Given the latest uncertainty presented by COVID-19, in addition to following the latest UK Government guidance, the guiding principle for employers should be to safeguard the health and wellbeing of their people, and to be mindful of individual concerns about COVID-19. 

When planning workplace safety the CIPD recommends considering three key questions:

  • Is your workplace sufficiently safe and supportive?
  • Are you being flexible in your approach?
  • What is best for people’s wellbeing and performance?

Question 1: Is your workplace sufficiently safe and supportive?

Employers have a duty of care to ensure that the workplace is sufficiently safe, following the latest, relevant government guidance and checking for updates. Some measures may need to be scaled up or reintroduced, such as social distancing, testing for COVID-19, mask-wearing, sanitising gels, possible changes to working hours to reduce risk of exposure, improved ventilation and increased workplace cleaning and sanitation measures.

Employers should also listen to any concerns employees may have around being in and travelling to the workplace, particularly in relation to clinical vulnerabilities, and to be clear in advance about expectation regarding personal or work travel.

Equally, employers must consider the mental toll that nearly two years of the pandemic and uncertainty will have had on their people and continue to be supportive of their wellbeing needs. See the CIPD guide on Supporting mental health through the pandemic.

For the many employees who can only work in the workplace, employers should regularly test any safety measures in practice and ensure that employees continue to feel sufficiently safe in the workplace. Where possible, consider staggered shifts to reduce numbers working together and to avoid busy periods on public transport.

Employers should not insist employees be vaccinated to be able attend the workplace if the latest government rules do not back this up. However, they can encourage and support employee vaccination, and advise regular testing ahead of attending team events.

Regardless of whether an employee is working remotely or in the workplace, employers should allow their staff time away from work to get vaccinated and to get tested for COVID-19 as needed.

Question 2: Are you being flexible in your approach?

It is important that businesses engage with their people to understand their concerns and help them to work in a way that makes them feel most safe. There should be consultation with staff at a company level. It is also important that line managers understand the specific concerns of their individual team members so they can support their mental wellbeing and future ways of working.

To ensure that employees are safe in the workplace employers need to offer as much flexibility as possible, especially as circumstances and attitudes are evolving, particularly in light of the latest UK Government advice to work from home where possible. More information is available in the Flexible working during the pandemic guide, and Returning to the workplace FAQs.

Question 3: What is best for people’s wellbeing and performance?

Employers are presented with some options when remote or hybrid working is possible for some or all of their employees. Many factors affect a person’s professional performance, including their environment, the ability to collaborate or to work quietly and whether they feel a sense of purpose, belonging and professional identity. Working in the workplace may improve the performance and wellbeing of some people while others may be more productive working from home.

Employers should consult regularly with their employees to ensure that this performance is balanced by their needs and preferences, especially their health and wellbeing, and to be as flexible as possible.

CIPD research has shown that most people can work just as productively, if not more, from home so businesses should be flexible about working locations unless a role can only be done from a specific workplace.

Research has also consistently shown that most people would like a mix of office and home working. This stands to benefit both individual and organisational productivity longer term. In response, as and when restrictions are eased and a return to the workplace or a mix of hybrid working becomes available, the CIPD is urging businesses to consider the potential of hybrid working as a way of supporting improved productivity, wellbeing and engagement and attracting new people. Where hybrid working is not possible, employers should look at other flexible options, to support these employees.

You can refer to our content on flexible working and more specifically hybrid working.

Keep visiting the CIPD Coronavirus Hub for advice and guidance and the government websites for the latest information on working safely during COVID-19:

DISCLAIMER: The materials in this guidance are provided for general information purposes and do not constitute legal or other professional advice. While the information is considered to be true and correct at the date of publication, changes in circumstances may impact the accuracy and validity of the information. The CIPD is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for any action or decision taken as a result of using the guidance. You should consult a professional adviser for legal or other advice where appropriate.

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