As the UK government continues to ease lockdown restrictions, employers should start to consider options for a staged return to the workplace.
Official guidance currently states that employees who can work from home should continue to do so, and further relaxation of restrictions is uncertain. The existing furlough scheme plays a vital role in this decision-making process. Extended until July 1st, furloughed employees may return to work, either at home or in the workplace, for any number of hours per day, with employers able to claim the number of hours not worked by their staff. However, from July 1st, while the government will still pay 80% of furloughed employees salaries, employers will be expected to pay National Insurance and Pension contributions, whether their staff are furloughed or not. The percentage of wages paid by the government will decrease in September and October, ending entirely on October 31st.
What do we need to consider?
It seems highly likely that some form of social distancing will be required. Workplaces will need to be reviewed to ensure a minimum distance and practices identified for dealing with meetings and other person to person interactions. Consideration will also need to be given to communal areas, such as kitchens and canteens. Equipment and surfaces should also be cleaned down at the end of each day.
It is also important to acknowledge that the many months of lockdown restrictions may have had an impact on the mental health of employees. Many may have had to deal with very challenging situations, such as caring for a vulnerable relative, childcare and homeschooling, and financial concerns caused by reduced or loss of income. Some may even have experienced illness or even bereavement of a friend or family member. It should be expected that most employees will need a period of time to readjust to a “new normal” working environment. Managers should be sensitive and open with all members of their team to talk through any adjustments or support employees need to support a successful transition back to the workplace. This is particularly important for staff that have been furloughed and may have struggled financially due to a loss of income.
A written agreement should be set out to facilitate a return to the workplace. While no minimum notice period is required, employees should be given a reasonable amount of time to prepare as some employees may be homeschooling or have childcare and other responsibilities that need to be arranged.
Now, more than ever is the perfect time to be creative in finding effective ways of working to harness more responsive and flexible working hours and practices. Is having all your staff return to the workplace a prudent option? Would it more appropriate to look at ways to support your staff in working from home on a longer-term basis?
Whatever approach you take, the health and welfare of your staff should be your utmost priority. Ensure that you keep all staff updated about how the business is performing – both good and bad. This will enable them to make realistic decisions for themselves and provide them with an element of security in the uncertain days and weeks ahead. Knowing that they are valued members of staff, who will be supported by their employer, will be pivotal to their mental health.