The UK Government has now outlined its plans to permit certain sectors in England to resume operations. The gradual and phased return of employees across eight sectors, each with their own specific guidelines – from construction to manufacturing to retail – calls for employers to stay vigilant, as they balance the needs of the business with the health of their staff. The CIPD’s Chief Executive Peter Cheese rightly warns that “returning to work is a massive undertaking for employers”, that “following government guidance on health and safety can only go so far, and businesses need to think about what is needed for both their own organisation and the specific needs of their own people.”
It won’t be easy. Every employee will have unique concerns, ranging from the health of themselves and their loved ones to their economic security. Staff may face redundancies. Worker relations could be damaged. HR will need to work tactfully with their staff, health and safety executives, local authorities, trade unions, and other independent bodies to ensure a safe and secure return policy. Faced with these challenges, HR across all industries may understandably find themselves struggling to assess the wide and varied risks and to mitigate them.
Fortunately, a wide range of advice and guidance is available to help HR plan and execute their return to work strategy. Here are five of the best online resources to help HR ease people back to work after COVID-19.
The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (DBEIS) has released in-depth sector-specific advice, ranging from construction and outdoor labour to vehicle-based lines of work. It gives examples of work-based scenarios where employee contact may take place together with instructions on how to maintain social distancing, manage infection risks and maintain sanitary working conditions.
The DBEIS is also hosting multiple webinars, designed for employers who run offices, contact centres, and other indoor environments where staff are at risk. Their webinar portal also provides links to the government’s Business Support Hub, and helplines for businesses across different industries.
The government site is certainly one to be watching – especially as their thinking and advice continues to evolve in the next months.
The CIPD’s return-to-work guide
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has launched an in-depth return to the workplace guide, aimed at supporting employers in their next steps as lockdown eases, and furloughing ends. In this guide, you can find a series of questions you should be thinking about – especially regarding the physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing of the workforce. The areas covered include:
- reorientation and reintroduction of staff to work premises.
- how you can support managers who will be feeling unseen pressure.
- how you can maintain inclusivity, as you make staff feel involved in their return to work.
The guide holds the relationships you have with your staff in understandably high regard so those seeking to ease people back to work while showing sensitivity to their concerns, and to be ready to answer their questions, will benefit hugely from its content.
ACAS coronavirus hub
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service provides information on how to stay compliant while bringing people back to work on its coronavirus hub. It discusses:
- consulting with staff and how to reach agreements with staff on their return.
- making the workplace safe, having conducted a thorough risk assessment.
- following government guidelines.
While concise, it’s a useful delineation of the massively complex employment issues at hand, including variables you may not have considered, ranging from holiday and sickness absence to adjustments to contractual employment, making it both an excellent starting point for employers, as well as a useful resource point and companion as you navigate these challenges.
The Society of Occupational Medicine Toolkit
The Society of Occupational Medicine’s toolkit is a thorough document drafted in collaboration with ACAS, the CIPD, Mind, and Business in the Community. It’s an in-depth article, providing detailed advice on supporting worker wellbeing and controlling the risks of infection upon returning to work, while also providing referrals to professional health organisations and independent bodies willing to assist you
The document offers not only a rigorous risk assessment checklist, but it provides numerous examples of workplace situations and risk judgments, alongside their many possible solutions. We recommend the toolkit to anyone unsure about how to provide reassurance to staff that all hypotheticals have been taken seriously, and the workplace is fit for return.
Trades Union Congress Proposals Page
The TUC proposals webpage is a handy reference tool for employers and HR managers that want to think about what more they can do to reassure staff, beyond following government guidelines and the law. For instance, the TUC calls attention to diversity, highlighting that black and ethnic minority workers have suffered disproportionately from the impact of COVID-19, and that special considerations may need to be on the table.
Furthermore, as the name of the page suggests, it’s a good indication of workplace issues and workers’ concerns that have yet to emerge on the government’s agenda, or that the government may later begin to take seriously, such as mandatory publishing of risk assessments. If you’re an employer in an industry where a union is recognised, checking in on this website regularly will add an extra perspective to issues you might need to take into consideration in your return-to-work strategy.
It is paramount for organisations to safeguard the physical and mental health of their staff, and their wellbeing must be central to all return-to-work strategies. With this in mind, HR will be working hard to manage this effectively. Being transparent and going above and beyond to make the workplace safe and secure, and communicating effectively, are the best way to do this. These resources can help bring you one step closer to achieving it.