How to get your staff back to the workplace post-lockdown – and avoid any HR law slip-ups.

With an end to COVID-19 restrictions finally in sight, employers are gearing themselves up to welcoming their staff back to the workplace.

For most of your workers, it will be a welcome return to the old routine of working in a shared space, interacting with colleagues and experiencing a proper division between the workplace and home.

But after so many months of getting used to the home office, or being furloughed and not having to work at all, the return to ‘normal’ is going to be a challenge for many of your staff.

There’s going to be lots for you to think about as you reintegrate your team into the physical workspace. The last thing you want is to run into any conflict with them.

So here are five tips to help you keep on the right side of the law when your workforce return to the office.

Follow government guidelines

By following the latest COVID-secure workplace government guidelines, you’ll be doing the minimum to keep your employees safe.

Keeping a close eye on the guidelines will help you avoid:

  • enforcement action by the Health and Safety Executive
  • employees leaving the workplace under s.44 Employment Rights Act because they believe they’re in danger
  • whistleblowing claims by workers who believe there are risks to health and safety
  • claims for unfair constructive dismissal from staff who feel you’re not providing a safe working environment.

Carry out a risk assessment

You have a legal obligation to ensure the workplace is safe for staff when they return.

You can’t require your people to come to work unless they can do so safely. The Health and Safety at Work Regulations Act 1974 require you to carry out a risk assessment.

Essentially, you need to identify and evaluate risks and decide on the measures you can take to minimise the risks. This all needs to be implemented and communicated to staff.

Following the HSE guidelines <link to https://www.hse.gov.uk/coronavirus/working-safely/risk-assessment.htm> on carrying out a COVID-19 risk assessment will help you comply with your obligations.

You should consider:

  • ensuring good hygiene and cleanliness
  • allowing staff to continue working from home
  • providing personal protective equipment.

Talk to staff and their representatives.

Your employees may be anxious about returning to work after so long in the safety of their own working environment. The risk of infection from using public transport may concern them. Be sure to talk to your staff, and listen to their concerns.

In particular, start a conversation about:

  • changes you’ll be making to the workplace (e.g., seating arrangements, social distancing rules, one-way systems)
  • flexible working/working from home opportunities
  • any ongoing furlough arrangements

And remember, you have a legal duty to consult with trade union or the employee representative on health and safety matters.

Make sure your sickness policy is COVID-compliant

The government has introduced changes to Statutory Sick Pay for employees affected by COVID-19. Review your sickness policy to ensure that they’re getting paid correctly for any COVID-related absences.

If there is a case of COVID-19 in the workplace, make sure the infected employee is clear on their rights and duties. Also, what about staff who have to self-isolate because of a track and trace notification? If it’s not possible for them to work from home, what does your policy say on their right to be paid?

Be aware of your employees’ flexible working rights and options

It could be your staff don’t want to come back to work, or feel they can’t, because of:

  • Pandemic-related anxiety
  • Lack of childcare
  • Fear of infection on public transport
  • They live with a vulnerable person
  • Colleagues haven’t been vaccinated.

The best course is to take all concerns seriously. We’re all in new territory, and need to be tolerant and compassionate. Be aware too, that your staff may have rights, in some circumstances, to:

  • request flexible working
  • time off for an emergency involving a dependent
  • parental leave
  • paid sick leave.

If you have any concerns relating to the return to work of your staff, do call us on 01452 222340 or email alex.lyttle@tayntons.co.uk

Alex Lyttle is a Partner at Tayntons Solicitors specialising in employment and dispute resolution matters.


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