The coronavirus has interrupted many businesses across the UK and while it is unclear how long it will continue to affect businesses, many employers are looking into how employees can return to work.
Echoing the views of public health officials, a return to normality will not be like flipping a switch, but will be a gradual effort. In preparation for reopening your business and asking employees to come back to work, it is imperative that your business constructs a return to work plan to keep everyone healthy and safe.
You should note that this blog is for informational purposes only, and it should not supersede any applicable national guidance. Additionally, we would suggest you review any workplace-specific considerations, that could be more involved depending on the industry you operate in, when drafting your return to work plan.
Where to start?
A return to work plan should be designed with the intention of protecting employees who have been away from your business for an extended period. I.e. through injury or in this case COVID. The plan ought to detail how employees should return to work gradually. Its purpose is to formalise steps for a safe and suitably paced return to work.
There are many benefits to a return to work plan for both you and your employee. It can help you increase employee engagement, proactively contain potential costs, avoid turnover reductions, improve communication and morale. In addition, employees who go through a return to work plan are able to get back to work quicker than those who do not, meaning that businesses will see higher productivity levels following an employee’s return to work.
Employees can benefit from return to work plans, as they will feel supported by their employer, which increases their engagement and loyalty to your business. Therefore, a return to work plan helps them get back to work faster and increases the likelihood that they feel secure and stable at your business.
The benefits to having a return to work plan are undeniable. While many of these plans are customised on an individual basis, you can use the basics of a return to work plan to build your company’s approach to asking employees to return to work following the interruption caused by the coronavirus.
What should be in your Coronavirus Return to Work Plan?
Many businesses have had to shut down or shift their employees to remote working, disrupting everyone’s daily routine. As the government slowly eases stay-at-home regulations and all businesses begin transitioning to their “new normal”, you will at some point be asking employees to return.
While they may not be coming back from an injury or leave, you need to ensure you have a plan in place for all to safely return to work. You will also need to tailor your business’s return to work plan for each employees’ specific needs (e.g., childcare arrangements, caregiving responsibilities and health issues), having a generalised plan in place can help you safely reopen your business.
Therefore, your coronavirus return to work plan should include the following:
Anticipated return to work date
With the uncertainty that this pandemic has brought, it is important to give clear information and dates on when employees are expected to return whenever possible. However, be sure you are flexible with your dates, as national orders are changing all the time.
Disinfecting and cleaning measures
Since the coronavirus can remain on surfaces long after they have been touched, it is vital that your business regularly cleans and disinfects work areas. Some best practices contain:
- Cleaning and disinfecting all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, keyboards, phones, handrails and doorknobs.
- Discouraging employees from using other employee’s equipment such as, phones, desks, offices, or other tools, where possible. If this is not possible, then employees should have ability to clean the equipment before use. With this in mind you may wish to prohibit use of tea making facilities as well as coffee and vending machines.
- Provide disposable wipe’s so that employees before each use can wipe down commonly used surfaces. Hand sanitiser should be placed near any objects where physical contact is unavoidable.
Social distancing practice
Social distancing is the practice of purposely increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness. In terms of the coronavirus, social distancing practices for businesses can include:
- Avoiding gatherings of 10 or more employees
- Visual demarcation of safe distances at pinch points or areas where queuing may be unavoidable
- Instructing employees to maintain at least 2 metres of distance from others
- Hosting meetings virtually when and where possible
- Limiting the number of people at the worksite to essential employees and personnel
- Discouraging people from shaking hands
- Using signage to implement a one-way system in areas of high footfall
Screening Employees When Lockdown is Lifted
To help keep employees safe, consider conducting screening to identify potentially ill employees before they enter your premises.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) permits employers to measure employees’ body temperatures before allowing them to enter the worksite. Any employee screening should be on a non-discriminatory basis, and all information collected be treated as confidential medical information under the Equality Act 2010. The ICO has also advised businesses they can inform other employees that a co-worker may have contracted coronavirus, but it is unlikely that you will be obligated to reveal the employee’s identity. Businesses should not disclose more information than necessary about the situation.
In addition to measuring body temperature before entering the workplace, businesses may also be able to have a private medical provider administer a swab test to check employees for coronavirus before allowing them to return. The ICO noted that it is unlikely businesses will have to share health details of employees with authorities, but if necessary, then data protection laws will not apply and businesses will be obligated to comply.
Your return to work plan should include a safety-training guide to ensure that all employees understand how they can prevent the spread of coronavirus and how they should conduct themselves while on the premises.
Be prepared for changing rules and regulations
Due to the nature of the situation, the rules and regulations are constantly changing. You should be prepared to change your business practices if needed. This could involve identifying alternative suppliers, prioritising existing customers or suspending portions of your operations.
Given that much is still currently unknown about the situation, people may have strong opinions about your decision to reopen your business.
Therefore, there could be a reputational impact of reopening your business. By demonstrating your steps on how you are keeping your employees and customers safe, will help manage any reputational effects of opening.
Plan, Plan and Plan Some More
Remember, reopening your business is not going to be as simple as opening your doors. You will need to carefully evaluate each step of your reopening process. You may wish to implement a phased approach where you gradually ask more employees to return to work in order to assess the appropriateness of your plan but be ready to stop at any time.
While the task of reopening may seem overwhelming, we are here to help every step of the way. Contact us today to learn what free risk management resources we have available to share on the subject and to discuss your business insurance needs.