Advice: Considerations for returning to workplaces

In the latest in Travlaw’s Looking Forward series, head of employment Ami Naru assesses the considerations businesses will need to take into account when returning to work environments

As I wrote last week, it seems likely that social distancing measures we will remain in place for a while. However, businesses will already be thinking about how workforces will return to workplaces when the lockdown begins to be lifted.

The government has produced seven guidance documents affecting different industries and how to get back to work.  These are yet to be published but what we know so far is:

  • Those who can work from home must continue to do so;
  • Before they can re-open, any employer with more than five employees must produce a written risk assessment;
  • If you have any employee who is “shielding”, they must following medical guidance to stay at home;
  • If you have vulnerable employees, you should allow them to continue to work from home if possible or if they are to return to work take extra care around social distancing.

At the time of writing, the guidance documents have not been officially published, so we shall await further developments. For now, we are aware that the following guidance documents will affect the travel industry: Hotel and Restaurant Staff; Shop Workers; and Office Workers.

The blueprint for all workplaces

Set out below are some general rules that are expected to apply to all workplaces and so are worth thinking about now:

  • Staggering arrival / departure times to reduce crowding in and out;
  • Reducing congestion, for example by having more entry points to the workplace and one for entering the building and one for exiting (if possible);
  • Alternatives to touch-based security devices such as keypads;
  • Staff to change into work uniforms on site using appropriate facilities/changing areas;
  • Discouraging non-essential trips within buildings and sites;
  • Reducing job and location rotation, for example, assigning employees to specific floors;
  • Introducing more one-way flow routes through buildings;
  • Reducing maximum occupancy for lifts, providing hand sanitiser for the operation of lifts and encouraging use of stairs;
  • Hand washing or hand sanitation at entry and exit points;
  • Reviewing layouts to allow staff to work further apart from each other;
  • Using floor tape or paint to mark areas to help staff maintain two-metre distancing;
  • Avoiding employees working face-to-face and working side-by-side or facing away from each other where possible;
  • Using screens to create a physical barrier between people (where appropriate);
  • Staggering break times to reduce pressure on the break rooms and using outside areas for breaks;
  • Regulating use of corridors, lifts and staircases;
  • Providing additional parking or bike-racks;
  • Using protective screening for staff in receptions or similar areas;
  • To maintain spacing and reduce face-to-face interactions, reconfiguring seating and tables;
  • To avoid opening staff canteens, providing packaged meals or similar;
  • Storage for staff clothes and bags and washing uniforms on site rather than at home.

It’s a non-exhaustive list, but those are the main issues we have been talking to travel business about.

Looking forwards, employers will have to give serious consideration as to:

  • Whether they can continue to operate in the same way and have the skillsets to do so;
  • Where and how staff work in the future;
  • Whether they need the same, or reduced, levels of staff.

Whatever you are considering doing with your staff as a result of the current pandemic situation, there will undoubtedly be legal implications. It is sensible to take advice in advance to be best-prepared and to ensure the impact on teams is as minimised as possible.

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