Employers urged to carefully manage phased return to work

Employers are being encouraged to take a sympathetic view to employees returning to the workplace, now that virtually all restrictions in England have been lifted.

With no social distancing and no more mandatory mask wearing, firms are having to consider how to bring employees back to the workplace safely.

The UK Government said the high uptake of the COVID-19 vaccination has meant the risk of catching and transmitting the virus has decreased, and the return to offices has been encouraged.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said: “We don’t expect that the whole country will return to their desk as one, but we anticipate a gradual return to the workplace over the rest of the summer.”

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), a professional association for human resource management professionals, said employers should follow Government recommendations for a gradual return to workplaces for those who have been working from home or furloughed.

He said: “Employers’ duty of care to all staff should be at the heart of their plans if they are making changes following the end of restrictions.

“This means organisations continuing to risk assess and take measures to protect their workers from COVID-19 such as steps to minimise contact between staff or with customers to manage COVID-19 risk in the workplace.”

Mr Willmott advised employers to use lessons learned from the pandemic, applying flexibility to support and manage the workforce during this transition phase and beyond.

For example, he said: “Provide flexi-time where possible so people can commute at different times and continue the shift to more home and hybrid ways of working.

“It’s important to recognise that many people might be anxious or worried about returning to their workplace and employers should support their mental wellbeing by ensuring line managers provide flexibility, support and understanding where people have concerns.”

Usdaw, the union for retail workers, has advised that 85 per cent of shop workers have experienced verbal abuse and nine per cent were assaulted during the pandemic.

Many public-facing businesses will have to assess whether wearing facemasks is mandatory, discretionary, or prohibited based on the health and safety risk assessment of their workforce.

They will also need to take account of the views of their workforce and the impact such decisions will have on their business and clientele.

For help and advice, contact our expert team at AGS HR Solutions today to discuss your requirements.