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Employer considerations for returning to the workplace after COVID-19

With businesses moving towards reopening and restrictions continuously changing, employers must start planning for a gradual return to the workplace. However, returning to the workplace after COVID-19 must be done in a strategic way to protect the health and wellbeing of your workforce. It is important to note that, while the government’s roadmap offers a timetable and regulations, employers must stay up to date since changes can happen at any time. With that said, this Pacific Prime UK article discusses what employers need to think about when returning to work after COVID-19.

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Deciding to return to the workplace

Even though the easing of lockdown makes returning to the workplace possible, and in some cases necessary, an integral part of any plan should be to support flexible working arrangements. Employees may be concerned about travelling to work and being in the office, especially those who have been shielding.

According to government advice, work from home should continue wherever possible, at least until social distancing or lockdown restrictions are relaxed. If working from home is not possible, employers must comply with guidelines for returning to work post-COVID. Likewise, they need to consider the overall wellbeing of the workforce, including physical, mental, and emotional.

The pandemic has changed the way people work and manage responsibilities. As an employer, now is the best time to think creatively about more effective and flexible working practising to meet employees’ expectations. Flexible working arrangements could help employees be more effective, which would improve productivity. Employers may have to produce new policies on flexible working arrangements or review existing ones.

If working from home is not an option, there are three questions employers should ask before bringing the workforce back into the office:

  1. Is it essential?
  2. Is it safe?
  3. Is it mutually agreed?

There are many factors to think about, such as the size of the workplace and the number of vulnerable employees or those living with vulnerable people. Since it can be highly challenging to adapt offices to accommodate all employees and maintain social distancing, employers may choose to stay closed until the scheme ends.

Health and safety measures

For a safe return to the workplace, employers need to think about risk management approaches to minimise the risk of infection and protect employees’ health. Spot checks will be conducted by the Health and Safety Executive, so it is advisable to refer to their advice and guidance when considering health and safety measures. There are also plenty of toolkits and resources available online for returning to work safely during COVID-19.

Close collaborations between employers and health and safety teams are essential. Likewise, employers should let employees know the measures they are taking to offer reassurance and remind them that their safety, health and wellbeing come first. Employees must have a clear understanding of rules and procedures they need to follow whether working at home or in the workplace, especially if they start to feel unwell.

Employers must review the workplace and ask questions such as:

  • Is it possible for employees to practice safe physical distancing?
  • How will interactions, meetings and interviews be managed?
  • Can staggered working hours help limit the number of employees in the office at the same time?

Cleaning arrangements must also be reviewed. For example, making sure all surfaces are wiped with a disinfectant daily. Offices that have been closed for a long time may also need a deep cleaning before reopening. It is important to remind employees about effective hygiene measures, such as regular handwashing, and provide hand sanitiser throughout the premises.

In some working environments, additional personal protective equipment (PPE), like masks and gloves, may also be necessary. If that is the case, employers may have to provide training and brief employees on correct usage to ensure it is effective. According to the latest regulations, waiters, bar staff and shop workers must wear face coverings.

Testing for COVID-19 infection

More extensive COVID-19 testing will likely become a crucial part of returning to the workplace, especially those with a large workforce. While essential workers are already being tested, it’s possible that every employer will have to do the same – and therefore must adopt a systematic approach to testing their workforce.

Returning to work after a negative COVID-19 test ensures that employees feel safe being in the office and around their colleagues. What if an employee tests positive and asks “when can I return to work after a positive COVID-19 test?”. If that’s the case, it is advisable to check the guidance before answering and tell them to stay home and self isolate in the meantime.

Changes are probably going to keep fluctuating, and stricter measures can be imposed at any time. Employers must communicate with the workforce and keep employees informed to give them some sense of security during these trying and uncertain times. Knowing that their employer values and supports them, and continues to put their health and safety first, will be vital to their wellbeing.

Prioritise your employees’ needs with Pacific Prime

Whether you’d like to go over your group health insurance plan or extend employee benefits to dependents, Pacific Prime UK is here to help. As a leading insurance broker and employee benefits specialist, we have the expertise and knowledge to help you find the best company insurance solutions and employee benefits plans. Contact our team of expert advisors for impartial advice or an obligation-free plan comparison today.

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