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Getting back to work and the new normal

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COVID 19 - Guidance for businesses getting back to work

Now that restrictions are easing, employers are facing new challenges: understanding ‘the new normal’, how to get their employees back to work safely and how to get their business thriving again.

Employees are naturally anxious about returning to work and it will be crucial for employers to take appropriate steps to manage risk and communicate effectively with their employees.

Working from home

Whilst the government is urging businesses to get back to work, the guidance remains to work from home if you can. Employers should consider how they can implement and maintain effective working from home practices, such as:

  • agreeing and confirming in writing any homeworking expectations
  • updating and renewing homeworking policies
  • arranging regular supervision

Working from home can be a crucial money saving tool in the coming months and years, provided it is set up and managed effectively.

Are you COVID-19 secure?

Where homeworking is not possible, government guidance means that adequate risk assessments should be carried out, ensuring 2m social distancing where possible and if not, manage transmission risk and reinforce cleaning processes.

Employers should risk assess both in the office and for home working. Working at home risk assessments can be carried out by employees at their home workstation.

The risk of COVID-19 needs to be managed through social distancing, hygiene and fixed teams or partnering, not through the use of PPE.

Where businesses are looking at reopening their offices a thorough risk assessment should be carried out ensuring the following:

  • Compliance with 2m social distancing where possible
  • Consider desk space
  • Limiting office numbers
  • Update cleaning processes
  • Implementing one way systems in order to manage transmission risk.

Changes from 1st August 2020 - Vulnerable workers

Shielded workers can now return to workplaces in England provided they are able to maintain social distancing and their workplace is Covid-19 secure.

Employers should take special considerations for workers who may be particularly vulnerable and have been shielding or living with someone in the shielding group.  Ensuring that everything ‘reasonably practicable’ has been carried out to protect workers from harm will involve:

  • Maintaining understanding and compassion for vulnerable individuals
  • Putting in place measures to control and reduce risk
  • Taking every possible step to enable home working
  • Communicating any measures implemented to the individuals
  • Answering employees questions or concerns about returning to the workplace 
  • Regularly reviewing risk assessments
  • Offering the option of alternative roles
  • Where social distancing cannot be maintained employers should assess whether this involves an acceptable level of risk.

If the risks cannot be adequately controlled then the employee should remain at home.

If an employee is unhappy about returning, and furlough or home working are not viable options, it is open to employers to stop paying or dismiss.  However before taking such steps they should consider the risk of any potential discrimination and/or whistleblowing claims being made and act reasonably and follow a fair process if they decide to dismiss.

NHS Test & Trace/Support for those self-isolating – Your obligations as an employer

The NHS test and trace service will help to manage the risk of the virus re-emerging. The service provides testing for anyone who has symptoms of coronavirus.

Individuals will be told to isolate if:

  • They have symptoms of coronavirus and are waiting for the test result;
  • Are living in the same household as someone who has symptoms; or
  • Has tested positive or received a notification from NHS test and trace to self-isolate.

Employers should ensure that;

  • They encourage workers to action any notifications to self-isolate promptly;
  • They provide support to these individuals;
  • They make appropriate adjustments i.e. home working or alternative roles, where possible; AND
  • Where working from home is not possible, self-isolating individuals receive sick pay (for everyday they are in isolation).

Employers must not ask workers to attend the workplace if they have any symptoms of coronavirus or are living with someone who has symptoms.

If there is more than one case of COVID-19 associated with a workplace, employers should contact their local health protection team to report the suspected outbreak. You can find your local health protection team on the government website


New regulations came into force on 6 July, and SSP is payable where an individual self isolates because:

  • They are in a bubble with another household and someone in their bubble has coronavirus symptoms; or
  •  They have received a positive test result.

SSP will cease if a person receives a negative test result.

Holidays, Travel & Quarantine

As travel is picking up, the Government has updated its guidance and people returning to England do not need to self-isolate if they are returning from one of the ‘travel corridor’ exemptions. It seems that guidance can change quickly and employers should stay alert to changes.

If employees have been to, or stopped in a country not on the travel corridor exemption list they will need to self-isolate for 14 days after leaving that country.

Employers should:

  • Do their best to adopt a flexible approach;
  • Encourage employees to discuss any potential plans as soon as possible;
  • Where they require staff to cancel or take holiday, get agreement from the employee;
  • Find out in advance where employees are travelling to;
  • Put in place measure for those returning from travel to work from home (where possible); and
  • Update their holiday policies (where needed).

The government has introduced a temporary new law allowing employees and workers to carry over up to 4 weeks paid holiday into their next 2 holiday leave years, this applies for any holiday the employee or worker does not take because:

  • They're self-isolating;
  • Too sick to take holiday before the end of their leave year;
  • They've had to continue working and could not take paid holiday; or
  • They’ve been 'furloughed' and cannot reasonably use it in their holiday year.

However if holidays have been carried over because of coronavirus any untaken holiday must be paid in lieu should the employee leave or be dismissed.

If you require your staff to take or cancel holiday, you cannot do this for any employees or workers who are on sick leave or family leave. Employers must inform staff at least twice as many days before the amount of days they need people to take or cancel. If doing this employers must try to explain clearly the reasons to avoid upset for staff and to try to resolve worries.

If you require any advice on the above Talbots offer a specialist Business Advice Meeting for £250 plus VAT.

Talbots also offer an HR Service which can include drafting services such as; new working from home policies, contract addendums or settlement agreements. Please do get in touch if you require any HR assistance by emailing Reyhana Koser or Ellie Robinson-Brady or call us on 0800 118 1500 for more information.