May 13, 2020 Reopening business
Unless you are like Twitter and have decided to allow your people to work from home “forever”, the chances are that you are contemplating the challenges of enabling your people to return to the workplace. In fact although the Twitter move was described in a BBC report as an ‘era-defining moment,’ even that company has said that its people can opt to return to office working once conditions allow.
That aside, with some essential businesses having remained open or partially open throughout the crisis whilst others are contemplating their place in a phased return to work, how should businesses prepare for the ‘new normal’ of office working whilst social distancing? A good place to start might be the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) guidance which covers offices, contact centres and similar indoor environments.
The guidance looks at a range of topics including practical areas such as office cleaning and the wearing of PPE, as well as examining how businesses can maintain social distancing or safely manage visitors to the office. Before moving on to consider these areas the BEIS document opens with a recommendation which will be familiar to all business leaders, thinking about risk.
Making the point that employers have a legal responsibility to protect workers and others from potential risks to their health and safety, the guidance highlights the importance of every business carrying out an appropriate risk assessment before sharing it with the workforce and others. BEIS comments that they would expect all businesses with more than fifty employees to publish the results of the risk assessment on their website and would encourage others to do so wherever possible.
Either way, employers are also reminded of the importance of consulting with their workforce or any workforce appointed representatives before drawing up appropriate health and safety policies. The BEIS guidance also includes an official notice of compliance with the recommendations which employers should display in their workplace.
One area for particular consideration is the ongoing government requirement for everyone to continue to work from home unless they cannot work from home. Identifying which individuals should attend the office and which can continue to work from home isn’t simply a matter of looking at job roles. Arrangements need to be made in respect of employees who are at higher risk or who need to continue to self isolate.
There will also need to be a review of the requirements of those who continue to work from home, ensuring that they have an appropriate level of support and equipment in order to carry out their role. BEIS also highlight the importance of considering equality legislation when drawing up return to work plans, ensuring that actions taken do not discriminate against individuals or groups of workers.