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

Blogs 1 Jun 2020

We answer your questions about managing your employees, looking after their wellbeing and managing health and safety in the workplace.

This content was reviewed 18 December 2020

If your business is allowed to reopen and is following COVID-19 secure guidelines, you should consult with your employees to determine how to return to work safely. Localised restrictions have also been announced in several locations across the UK. 

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 open. It’s important you follow the guidelines 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. 

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.

Can employees return if they have been shielding?

From 1 August, shielding advice has been paused in England. Those who are clinically extremely vulnerable should carry on working from home if possible, but can return to work if your workplace is COVID-19 secure.

Shielding advice has also been paused in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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
  • 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 to 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 to any changes in working arrangements
  • Develop communication and training materials for workers prior to returning to the 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.


Find out more about how FSB Care is supporting members through turbulent times on the FSB Care hub

Organisations like Mind can also offer support and advice to your employees during this time. 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.

Our guide to bringing back an employee from furlough walks you through the process.

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 still furlough employees?

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) will now remain open until April 2021, to support employers with the transition back to work. Employers will still able to place staff on flexible furlough. Read our guide to furlough for the latest updates.

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

Where possible, you should encourage your employees to walk or cycle to work if they can’t work from home. Our activity hub, in partnership with Sport England and ukactive, is home to tips, guidance and resources to help you support workplace wellbeing. You can also download our handy guide to active travel to encourage your employees to get active on their commute.

If your employees are using public transport, they are required to wear a face covering and it’s advised that all employees travel at off-peak times where possible. This is particularly the case for clinically vulnerable employees who cannot work from home and are reliant on public transport for traveling to and from the workplace. This means you may need to make alternative or flexible working arrangements with employees who rely on public transport. Detailed guidance has been published for traveling safely during the coronavirus outbreak.

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

Do employees need to wear a face covering at work?

The government sector guidance for working safely during coronavirus, which applies in England, includes guidance on how employees can use face coverings safely in different settings.

On 22 September, the Government announced that the requirement to wear face coverings in England would be extended to retail and hospitality staff, in addition to those providing close contact services.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have published their own guidance on when face coverings are required.

Employers should support their workers in using face coverings safely if they choose to wear one. 

The use of face coverings does not replace other more effective measures to protect workers and customers from the risk of contracting coronavirus on the premises.

Where 2m physical distancing cannot be adhered to, including for shop workers, employers are advised to put in place mitigating actions.

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.

Read our guide to changing employment contracts, or 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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