COVID-19: Practical Guidance on Managing a Return to Work

Introduction

This guide has been updated by HR Solutions on 20th December 2021. It will help you to think about the practical challenges that come with re-opening the workplace whilst the UK is still responding to the Covid-19 Pandemic.

This guide is to help you manage your business whilst at the same time support the needs of your employees and will cover:

  • Your health and safety obligations
  • The importance of keeping risk assessments under review
  • Workplace adaptations
  • Absences and self-certification
  • Supporting those who are clinically extremely vulnerable
  • Employee screening
  • Face coverings
  • Working from home
  • NHS COVID-19 Pass
  • COVID-19 vaccinations
  • Refusing to hire applicants who have not had the vaccine
  • COVID-19 workplace testing
  • Self-isolation requirements
  • International travel
  • Resource planning
  • Managing and recording absences from work due to COVID-19
  • Employees refusing to return

The Current Situation

Since July 2021, most government restrictions have not been legally enforced, instead proposed measures have been suggested as guidance. Legal requirements were ended, giving back liberty and placing the responsibility for living and working safely during the COVID-19 pandemic back on individuals and businesses.

However, we have always been warned, that should there be any substantial changes in circumstance, such as a new variant entering the country, then this may call for the government’s response to change. At the end of November, there was the discovery of the new Omicron Variant of COVID-19 in the UK. As a result, the government have re-introduced precautionary measures to slow the spread.

Although there is much still to be learned about the variant, it is understood that it spreads ‘very rapidly’ and can be spread between those who have ben double vaccinated. It is also an extensive mutation of other forms of the virus and so there is potential that the protection afforded by vaccination may be reduced.
Unfortunately, businesses should prepare for measures being further tightened or even new measures being brought in, should infection levels significantly rise.

Your Health and Safety Obligations

Employers have a legal duty to protect the health, safety, and welfare of everyone in the workplace and to make appropriate arrangements to ensure this.

Specifically, under the Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974, section 2, employers are required to take all reasonably practicable steps to reduce workplace risks to their lowest level. Furthermore, employees have a legal duty under section 7 to co-operate with the company as is reasonably necessary.

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, businesses are also required to make suitable and sufficient assessments of risks, which is why having a COVID-19 risk assessment is fundamental. Risk assessments should always be under continuous review, and in light of the current developments with COVID-19, now is the time to do that.

The importance of keeping risk assessments under review

Risk assessments are a mandatory task that all employers have a legal duty to complete. The aim being to assess the risks to the health and safety of employees (and risks to the health and safety of persons not in your employment which would include visitors, guests, contractors, and anyone entering the workplace) to which they are exposed while they are at work. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) explain that conducting the assessment is just one part of how risks must be controlled in the workplace, and as a minimum, an employer should:

  • identify what could cause injury or illness in your business (hazards)
  • decide how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how seriously (the risk)
  • take action to eliminate the hazard, or if this is not possible, control the rise

Since COVID-19 remains prevalent, employers must continue to monitor the risks that arise. Monitoring the risks helps organisations to reduce workplace risks to their lowest level.

There are 5 steps in completing risk assessments.

  1. Identifying hazards
  2. Assess the risks
  3. Control the risk
  4. Record findings
  5. Review and update

Step 5 “review and update” the risk assessments and controls is an important task. You need to know what the new risks are so you can adjust and implement changes, improvements, and any new control measures which may be necessary.
Staff change and become complacent! It is important that all staff are aware of the risks and what their employer is doing to keep them safe whilst at work. It will also help alleviate any nervousness that may exist in returning to the workplace.

Promoting a good safety culture increases productivity, performance, and workplace morale. Consider involving staff to undertake risk assessment reviews so they feel part of the process but also to help them have a better understanding of COVID-19 in the workplace and how the risk of transmission can be reduced by the measures you take. Also consider a safety committee made up of different people from different teams so that all knowledge can be shared, and all risk assessments completed and reviewed.

Further HR, health and safety guidance

Further guidance on the topics listed below, and mentioned above, are covered in our handy guide ‘COVID-19: Practicial Guidance on Managing a Return to Work’, that you can download for free from our Document Shop.

Download Return to Work Guide
  • Your health and safety obligations
  • The importance of keeping risk assessments under review
  • Workplace adaptations
  • Absences and self-certification
  • Supporting those who are clinically extremely vulnerable
  • Employee screening
  • Face coverings
  • Working from home
  • NHS COVID-19 Pass
  • COVID-19 vaccinations
  • Refusing to hire applicants who have not had the vaccine
  • COVID-19 workplace testing
  • Self-isolation requirements
  • International travel
  • Resource planning
  • Managing and recording absences from work due to COVID-19
  • Employees refusing to return

Need HR, health and safety advice?

HR Solutions are here to provide support and advice on any employment or health and safety related issues; to find out more call us on 0844 324 5840 or complete the form below.

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