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Post Lockdown: slowly returning to normality

Whilst it appears almost certain that the UK wide lockdown shall be extended into early Summer and possibly longer, it is worthwhile putting some thought into how, precisely, businesses should most effectively return to their offices post lockdown.

The main worry for us all is even when the Government does lift the lockdown and businesses can re-open, is that people who have stayed home during the lockdown may have never been in contact with the virus at all or they have the virus but are simply asymptomatic and are unaware that they are carrying, and potentially spreading, the virus. It is therefore vitally important that whilst appreciating that the lockdown being lifted is of course a significant step towards returning some form of normality, any return should be carefully planned out to help prevent any further spread of the virus.

Our top tips for returning to work post lockdown are as follows:

  • Be as open with staff as possible with regular and detailed updates on what is expected from them upon their return and the plans that the business intend to implement upon return. Invite questions and allow the opportunity for them to voice any concerns.
  • Consider any potentially vulnerable employees (older, those “shielding”, disabled, pregnant, those returning from sick leave etc.) and consider specific measures for them. Offer support and one to one remote meetings with these employees and listen to any concerns that they may have to try and be as accommodating as possible. Note down, date and save the risk assessment you have carried out.
  • Open and establish a clear line of communication with your cleaning provider and agree and implement a plan for a deep clean of the office before return. Discuss the appropriate type of cleaning materials being used going forward as well as satisfying yourself that the cleaners have the appropriate protective/non-contamination equipment in place.
  • If within the Company’s financial means/possible, request that staff are tested for the virus before their return to work. Employees have various rights in relation to testing and consent must be given to this. Be transparent about what the plan is if employees test positive for the virus or otherwise have symptoms.
  • Implement a strict clean desk policy so that cleaning providers can clean each and every desk upon return. Provide protective hand gels and sanitisers to employees whilst encouraging them to use it as frequently as possible as well as washing their hands regularly, and keeping their distance from other employees.
  • Consider implementing a new Business Development/Operations policy in order to set out a strict policy outlining that meetings with clients/potential clients etc should be carried out remotely and any face to face meetings are the exception, and will require the prior approval of the employee’s line manager.
  • Consider a phased return or working from home in team rotations or shift working rotations to ensure you have fewer people in the office at any one time.
  • Consider when to lift Furlough leave (subject to the 3 week minimum period required by the Government Scheme) and for employees to return to work as normal. Ensure that clear communication is issued to each staff member who has been furloughed as to their return, and give as much notice of this as you can. Issue clear statements to staff to address the continuation of any salary cuts/returning to normal pay.
  • Ensure that you are clear about the use of holidays as you may want to ensure that there is not a back log of holidays to be taken at the end of the holiday year. Employers can decide when their employees are to take annual leave provided double the amount of notice is given for the number of days the employee is being asked to take. E.g. if asking staff to take ten days of holiday, you must provide twenty days’ notice of this. This notice should be given in writing and you should keep a clear record of this.

If you can keep all information about the return to the workplace in one place (for example on your company intranet), easily accessible by furloughed and non-furloughed staff, and ask staff to regularly check it and hold an all hands video call in advance to allow for questions, this should help ensure that the return is as smooth as possible, and that the health of staff is safeguarded as far as is reasonably practicable.

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