Returning To Work After Covid-19

Coping with Anxiety

The government are now encouraging employers and employees to agree working arrangements for employees to return to work.

More than two-fifths of UK workers are anxious about the prospect of returning to work following the outbreak of coronavirus, this is due to the health risks posed by Covid-19 to them and to those that are close to them.

Workers may also be anxious about their commute to work, especially those employees who rely on public transport to get to and from work.

This week is Mental Health Awareness week (18th – 24th May) which is hosted by the Mental Health Foundation and their focus this year is on kindness. Employers need to ensure they address any employee concerns that they have when planning their return to work, if it is not handled and managed correctly it could have an impact on employees mental health and well-being and cause further mental health issues. It is going to be challenging for people to readjust as lock down measures gradually begin to relax and employers need to retain their employee’s confidence in their ability to protect their physical and psychological health.

Making the workplace safe

Employers must make the workplace as safe as possible for staff, customers, and anyone else that is to visit the premises. Employers must:

  • Encourage staff to work from home, wherever this is possible;
  • Do a risk assessment to identify what might cause harm and take reasonable steps to prevent it;
  • Follow government guidelines on working safely during coronavirus.

Discussing plans with employees

Employers and employees should discuss plans to return to the workplace, these discussions should be done as early as possible and it is advised that a return to the workplace should be mutually agreed between employer and employee.

It is best practice to discuss:

  • When employees may return to work;
  • How employees will travel to and from work;
  • How Health and Safety is being managed and reviewed. All risk assessments need to be shared with employees;
  • Any adjustments to the workplace that will be made, e.g more hand sanitisers available, increase of washing facilities, changes to start and finish times, short time working, changing layouts of canteens, staggering employee break times, floor markings to adhere to the 2 metre rule, changing layouts so employees are not facing each other but are side to side or back to back;
  • If there is to be a phased return to work, what will this be and who this will include;
  • Working from home arrangements if working from home is an option or look at doing a mixture of working from home and being in the office;

Anxiety and Returning to work

Many employees returning to work after being furloughed will have concerns about the health risks of returning. They will need to know what protective measures are being taken in the workplace.

Employers must listen to any concerns their employees have and take steps to protect everyone where possible. Discussions should be held with employees before they return to work as discussed previously.

An employee with anxiety may find that their condition gets worse by traveling or being in public places because of the increased risk of contracting Covid-19.

Severe anxiety could qualify as a disability under the Equality Act 2010 therefore medical advice should also be taken.

If an employee’s anxiety prevents them from attending work, Employers could look at the following options:

  • Keeping an employee on furlough if they are temporarily unavailable to work;
  • Arrange for an employee to work different hours temporarily or options of working from home;
  • Taking holiday;
  • Unpaid leave;
  • Employee being on sick leave where SSP or contractual sick pay would be in place, (medical certification would also be required).

The government have increased the furlough period to the end of October. The scheme will remain the same until the end of July where employers can claim back 80% of employee’s salaries (capped at £2,500 per month).

Employees refusing to work if they think it is not safe to do so

Some employees may feel that they do not want to go back to work or are unable to return to work yet. This could be because they:

  • Are worried about catching Coronavirus;
  • At high risk of getting a severe illness if they catch coronavirus;
  • Caring for children who are still off school;
  • Living with a vulnerable person or a carer for a vulnerable person;

Employers need to be understanding of employee’s concerns regarding Covid-19 and returning to the workplace and must communicate to employees the measures in place to protect them. Employers also need to listen to employees concerns and address these concerns. By doing this hopefully it can be mutually agreed for an employee to then return to work.

It is natural for an employee to feel anxious returning to work after a period of working from home or being furloughed. If an employee can no longer continue to work from home, then maybe flexible working could be looked at and changes made to the employees’ hours or shift patterns. Or employers could look at allowing the employee to take a period of unpaid leave or holiday if this can be accommodated. Another option could be for the employee to remain furloughed.

Employees who are vulnerable or having to self-shield

People who suffer from certain health conditions are at higher risk if they contract Covid-19. Requiring employees to continue traveling to and from work, not paying or dismissing employees due to their absence when this is the reason they are not at work could amount to disability discrimination.

If an employee self-isolates because of a disability that puts them into a high-risk category, then indirect discrimination could be an issue. Any employer actions which disadvantages an employee affected by a relevant disability, such as saying they will discipline or dismiss because they do not attend work, disadvantages an employee because of ‘something arising in consequence’ of their disability.

For employees who are vulnerable or self-shielding employers could look at the following options:

  • Keeping an employee on furlough if they are temporarily unavailable to work;
  • Arrange for an employee to work different hours temporarily or the option of remaining working from home, working in a different department or area or short time working;
  • Taking holiday;
  • Unpaid leave;
  • Employee being on sick leave where SSP or contractual sick pay would be in place. (medical certification would also be required stating the disability).

Employees living with vulnerable or shielding people or have Childcare responsibilities

In these circumstances it is not up to the employer to make a reasonable adjustment, however, in these situations the people the employee is living with would qualify as dependents.

Employees can take a reasonable amount of time off to take care of dependents, there is no set time limit for this and is dependent on the individual situation.

Employers must talk to employees to understand the individuals’ situation and hopefully mutually agree next steps. These steps could include the following options:

Employers could look at:

  • Keeping an employee on furlough if they are temporarily unavailable to work;
  • Arrange for an employee to work different hours temporarily or the option of remaining working from home, working in a different department or area or short time working;
  • Taking holiday;
  • Unpaid leave.

If an employee does not attend work

If an employee does not attend work an employer could notionally seek to dismiss an employee however careful consideration needs to be taken in these cases due to protection under The Employment Rights Act on Health & Safety.

Section 44 of the 1996 Act enables employees to challenge the adequacy and the suitability of any safety arrangements at work without worry about losing their job.

Any dismissal in these cases would almost certainly be classed as unfair. Employees who raise concerns about their Health and Safety in a workplace may be able to successfully claim unfair dismissal with increased compensation and without needing a minimum period of service.

If an employee refuses to attend work without any valid reason, this could result in disciplinary action under company disciplinary procedures.

If you would like further guidance or support on the situations discussed above or more details about Mental Health Awareness week, please contact Clover HR on 0121 516 0299 or email us at info@cloverhr.co.uk

Copyright Clover HR


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