Returning to Work during Covid-19 FAQs
Last updated: 26/07/21
Do I need to complete a return to work risk assessment?
Employers are legally obliged to keep their staff safe at work, and covid-19 is another risk that must be assessed along with outlining the required steps to limit this risk - to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees in the workplace.
A risk assessment is crucial to highlight any additional policies that need to be created - in this case, particularly surrounding ventilation requirements and workplace hygiene.
You should involve members of your management team and other employees in this process. You will be evaluating what safeguarding measures may need to be implemented to prevent harm to your employees and or visitors to the premises. You can see more on HSE’s guidance for risk assessment during the coronavirus (COVID-19) here.
You can also access iHASCO’s free risk assessment tool here.
What preparations should I make for employees to return to work?
You must complete a return to work risk assessment (as above), which will help highlight what needs to be done to ensure a smooth return to the workplace. It will differ depending on many factors including your industry, size of premises, whether employers want to continue to let staff work from home.
In order to get your workplace up and running, it may be that you consider a staggered return, agreeing who should return and when. This will allow for procedures to be tweaked and amended, as it is extremely difficult to take into account every eventuality, while social distancing is no longer required, it is something that some workplaces feel like they want to continue to implement. Ensuring managers and supervisors are clear on the new policies and procedures is vital and it will help establish new practices as more of the workforce return. Check out our ‘Returning to work and preparing for the future’ blog for more information on how you can plan a safe and gradual return to the workplace.
After agreeing and implementing practical steps these need to be communicated to your workforce. This is a key part of the return to work process, as if you can establish trust with your employees it will give them the confidence to return. You must also communicate any changes to business operations or their job role as a result of Covid-19 before their return. As employees return after an extended time away from work employers will also need to consider bringing employees back up to speed with Health & Safety and other areas of compliance through refresher training.
How do I make the workplace ‘Covid-Secure’?
The government have provided guidance for employers to make workplaces ‘Covid-Secure’ which can be accessed here. Advice is for specific industry sectors including social distancing measures that could be put in place to protect employees and customers from Covid-19 and general infection prevention and control methods. Workplaces can download a certificate to display in the workplace to confirm they have followed government guidance on managing the risk of Covid-19.
Can employees who wish to return to the workplace do so?
As of the 19th of July, legal restrictions have been lifted and any business can open as they are no longer being told to work from home.
Gov.uk report that:
“From Step 4, social distancing guidance will no longer apply. This means that you do not need to implement social distancing in your business, workplace or venue, and customers and workers do not need to keep apart from people they don’t live with.
The government is no longer instructing people to work from home if they can, so employers can start to plan a return to workplaces. During this period of high prevalence, the government expects and recommends a gradual return over the summer. You should discuss the timing and phasing of a return with your workers.”
I have employees in the ‘at risk’ category - should they return to work?
People are now no longer being advised to work from home, but employers should give extra consideration to people at higher risk and those facing mental/physical health problems. While people who previously needed too are no longer being told to shield, employers should talk to the individuals about their needs and provide them with the support they need. As part of your risk assessment, you should have identified employees that are more at risk of Covid-19.
It is of utmost importance that you have open lines of communication with your employees and discuss any concerns they may have. It may be possible to redeploy them into another area in the business which will result in less human contact or allow them to work from home. It may be that they can still be furloughed, as the initial shielding period was set as 12 weeks. Continue to follow the current government advice on shielding.
I have employees who are anxious about returning to the workplace, what should I do to ease their concerns?
The unprecedented situation of Covid-19 has caused many issues for businesses and individuals, and in particular mental health and wellbeing is certainly something of concern given the unusual circumstances. Life has been completely disrupted and despite everybody being in this situation together, everyone has different experiences and different concerns. The best thing that employers can do is, to be honest and open with employees and detail any policies and procedures that will help protect the workforce from the risks of Covid-19 to provide reassurances. Providing emotional support to employees is also vital. Different organisations will have different forms of support available. It may be support from an HR Manager, it may be that there is an EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) available for staff or appointed Mental Health First Aiders who are contactable to listen to any difficulties employees are facing emotionally. Remind staff about the support available to them at this time.
What resources can I share with my employees to look after their mental health and wellbeing?
iHASCO have produced a guide to help individuals take care of their mental health and wellbeing. It can either be used as a starting point, or it can be used by those who are already managing their wellbeing who would like more information.
Is there any training I can provide my employees to support their return to work?
To aid a smooth return to the workplace employers should ensure staff have the knowledge and information required to carry out their roles safely. Not only does it make sense to provide training on fire safety and DSE, as a refresher after being away from the office for some time, it is also important to provide training on infection prevention and control. iHASCO have completed a Return to Work Essentials bundle which will help prepare and ease your employees back into the workplace through a series of online training courses covering these areas. It also includes a Return to Work during Covid-19 training course specifically looking at return-to-work catch-ups, risk assessments, team communication, handling concerns/anxiety in connection to COVID-19, potential new policies and practices to consider (ie. social distancing), what to expect from managers during this time, and a few practical suggestions for handling pressure, finding focus, staying productive, and adjusting to the new normal.
General Returning to Work FAQs
When can an employee return to work after a pandemic?
In England, as of the 19th July 2021 employers are no longer being advised to get their employees to work from home, and they are able to return to the workplace if they wish to do so. We advise that you continue to follow government advice at all times in order to keep up to date with the latest guidance for your workplace.
It goes without saying that a major outbreak, like COVID-19, will garner a lot of attention and coverage from the press. This has its benefits - you’ll always have access to the latest news, for example - but with greater coverage comes more opinions, more false information and more conspiracy theories, especially on social media. It’s important to always consider where the information you read comes from and only trust reputable sources like the NHS, the World Health Organisation, and GOV.uk.
When can an employee return to work after pregnancy?
An employer is not permitted to allow an employee to return to work for a period of two weeks after giving birth, starting with the date their baby is born. This is known as compulsory maternity leave.
If an employee works in a factory, they will not be able to return to work for four weeks after giving birth.
After that, it is up to the employee to decide when they want to return to work, but if they decide to return to work early (before taking their full 52 weeks of leave) they must give the employer at least eight weeks’ notice of their plan to do this.
Employees must give the same eight weeks’ notice if they decide to end their maternity leave early so that their partner can take Shared Parental Leave.
When can an employee return to work after a bereavement?
Bereavement leave entitlement is an additional time off that your employees can take when someone close to them passes away.
Although there is no statutory bereavement leave in the UK, employees can take a “reasonable” number of days off to care for dependants in the case of an emergency, this also includes the death of a dependant. However, it doesn’t cover time off to grieve.
The Employment Rights Act 1996 defines a dependant as a spouse, partner, child, parent, or individual that your employee provides care for.
There’s no set number of days that you must give your staff as part of bereavement leave entitlement in the UK, though it is suggested to give a minimum of two days off. Many organisations, however, opt for three to five unpaid days for bereavement leave.
It’s important, though difficult, to find the right balance. It may seem like the “right thing to do” is to give bereaved employees as much time off as you can, but this comes with risks. Time away from work, especially if they live alone, can cause feelings of loneliness and isolation making it harder for them to return to work. In turn, this increases the likelihood that they’ll take sick leave and be absent from work for longer, increasing their feelings of isolation in an ever downward spiral. Stay in contact with a bereaved employee, don’t rush them back to work before they’re ready and adjust your expectations when they do return, their mind will likely be somewhere else for a while.
When can an employee return to work after sickness?
Employees must give their employer a doctor’s ‘fit note’ if they’ve been off sick for more than 7 days in a row. This includes non-working days, such as weekends and bank holidays.
A “fit note” advises employers as to the fitness of an employee, i.e. whether they’re ready to return to their role fully, whether they need to take on lighter duties, or whether there are any “reasonable adjustments” you need to make to help their return to work, for example, working fewer hours or providing specialist equipment.
How can employers deal with the emotional challenges of an employee returning to work after a bereavement?
Losing someone that has been a part of your life is devastating and even after taking bereavement leave, emotions can still be raw. So, how can employers support workers suffering from grief?
- Implement a gradual return
- Inform colleagues of their return to work
- Set clear expectations
- Provide regular catch-ups
- Don’t expect people to bottle up emotions
How can organisations prepare themselves if another pandemic was to occur?
There aren’t many things that can shut down the majority of a country's workplaces and stop people from coming together. Not many people expect that they will be a part of a global pandemic, but, as we’ve all recently discovered, it can and does happen, and the effects are far reaching and quite dramatic.
While, on the whole, the chances of a global pandemic are fairly slim, all organisations should try their best to be prepared, just in case. COVID-19, if nothing else, has certainly highlighted the need for an action plan within any organisation.
Due to the nature of your work, you might be affected by a pandemic very differently to other industries. For example, those working in hospitality or retail are simply not able to work whereas healthcare workers will experience a vast increase in their workload. As an employer, you have a responsibility to know what the next steps are if a national or global pandemic is declared.
FAQs regarding our Returning to Work Training
Why are the training courses in this Training for Remote Workers Bundle important?
Our Returning to Work Training courses help those who have been away from work for a prolonged period of time transition back to work safely, effectively, and happily.
How long are my certificates valid for?
It is up to the training administrator of the employee as to when training needs to be refreshed. However, to stay up-to-date with legislation, we recommend that training should be renewed every year.
What devices are these courses available from?
These courses can be completed on a range of devices, they’re compatible with Desktops, laptops, mobile phones, iPads, and other tablets.
What approvals do these courses have?
All of these courses are CPD Accredited and some are IOSH Approved.
Documents and resources
Face Masks & Respirators
A useful resource including the dos, don’ts and step-by-steps for donning and doffing. This PDF is useful for anyone who has to wear a face mask as part of their work.
Training Plan for those working in Schools
We have created training plans for employee training as they start to return to work during and after COVID-19. These templates can be used to plan your employee’s training with some recommended training courses for those working in Schools. You will also find a blank template on the second page if you’d like to make your own training plan.
Training Plan for those working in Construction
We have created training plans for employee training as they start to return to work during and after COVID-19. These templates can be used to plan your employee’s training with some recommended training courses for those working in Construction. You will also find a blank template on the second page if you’d like to make your own training plan.
Training Plan for those working in Manufacturing
We have created training plans for employee training as they start to return to work during and after COVID-19. These templates can be used to plan your employee’s training with some recommended training courses for those working in Manufacturing. You will also find a blank template on the second page if you’d like to make your own training plan.
Training Plan for those working in Hospitality & Retail
We have created training plans for employee training as they start to return to work during and after COVID-19. These templates can be used to plan your employee’s training with some recommended training courses for those working in Retail and Hospitality. You will also find a blank template on the second page if you’d like to make your own training plan.
Training Plan for those working in Offices
We have created training plans for employee training as they start to return to work during and after COVID-19. These templates can be used to plan your employee’s training with some recommended training courses for those working in Offices. You will also find a blank template on the second page if you’d like to make your own training plan.
Sample policies & procedures for your workplace
We have provided samples of policies you may want to consider implementing when you return to work during & after COVID-19… Hygiene Policy, Social Distancing Policy, Self-Isolating Procedure and Handwashing Procedure.
Guidance on going back into the workplace after the 19th July 2021
Looking at the current guidance an employer should consider when it comes to protecting their business & employees. Including...
- How to communicate effectively with your employees
- The importance of adequate ventilation
- Your procedures around self-isolation
- Sector-specific guidance
- How workplaces may change as lockdown is eased
- Plus our Returning to Work White Paper attached at the end of this guide to give a general overview of returning to work
Returning to Work Guide & White Paper
COVID-secure Risk Assessments & Inspections
Make your workplace COVID-secure and prepare for inspections with our guide...
We've partnered with Citation to provide you with a short guide on COVID secure workplaces and potential workplace inspections.
Made in Partnership with Citation
Furlough scheme extension...
What does the furlough extension mean for employers?
Find out with our short guide produced in partnership with Citation.
Made in Partnership with Citation
Furlough: your options explored & returning employees...
The Furlough scheme is due to come to an end in September.
We've partnered with Citation to look at work processes and future considerations for returning your furloughed employees. Plus we also explore your best options for your business & your furloughed employees with our simple Yes/No chart.
Made in Partnership with Citation
Vaccinations and testing FAQs...
Make sure you stay on the right side of your legal obligations.
A short guide produced in partnership with Citation on vaccinations and workplace testing.
Made in Partnership with Citation
COVID-19 and pregnant employees...
A short Health & Safety guide for employers focussing on pregnant employees.
This guide takes a look at what the legal requirements are from a Health & Safety point of view as well as outlining some initial considerations you need to make as an employer.
Made in Partnership with Citation
Employees who can’t (or won’t) return to work: a troubleshooting guide
Employers are now beginning the process of returning some (or all) of their people back into the workplace.
As this return to work begins, you might find some of your employees might be resistant to the idea of returning to the workplace. So, it’s vital to know where you stand as an employer if an employee is refusing to return.