Back to work we go?

Since Boris Johnson outlined his plans in early May to kick start the economy and get people back to work, there have been anecdotal stories and examples of how organisations have made a decision to return to work and then had to back-track.

Dyson, for example, faced a staff revolt when they sent an email to all staff, including those who could work from home, announcing that all employees should return to its work sites.

Hafton did a survey amongst several of its clients in the first month of lockdown to find out how staff were coping at home, what additional support they needed and what aspects of their roles were more difficult to carry out from home.  Surprising the majority of junior staff members said they were most productive and were happiest to continue in this vein.  Should you just leave them to it if they are hitting their objectives?   Unfortunately, it isn’t a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

Firstly, risk assessments will be an essential aspect of the return to work as well as considering the mental welfare of staff with any return to the workplace.   Businesses will need to make sure the return is mutually agreed with staff and this points to the need for an honest, face-to-face (over camera) discussion.

Businesses will need to decide:

  1. What are the circumstances of people working remotely and coming in occasionally?
  2. Are staff and customers safe to come in?
  3. When staff work from home, do they have the right resources?
  4. Have they had a DSE (Display Equipment) assessment?  Do they need to adjust their equipment?

What should you do, as an employer, if an employee refuses to return to work?  Each situation needs to be addressed on a case by case basis.  The refusal could be for reason of shielding, or underlying health conditions or maybe issues of childcare because school and nursery facilities are remaining closed.  However, if an employee doesn’t wish to return just because they prefer working at home, it could ultimately end in disciplinary action. 

In larger organisations and businesses, HR must be the lead on these matters making sure that the organisation has fair criteria and is not discriminating against a certain group of employees.  Getting people back to work after lockdown is an enormous task and having a company stance on what is acceptable will be important because what some employees might think is safe, will not be seen as safe by others.