Returning to work after homeworking or furlough – what should employers consider?

With the latest announcements from the government spreading hope of normality in the coming months,  many business will start to consider how to move their employees back into  the workplace.

For many going back into a busy work environment after nearly a year at home is going to be a big change. Hopefully, employers will maintain a sympathetic and flexible approach when ‘re-onboarding’ staff back into the workplace.

This situation is not a normal employment issue and so employers may feel unsure how to proceed. Bowcock & Pursaill’s employment law specialist, Clare Thomas is here to help you understand employment rights when returning to the office and how to resolve conflict.

Following guidelines and restrictions

It’s important for every employer to complete a risk assessment before encouraging their staff to return. This is because there are key points to consider before bringing people into the workplace such as:

  • government guidelines,
  • latest restrictions, and
  • staff wellbeing.

Plans have been outlined to lift restrictions by the Summer, but certain social distancing restrictions are set to remain in place until 21 June at the earliest. This is potentially when we’ll start to see workplaces return to traditional working environments but guidance on this may change.

Current advice is still for people to work from home unless it’s unreasonable to do so.  Therefore, employers should continue to facilitate remote working where possible until advice is updated.

Rishi Sunak’s recent budget has taken some pressure off businesses by extending the furlough scheme until the end of September. Initially, employers won’t be required to contribute more than employees National Insurance contributions and pension.

However, from July the Government will introduce an employer contribution toward the cost of unworked hours.  This contribution will be 10% in July increasing to 20% in August and September.

Consider how employees might return to work
CIPD research found that four in ten people are anxious about returning to work, as a result it’s important to maintain effective communication to ensure higher staff contentment and retention.

Before bringing staff into the workplace, businesses should also contemplate individual circumstances such as whether any staff are clinically vulnerable and will need to shield until the end of March.

Consider how staff may feel when returning to the office. While they should be encouraged to come in with the wider workforce, a flexible, blended return may be the best solution.

Employers also need to be very careful that workers don’t feel discriminated against when these changes come into play.

How to address contract changes
It’s crucial that, as an employer, you understand the key principles of employment law, especially if you’re planning to change work arrangements or other contractual terms and conditions.

If you don’t approach these issues sensitively and understand the legal implications, it can lead to disputes and damage morale within your workforce.

To overcome such issues, effective communication and practical legal advice is crucial. Workplace changes could include altered shift patterns or flexible working but businesses will need to ensure these changes are compliant with legal requirements.

Other changes that may be needed are redundancies, particularly as the availability of furlough draws to an end. In this situation, compliance with legal obligations is essential to reduce the risk of tribunal claims.

Testing, vaccinations, quarantines
As we return to the workplace, the need for vaccinations will be ongoing, along with the possible need for testing and self-isolating.

Employers must, under current guidance, continue to follow safe working measures, even if employees have received a negative test result or had the vaccine (one or two doses).

There are further options for workplace testing but businesses must register for these and there are certain criteria such as having 50 or more employees. If your business has fewer than this, employees can take advantage of community testing.

As vaccinations become more available, employers are asked to support and encourage employees getting the vaccination. However, employers will need to consider how to approach employees who don’t want to get the vaccine (for a variety of reasons) and how to mitigate the risk created by this choice.

How to resolve workplace disputes
Employers will need to ensure they review up to date guidance and seek legal advice at the appropriate times when managing staff returning to work.

Identifying potential issues at an early stage will allow time for them to be resolved in an approachable, informal manner.

Employees who feel things have not been managed well or their concerns have not been listened to may choose to raise a formal grievance, resign or they may bring a claim in the employment tribunal.

Employers should treat all issues seriously and ensure they take the necessary steps to mitigate matters from becoming more serious.

Addressing the needs of the business and the employees will potentially be a difficult balance, especially due to the social and economic effects of the pandemic. Both employers and employees will need to adapt and recognise the difficult decisions required for both parties as businesses try to return to “normal” in the future.


Original article ‘Heading back to the workplace – what to consider’ Written by Clare Thomas Published by The HR Director


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