Back to work: What should I do as an employer?

Blogs 1 Jun 2020

With more businesses in England set to reopen in July, we answer your questions about managing your employees, looking after their wellbeing and managing health and safety in the workplace.


This content was reviewed 24 June 2020

Following the reopening of non-essential retail in England from 15 June 2020, it’s been announced that parts of the hospitality and leisure sector in England can begin to reopen from 4 July 2020, provided they are COVID-19 secure.

Additional businesses that can reopen from 4 July in England:

  • Pubs, restaurants and hairdressers
  • Some leisure facilities and tourist attractions may also reopen, including outdoor gyms and playgrounds, cinemas, museums, galleries, theme parks and arcades
  • Libraries, social clubs, places of worship and community centres

You can check the government website for a detailed list of which businesses can and can’t open currently in England.

There is separate guidance for which businesses in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can reopen and when. It’s important you follow the guidance for your nation.

 

What do I need to tell employees who are returning to work?

Throughout the crisis, communication has been key for keeping employees informed about the decisions you’re making. It’s a good idea to communicate with your employees as soon as possible when it comes to returning to work, including when you’re planning to return. This will allow your employees time to adjust their travel arrangements if needed.

Keep them up to date with the health and safety measures you’re implementing, including your COVID-19 secure risk assessment. This will help your team to feel safer about their return.  Furthermore, health and safety legislation requires employers to consult their workforce about health and safety measures. This includes consultation around any new or different procedures or ways of working (for example, new shift patterns) that may be put in place on returning to work. Where possible, the government is still advising that those who can work from home should continue to do so. If this isn’t possible, communicate with your staff about any plans for phased returns, staggered shift patterns or flexible working.

What if my employees don’t want to come back to work?

With public concern around coronavirus still high, your staff may be anxious about their return to work. As an employer, you should talk to them about any concerns they have, like childcare arrangements or their wellbeing. Listen to their concerns and take steps where possible to protect everyone involved. This could mean temporarily extending furlough where appropriate, or organising different shift patterns to avoid busy commutes.

To reduce the risk of claims against you as an employer, it’s advisable that you consult a legal professional before taking any action.  As a minimum, you should seek advice from the FSB Legal Advice Line prior to any dismissal. The FSB Legal Hub offers more detailed guidance online, including documents relating to coronavirus for employers, and FSB members can contact our legal advice line 24/7.

How can I look after the health and safety of my employees?

The government has provided the following advice regarding the health and safety of your staff:

  • Where people are split into teams, you should fix these so that unavoidable contact only happens between the same people
  • Consider areas of congestion caused by people flow, and use one-way systems, staggered shifts and assigned mealtimes to minimise risk of transmission
  • Minimise non-essential travel – employees should be working from home where possible
  • Increase ventilation when possible and avoid sitting face-to-face
  • Minimise contact during payments and exchange of documentation, for example electronic payments and e-signatures

How can I make sure my employees understand new safety procedures?

The government advises employers take the following steps:

  • Communicate clearly, consistently and regularly to improve understanding and consistency of ways of working
  • Engage through existing communication and worker representatives, where these have been appointed, to explain and agree any changes in working arrangements
  • Develop communication and training materials for workers prior to returning to site, especially around new procedures for arrival at work

How can I support the wellbeing of my staff as they return to work?

Many employees will have been away from the workplace for some time, so you may wish to offer training and support to help them adjust to new health and safety measures and look after their wellbeing. You may have made changes to company services, updated procedures or require them to carry out different tasks.

Organisations like Mind can offer support and advice to your employees during this time. You can also visit our Wellbeing Hub for more resources and guidance.

You may wish to consider phased returns or new arrangements if someone’s situation has changed, for example if they have childcare commitments. FSB Legal Hub can offer advice to FSB members in individual cases.

What steps do I need to take with furloughed employees returning to work?

Reopening your business means you may be taking some or all of your employees off the furlough scheme.

FSB members who are transitioning employees back to work from furlough should seek guidance from the FSB Legal Hub, where you can find a factsheet on furlough which is regularly updated in accordance with changes in the government guidance.

Can I continue to furlough some employees if my business reopens?

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was put in place to help employers whose operations have been affected by coronavirus, and to protect people’s jobs by allowing businesses to furlough employees. Until the end of July, employers will pay 80% of regular wages through the scheme, up to a monthly cap of £2,500. You can find information about how to claim back employees’ wages on the government website.

On 29 May 2020, the Chancellor set out the introduction of flexible furlough from 1 July 2020 and the tapering of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme from August 2020.  The Scheme remains open until 31 October 2020, but closes to new entrants from 30 June 2020.

If you choose to continue furloughing staff, you can do so as long as they are eligible. You must agree with your employees in writing about furlough.

Visit the FSB Legal Hub for further guidance and a detailed factsheet on furlough. FSB members have access to a template Letter to Employee Assigning them to Furlough, which can be adapted.

What should I do if my employees use public transport to get to work?

The government has released detailed guidance for those who use public transport. Where possible, you should encourage employees to walk or cycle to work if they can’t work from home.

On 4 June 2020, the government announced that face coverings will be required while using public transport in England from 15 June 2020.

If using public transport, it’s advised that you should travel at off-peak times. This means you may need to make alternative or flexible working arrangements with employees who rely on public transport.

The government says you should not travel if you’re experiencing coronavirus symptoms, are self-isolating, or are clinically extremely vulnerable.

What if I need to make changes to employment contracts?

There may be cases where you need to make changes that affect the terms of someone’s contract, for example reducing or changing contracted hours. You must consult with the employee or their representative (for example, from a trade union) if this is the case.

Visit the FSB Legal Hub for detailed guidance about employment contracts.

Please note that circumstances will vary for different businesses, so it’s advisable to seek professional legal advice from our FSB Legal Hub before acting. Be sure to check the latest government guidance for your sector. You can also download a guide to returning to work.
 

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