level of cover in place. Are you covered in the event that a member of staff contracts COVID-19 whilst at work?

  11. Review your existing contracts of employment – Should any terms of employment be updated or amended to assist the business in the event of a similar crisis in the future? Consideration could be given to including short-time or lay off clauses.

  12. Contingency plans – Review these and consider any lessons learnt from the experience that can be included in the plan to take into account in the event of a similar crisis.

For further legal advice on planning your business’ return to ‘normal’ after lockdown, please contact Farleys employment law team on 0845 287 0939 or contact us online.