As many countries across Europe start to ease restrictions, it looks as though the UK, after two months of working from home, will soon be following suit.
Whilst some businesses who were forced to close now have the green light to re-open, it is really important that this is not rushed. We’re all keen to get back to some sort of normal but it’s important for small businesses to ensure they have the proper procedures in place to safeguard employees physical and mental health, ensuring they look after their teams and avoid liability for putting staff in an unsafe workplace.
There are 5 key themes to the current advice:
- Work from home if you can
- Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment
- Maintain 2-metre social distancing where possible
- Where people can’t be 2 metres apart, manage the transmission risk
- Reinforce the cleaning processes
We’re helping lots of small businesses plan for their return to the workplace, and earlier this month we ran an exclusive webinar for our citrus HR customers with our In-house Employment Lawyer Helen Lucas and Darren Emery, Health and Safety expert from First Response Training, to answer some of our customers’ questions on getting teams back to work safely after lockdown. We thought we’d share the top 5 questions, and answers with you:
Q: What support should we provide to staff who are anxious about returning to work?
A: The best way to deal with this is to include and consult staff on your risk assessment, so you can reassure them that you are taking all steps necessary to provide a safe place of work and it addresses their concerns.
You could consider other measures such as flexible working or a temporary change in hours but the key will be communication, try to discuss with them individually so you can understand what their particular fear/issue is to try and resolve.
Ultimately if they are not in one of the groups of employees who need special consideration then they are not entitled to be paid if they refuse to come back to work, you could consider furlough or unpaid leave and in the most extreme cases disciplinary action or dismissal, but we’d recommend you act cautiously and take specific advice on the circumstances.
Q: Any tips on safely using a shared kitchen in a small office?
A: One option is to ask everyone to bring in their own glass or mug. You could suggest that anyone who is worried brings in their own tea or coffee, too, if they want to.
However, if you have a communal fridge then they are likely to still need to touch something used by other staff especially as we head into the warmer weather- and the best way to deal with that is to encourage everyone to wash their hands after touching anything in the kitchen, and asking people to clean up after themselves, putting their own items in the dishwasher etc.
We also suggest a one-person-in-the-kitchen-at-a-time policy for smaller offices.
Q: We are renting offices from a serviced office provider performing their own risk assessment. Would that exempt us from performing a separate risk assessment?
A: As you are the employer, you still have a legal obligation to perform your own Risk Assessment. We suggest you review the risk assessment of your Serviced office
provider has done; that may be sufficient for your needs, but you should form your own opinion about that and add any other recommendations you have, if any, to keep your staff and any visitors safe.
Q: What is the view on people living with key workers/clinically vulnerable returning to the workplace?
A: Those living with key workers are not specified in the government guidance as needing any special consideration and therefore they should be treated the same as other employees.
Discuss any particular concerns with the individual and be flexible if you can offer alternatives such as unpaid leave or a longer period of working from home.
Q: Our offices have one entrance/exit and the distance in the walkways is less than 2 metres. Any suggestions on how we manage this?
A: This answer also applies to many offices which need a lift or stairway for access.
If the entrance/egress to the office is less than 2m, you should ensure that only one person uses this at a time.
It’s important to make your team and any visitors about this new arrangement. We suggest also using signs and/or tape on the floor to make sure everyone using the entrance understands this.
These situations are sufficiently common now that this should be practical for most situations.
But if your workplace makes this unviable, then consider work from home or reducing non-essential workers. Or insist that all your team where PPE when entering or leaving the premises.
Need more help?
As part of our HR support service, we offer a selection in-depth guides and documents like this to help you best support your team through Coronavirus, as well as expert friendly advice from our qualified HR team.
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