We’re not there yet, but as other countries in Europe have begun to ease certain Coronavirus-related restrictions, the UK government has announced it will set out its road map for emerging from lockdown this weekend.

At this stage it’s not clear what the plan will involve, and there’s likely to be a long road ahead. However, organisations will need to think very carefully and prepare for the potential of returning to work with some social distancing measures still in place – and the first priority should be to keep employees safe and continue to limit the spread of the virus.

Employment/legal considerations

Don’t forget, you should give staff a reasonable period of notice of requiring them to return to work – people may need to make arrangements such as childcare, or adjust working hours if schools reopen.

If it’s not possible to bring your entire workforce back, determine which employees need to return and which employees must remain furloughed while the Job Retention Scheme is in place (this is due to end June 30th). You could do this by identifying what work needs to be completed and what essential skills are required to complete the available work.

Ensure payroll staff are aware that furlough has ended, and staff should return to full pay.

Review workplace environment

It is almost certain we’ll be told to maintain social distancing as far as possible at work, so before you bring your employees back it makes sense to review your working environment and plan how you will enforce this. Can staff maintain a 2m physical distance between each other? Do you need to adjust the layout of the workspace? How will you carry out meetings?

You might consider introducing new ways of working so that your teams are not all in at the same time, such as staggered start and finish times. Understandably, the bigger your team the harder this will be, so it might be that you split your employees into smaller teams that come into the workplace on alternate days.

Implement hygiene measures

To limit the spread of the virus, you’ll need to remind staff about effective and regular handwashing and provide plenty of hand sanitiser for desks and communal areas. If your office has been closed for a long  time, you could make arrangements for a deep clean, paying close attention to things like phones and keyboards, just to make sure employees feel safer when they arrive.

Workplace rules after lockdown may include PPE such as wearing face masks around the office. The government will be sourcing more, and if we are told to wear them, you should make sure staff have access and encourage them to bring their own.

Monitoring mental health

Some staff may have anxiety about going back to work, going on public transport or have experienced tough situations at home during lockdown. You should prioritise your team’s mental health as well as physical health to ensure they are comfortable with returning to work.

Have one-to-one meetings with every employee – ideally before they return to work to discuss any concerns. This can reassure employees of the ongoing support you will provide, such as an employee assistance programme or wellness action plan. Our team of HR Consultants can help with extra guidance and resources on this.

Checking in with staff before they return is especially important for those that have been furloughed or staff that may want a new working arrangement as a result of Covid-19.

Consider vulnerable staff

Even if the government issues the go-ahead for a phased return to work, it won’t be possible for staff considered ‘vulnerable’ or those currently self-isolating. Remind staff that if they show any symptoms, they should remain at home for 14 days. You can still encourage employees to work from home wherever possible.

Unfortunately, it is possible you may have employees who have suffered the bereavement of a family member. While there is no statutory right to bereavement leave, you should be sympathetic to requests for additional time off, and if you can, we recommend that you pay normal pay.

It is important if you decide to return to work, to consider and plan accordingly. Make sure you communicate every step with your working and furloughed employees, train managers on the measures you are taking, and provide them with information and support to deal with staff concerns and enforcement of policies.

During the return to work process, you may come across further challenges. Feel free to contact us with any questions you have around Covid-19.