Returning to face to face working!

On the lovely Anna King’s show (BBC Radio Gloucestershire) today we discussed the Prime Minister’s announcement last night about the inevitable return to the workplace and how workers and employers will manage this in a post-lockdown world.

The Prime Minister said that “we now need to stress that anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work.” But what does that mean and what are the implications for employers and employees, particularly as it looks like children will be at home for some time to come


Your starting point

Your business may have been totally closed with all staff furloughed, trading on a limited basis with some staff furloughed or operating as close to normal as possible with everyone working from home.  Your starting point is key for creating your Return to Work plan.

Two months ago, there many businesses that could not have envisaged a situation where they had everyone working from home. The world of work has changed for ever and it is important to take some time reflect before you rush to try and create what you had before. What is the right model for the future? Do you need premises and the traditional 9-5, Monday to Friday model?

Some companies have continued to operate but do completely different work.  Instead of manufacturing hoovers or watches they have focussed on producing hand gel or ventilators.  So, of those operations are winding down, staff will need to understand what is next for them.

Your premises/office

It will be important, if you do want staff to work face to face, that you deep clean and disinfect the workplace.  Especially if it has bene empty a while.  You will need to minimise the number of staff in the office at any one time (maybe by creating shifts or staff taking it in turns to work remotely) and may need to re-arrange the office furniture to create safe distancing.  You may need to review your office cleaning protocols.  Door handles, keyboards and phones may need a daily wipe with an anti-viral cleanser for example.


Your business may already use this, but it is likely that gloves, face masks and anti-viral hand gel will be as important as training staff to use them correctly. Considerations like where they can wash their hands and needing to restrict access to small places (like the toilets) will also be important.

Travelling to or for work

The government are discouraging the use of public transport. Consider how your staff will get to work safely and how you can help. Some companies have decided to pay for taxi fares. If your employees need to travel with work, take time and care to think this through (in consultation with them) to make sure you agree a sensible and phased plan to do so.

Will you need everybody?

The furlough scheme is set to run until the end of June. If the government don’t continue it, employers can at their own expense.  Selecting who returns will involve an number of factors should include the needs of the business but also employees.

What if staff can’t work

Some of your employees may not be able to work. They could still have children at home or have been told to shield or self-isolate.  Consider whether working patterns can be changed to accommodate them (like a night shift) or if they can work from home.

The key with everything in the workplace is to communicate what you are thinking and consult with your staff and/or trade unions/employee representatives if you have them in place. Ultimately everyone wants the same thing which is the survival of the business and the health and safety of the employees.

Re-boarding your staff

If your staff have been out on furlough leave, treat their return as if they had been off on maternity or long-term sickness.  Arrange a 1-2-1 meeting with them and discuss in detail how they are feeling. They may have faced real stress and hardship. Someone may have died. They may be frightened of becoming ill. They may be exhausted by home schooling and currently there is no end in sight on childcare. Document this discussion and keep it as a record.

On-going monitoring

There are a number of measures being considered to monitor the health and safety of staff on a daily basis.  These include daily temperature checks, a temperature scanner at the door right through to using technology like Fitbits to record markers like your daily temperature and jackets that sound an alarm if someone is too close to them. Many implications to be considered for introducing for such invasive measures and more likely if we get a second wave.

Isolation rooms

It is important that you create a place that staff can retreat to if they feel unwell at work. The aim should be to get them home safely as quickly as possible and deep clean that space.  Staff also need to know what is expected of them if they feel unwell and that normal sickness absence procedures apply unless you have modified them.

Legal and psychological considerations

Normal employment legislation remains in place and although these are unprecedented and slightly desperate times, employers should avoid any actions that could be seen as discriminatory or unfair.  This would include being heavy handed and trying to force staff to return that are frightened to do so or are caring for children as the latter will disproportionately affect women.

Employment lawyers will be quick to point out that they predict (or maybe it’s wishful thinking?) a huge spike in Employment Tribunal claims.

Our view is that if you treat your staff well, consulting and agreeing any actions this is less likely. However, there may be a rise in personal injury claims if employers don’t recognise how this pandemic will impact staff psychologically and provide whatever support they can including access to employee assistance programmes.

Need some help?

Please call us 01453 548070 or email for a no obligation chat.  Watch out on Linkedin for details of our upcoming HR briefings with key topics and the chance for Q&A.