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Covid-19 HR advice: Returning to work

Social distance footprints

Government has produced guidance on re-opening businesses safely. Read our FAQs to learn more about the HR implications of a Covid-safe workplace.

What do I need to consider? 

Government guidance contains a number of essential messages:

  • Allow employees to work from home where possible
  • Follow social distancing rules
  • Aim to reduce the number of journeys made
  • Consult with workers and trade unions on Covid-19 risk assessments
  • Maintain two metres social distancing
  • Manage transmission risk (by taking practical and physical steps)
  • Reinforce and enhance cleaning processes (including more frequent cleaning and providing handwashing facilities or hand sanitisers)
For more Covid-19 HR advice

Yes, but only provided it’s essential and safe for them to do so. Where possible employers should allow employees to work from home and employers should take "reasonable steps" to allow and assist working from home.

Employers must take “all reasonable steps” to ensure that there is a safe place of work for employees. This means social distancing should be implemented if possible but where it isn’t possible measures should be implemented to control the risk of transmission. This is also now a mandatory requirement to carry out a risk assessment to assess any COVID-19 risks. The risk assessment must:

  1. Identify work activities or situations might cause transmission of the virus
  2. Consider who may be at risk
  3. Decide how likely any exposure is to employees
  4. Identify ways of removing the activities or situations or, where this isn’t possible

The risk assessment must be recorded in writing and set out what steps have been taken in addressing any risk. The government guidance states it “expects” employers with 50 employees or more to publish the results of their risk assessment (not the actual risk assessment) on their website. Although there is currently no statutory requirement to do so this may change in the future. Where an employer has carried out a risk assessment it should display a notice (a download is provided in the government guidance) demonstrating compliance. Employers should consult with either their trade union partners (where they recognise one) or alternatively with their employees to agree what safeguards and guidance should be implemented.

The government has updated its guidance on to support the clinically extremely vulnerable in protecting themselves from exposure to Covid-19. The new guidance replaces previous guidance on shielding and seeks to strike a balance between providing practical steps to keep workers safe, while reducing some of the potentially harmful impacts on mental and social wellbeing associated with shielding. It sets out the steps clinically extremely vulnerable people can take to protect themselves at each local Covid alert level.

If a worker is required to travel to work which is at a different local Covid alert level, the relevant guidance is the one for the higher alert level. All workers are currently advised to work from home where possible. If clinically extremely vulnerable workers cannot work from home, they can still go to work but should follow the sector-specific measures in this guidance to minimise the risks of transmission. An employer is required to take all reasonable steps to ensure there is a safe workplace and should be able to explain what those steps and measures are.

If a clinically extremely vulnerable workers works in an area where formal shielding advice has been put in place and that worker has received a new shielding notification, they are advised not go to work and should make their employer aware. Workers who are required to shield may be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

There is no change to the position for people required to self-isolate because they or a member of their household displays symptoms of COVID-19. Employers should continue to follow the guidance the leave and pay guidance during self-isolation.

Where childcare potentially becomes a problem, if possible working from home should be considered. If this isn’t possible alternative arrangements should be considered such as temporarily agreeing different working hours or work locations. If that isn’t possible taking annual leave or a period of leave (paid or unpaid) could be discussed.

Time off for emergencies, also known as time off for dependants, may be appropriate where a sudden need to care for a dependant arises. Reasonable time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependant (such as a sudden loss of childcare) is a statutory right. Unless an employer has agreed to paid time off, the statutory right is for unpaid time off and it is usually short term, for a period of several hours or a few days to deal with the emergency. An employee who takes emergency leave must advise their employer as soon as it is practical to do so of the requirement to take emergency leave and how long it is likely to last. 

See the first FAQ on this page for more information on childacre issues/schhol closures relating to Covid.

There’s no obligation on employers to provide PPE unless the working environment is one where it is usually supplied. The government guidance indicates that social distancing, facilities for hand washing and regular cleaning or workplaces and premises are adequate. However, one of the considerations in your risk assessment should be whether PPE is necessary and, if so, what level. Where PPE is required it must be suitable should be supplied free of charge.

There is no obligation on an employer to do so but HSE guidance provides the following advice:

  • Identify where people can travel alone in their own transport (or walk, or cycle if it is safe to do so) when getting to and from work to maintain social distancing
  • Stagger arrival and departure times so people can keep to the two-metre social distancing rules by not using entry/exit points at the same time
  • Provide handwashing facilities (running water, soap and paper towels) at entry/exit points so that employees/workers can wash hands when they get to work and leave. If this is not possible, provide hand sanitiser

Employers and employees should check local restrictions as to what Covid alert level (tier) applies to the area where the place of work is located. Further government information available here.

It will be important to engage with employees and fully understand any reasons for not wishing to return to work. If you feel that an employee is unreasonably refusing to return to a COVID-19 Secure workplace then it is recommended you take advice on next steps to ensure that their particular circumstances are handled appropriately.

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