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How to approach the return to work

19 May 2020: to discuss the implications of returning to work for employers and employees, ICAEW is hosting a webinar on 20 May with HSE, CIPD and Acas. Megan Fitzpatrick, business engagement executive at ICAEW reports.

Two months after the country locked down for an extended period of staying at home, we are now entering the next phase. On 11 May, the Government published this guidance on how different sectors can approach ‘working safely during coronavirus’. However, with new guidance, comes new queries.

What are your rights as an employee or your legal duties as an employer? Is it an employer’s responsibility to ensure that people can safely get to work? What if it isn’t possible to socially distance in your workplace?

To discuss the published recommendations and what they mean for companies, ICAEW will be chairing a webinar with Andrew Kingscott, Principal Inspector from HSE (The Health and Safety Executive), Sue Raftery, Senior Advisor from Acas (The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) and Ben Willmott, Head of Public Policy from the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development). You can register for the webinar here

During the session, the speakers will consider how the guidance affects different sectors, the long-term impacts of implementing new ways of working, and some of the apparent contradictions in the guidance – and how employers should approach them.

The HSE has stressed that business can still continue, but this must be done safely and in a controlled environment. In their short guide, they highlight recommendations for being ‘COVID secure’, such as social distancing measures, staggering shifts and providing PPE. However, what does it mean if isn’t possible to implement all of these measures in your organisation? What are your legal duties for employees’ health and safety? How do you continue to operate at this reduced level? 

The HSE, CIPD and Acas all focus on the need for communicating effectively with employees during the coronavirus outbreak and stress that the need for sensitivity in difficult conversations is critical. Many organisations have staff working from home or furloughed, while others are now returning to the working environment. It is clear that a one-size-fits-all approach is inappropriate. Ensuring that there is careful consideration for each employee’s circumstances, and recognising this by editing employment contracts, is central to a successful recovery period. 

The CIPD has stated that organisations must ask themselves three key questions: is it essential; is it safe; and has it been mutually agreed that people should come back into their working environment. While the questions above sound simple, they have complicated answers that will vary across different situations. Defining if it is safe to return to work will be dependent on the level of risk in the workplace, and how this can be mitigated. However, how staff travel to work is outside of the employer’s control so what are companies’ responsibilities for staff on their commute?

Changes to the current lockdown measures are gradual and with the ongoing nature of the virus, are likely to fluctuate. It is important that organisations have the capability to adapt to the changing restrictions and implement new measures quickly. 

To book your place on the COVID-19: Lifting lockdown at work webinar on 20 May at 2pm, click here.