How do I decide who should return to work?

As the Government continues its phased return from lockdown, many UK businesses are reopening workplaces and considering which employees should return to work.

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Written by: alcumus
1st June

When thinking about who should return to the workplace, employers should start off by planning for the minimum number of people needed to be onsite to operate safely and effectively. This means those workers who deemed necessary to carry out physical works, supervise work, or conduct work in order to operate safely.

The guidance says that those who can work from home should continue to do so and we can say for sure that anyone with COVID symptoms should not be in work.

If you have people working from home then you need to provide the necessary equipment for them to work safely and effectively at home - for example laptops, mobile phones, video conferencing equipment. From a wellbeing perspective you need to keep in regular contact with people working from home to help them to feel they are still part of the workforce.

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Many employers may wish to take advantage of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (or CJRS) and furlough staff. The reasons for furloughing an employee are:

  • Where there is insufficient work;
  • Where an employee has been advised to shield due to being clinically extremely vulnerable (having received an NHS shielding letter); and
  • Where an employee has caring responsibilities such as those employees who do not have access to childcare or need to stay at home to care for someone who is shielding.

The government announced that the CJRS will continue in its current format until the end of July 2020 and over the weekend the guidance was updated to outline what is available from August until the end of October. More information on the can be found on our CJRS FAQs.

Employees on furlough cannot undertake any work for you, however there are some exceptions and staff can do training and be involved in some people management tasks such as supporting a disciplinary or grievance procedure if they are willing to do so.

If you do have some work for employees to do but not enough for their full hours, then you might wish to consider alternatives such as short time working or lay off. This would allow for a reduced working week or reduced hours. To do this though you would need the contractual right to do so.

How do you manage staff morale and those employees who would rather be furloughed?

Feedback has been that some employees still in work may resent the fact that their furloughed colleagues are not working but are still being paid – albeit perhaps for only 80%. It is the employer’s choice as to who is furloughed and acting fairly is very important too from an employee relations perspective.

Employers need to ensure that they do not discriminate when selecting employees to be designated as furloughed. Strong communication is essential to ensure you listen to staff concerns and act accordingly and as swiftly as possible. Disgruntled employees may also look to raise a grievance which should be addressed through the company grievance policy.

Hopefully, those who can still work (and are able to do so) will realise that they are doing so to keep the business going.

The guidance provides that employees can be furloughed multiple times, provided each separate instance is for the minimum 3 week period. So, you could rotate different employees in and out of furlough (giving employees a seat on the bench so to speak).

What if an employee is shielding?
There is a group of people who are considered vulnerable, so we need to discuss how to protect people who are at higher risk. For this you should think about the following:

  • How you can plan for clinically extremely vulnerable (shielding) workers who must not work outside the home; be aware of long they have been advised to shield and maintain contact to understand of that advice changes in any way.
  • How you can plan for people working at home who have someone shielding in their household;
  • How you can help workers at increased risk to work from home, either in their current role or an alternative role;
  • How you can support employees at increased risk who cannot work from home ensuring you offer them the safest available roles and working environments; and
  • How you can plan for people who need to self-isolate. If staff are well enough and can work from home, then they should be allowed to do so. If they cannot then they will be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay from day one of absence.

If you have any questions on bringing your people back to work or would like any further information on the managing your people during this time, the Alcumus PSM HR team are here to help. Email us at [email protected] or call us on 01484 439930.

Alcumus PSM (People & Safety Management) specialises in Human Resources (HR) and Health & Safety (H&S) consulting for small and medium-sized enterprises.

Written by Melanie Darlington, Senior HR Consultant