How to prevent Covid-19 work tensions escalating into formal grievances
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Have you noticed that tensions are building in your workplace as the strict restrictions required during the pandemic are eased and more staff come into the office? Do different employees have contrasting views on wearing masks, getting vaccinated, or going to large indoor gatherings? These are the sorts of disputes that can easily turn into formal grievances and involve you in time-consuming and energy-draining processes to resolve them.

We’ve taken a look at some of the most common scenarios that our customers have been asking us for help with over the last few weeks, and here are some recommendations and tips on how to ease some of those tensions and hopefully prevent them from escalating.

My employees are having a dispute about wearing masks in the workplace

It’s not currently mandatory to wear face coverings in the workplace and masks are no longer required by law outside the office. However, they are advised in busy places or crowds if other social distancing measures can’t be guaranteed.

As part of your health and safety risk assessment review, you can consider whether face coverings in any areas of your workplace might be a reasonable precaution to advise staff to take, and involve all your staff in your decision on this.

Where you’ve stopped short of advising face coverings, you can still support your employees by letting them know that they can wear a mask if they want to, and perhaps make disposable masks available. You can also reinforce with everyone that mask wearing is a personal choice, and that whichever choice is made, this should be respected by all colleagues..

Some of my team commute to work using public transport and some of my employees think this is unsafe

Depending on how flexible your office can be, you could suggest other safety measures like planning their journey to avoid busy times, opening a window where possible if safe to do so on a train or bus, and sanitising regularly. It might be worth asking staff to wear face masks on public transport, even though it is only a requirement on some forms of public transport, to help reassure colleagues that might be concerned.

Alternatively, support employees to travel by means other than public transport, such as walking, or implementing a cycle scheme or, in appropriate cases, driving. Can some of your employees buddy up and do a car share if they feel comfortable doing this?

This could involve a range of measures, from helping your employees get access to bikes, or flexible working hours so that employees can take some extra time to walk in. You can read our tips on flexible working requests here.

My employee posted on social media that she went to a concert and mixed with a large number of people, leaving some of my team anxious about spreading the virus at work.

For some, the pandemic has led to major changes to work-life balance, and now restrictions are lifted, many people are keen to get back to events that they enjoyed before.

There is detailed government guidance for businesses hosting events, and they are advised to complete a risk assessment and take reasonable precautions to ensure that safety can be established before going ahead. But what is done by any one venue will vary currently.

If you have concerned employees, can you set up a desk booking service for people to choose a quiet area of the office or can you continue to offer flexibility to choose whether to work from home or in the office?

Not all of my employees are vaccinated, and that’s causing tension.

As vaccination is at your employees’ discretion, conversations among your team around vaccinations could cause mixed feelings.

In the UK, employers cannot require their employees or potential employees to be vaccinated, unless they work in care homes, where a legal requirement has been introduced.

Try to remind your team that vaccinations are not mandatory and that some people may have reasons for not being vaccinated that they don’t have to disclose at work, and their decision needs to be respected. You can also refer to all the other precautions you are taking in the workplace following your risk assessment, like additional cleaning, ventilation or screening to reduce risk.

A few of my employees don’t want to test before coming into the office and feel this is unnecessary now things are returning to normal.

Lateral flow testing is a fast and simple way to test people who do not have symptoms of Covid-19, and you can ask staff to test regularly before coming into work. As part of your risk assessment, you can consider whether to require or just encourage staff to do this, and you’ll need to talk to staff about this as part of the risk assessment process.

If you decide to encourage, but not require, testing, and an employee doesn’t want to test before coming into work, you can reassure them that they can still come into the workplace if they want to. Do reiterate, however, that if anyone does test positive or is otherwise required to self-isolate, that they should let you know and stay at home for the full isolation period.

We have some vulnerable people in our team, and they want reassurance that they will be protected.

Any of the measures that you decide to put in place as a result of your risk assessment will help. For instance can you set up additional cleaning stations around your workplace? Can you install hand sanitiser dispensers for your employees? Is it possible to offer socially distanced workspaces in your office, perhaps with additional screening?

Equally, you can support more vulnerable members of your team by offering hybrid or homeworking or other forms of flexible working, to minimise their need to commute and work in the office if they don’t feel safe to do so.

Some of my team want us to reintroduce workplace activities, but some are reluctant because of keeping a safe socially distanced space.

As restrictions have been eased, many people want to bring back workplace activities to boost morale and reconnect with their colleagues in person rather than virtually.

Can you send out an open survey to get an overall understanding of what your team is comfortable with? Can you set up activities with optional attendance? Is it possible to find a happy medium, with something that everyone can take part in, so no one feels left out?

For example, if the majority of colleagues would like a Christmas party this year, but some would feel unsafe doing this, you could set up a virtual event like a quiz night that everyone can come to as well as the Christmas party and make sure that your team know that attendance is optional.

 

These are just a handful of issues that might cause grievances that could come up in your workplace in the coming months, especially as many people are becoming more vigilant as a winter lockdown Plan B is on the cards.

And if you do find things escalate and you have to look at your Grievance Procedure, here’s our guide to managing employee grievances.

If you’d like some help with managing grievances or awkward tensions around Covid-19 opinions amongst your staff, contact our HR team today on info@citrushr.com or give us a call on 0333 014 3888.

The content of this blog is for general information only. Please don’t rely on it as legal or other professional advice as that is not what we intend. You can find more detail on this in our Terms of Website Use. If you require professional advice, please get in touch.

 

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