Businesses should pass three tests before bringing their people back to work

In advance of detailed government guidance for employers, the CIPD urges businesses to ensure they can meet three key tests before bringing people back to the workplace.

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The Government has indicated that organisations with employees who are unable to work from home, such as construction and manufacturing workers, should start planning for their return. Full government guidance on working safely is expected later this week but, in anticipation, the CIPD is urging businesses to ensure they can meet three key tests before bringing their people back to the workplace:

1. Is it essential?

If people can continue to work from home they must continue to do that for the foreseeable future. If they cannot work from home, is their work deemed essential or could the business continue to use the Government’s Job Retention Scheme for longer, giving them the time needed to put safety measures and clear employee guidance and consultation in place?

2. Is it safe?

Employers have a duty of care to identify and manage risks to ensure that the workplace is sufficiently safe to return to. This will involve social distancing measures, potentially reconfiguring workspaces and common areas, possible changes to working hours to reduce risk of exposure, and increased workplace cleaning and sanitation measures. Employers should take their time with gradual returns to work to test these measures in practice and ensure they can work with larger numbers before encouraging more of their workforce back.

3. Is it mutually agreed?

CIPD research found that four in ten people are anxious about returning to work and there are concerns people could be forced back. It’s vital that there is a clear dialogue between employers and their people so concerns, such as commuting by public transport, can be raised and individuals needs and worries taken into account. To manage some of these issues, there will need to be flexibility on both sides to accommodate different working times or schedules.

CIPD Chief Executive Peter Cheese warns that even when these three conditions are met, the return to work must be gradual: 

"The return to work is a massive undertaking for employers and is likely to prove much harder than the original lockdown as there are so many variables. As the ongoing health threat continues no employer should be rushing to get their people back to work until they can meet three conditions: is it essential, is it safe and is it mutually agreed with the workforce. Even with those measures in place the return to work must still be gradual so that social distancing can be maintained.

"It is important that organisations can learn what works practically to be able to provide guidance and reassurance before increasing numbers of their people in the workplaces. A gradual return may also mean flexibility in work schedules or hours of work, which is why it is important the Government considers more flexible furlough arrangements. Working from home should continue to be the norm for those who can, for the foreseeable future.   

"Business owners must balance their desire for getting their business up and running again with the safeguarding of their people’s health and well-being. Government guidance and health and safety will only go so far; businesses must think about what is needed for their own organisation and the specific needs of their people. We have a long road ahead to get Britain back to work, but by engaging with staff and taking the time to think through workplace protections, businesses will be in a much better position to bring people back at the right time and in the right way.’

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