Getting back to the office – are you ready?

Getting back to the office – are you ready?

Government restrictions for UK employees to work from home ended 19 January 2022.

For many workers, this is music to their ears. They can pick up their favourite coffee for their commute and catch up with colleagues in the flesh. However, the day that we see everyone getting back to the office is unlikely to happen soon.

As an employer, you must look after any staff that are anxious about their return to the workplace. A one size fits all approach is no longer the way forward for the post-pandemic workplace.

“There is a lot to be said about the positive benefits of returning to a physical workplace but let’s make sure all managers have open and non-judgmental conversations”, shares Simon Blake, Chief Executive of Mental Health First Aid England.

If there is one thing we have learnt from the past two years, things can change overnight. 

As we covered in what is your post-pandemic working arrangement policy, setting clear expectations can help anxious staff manage their return to the office.

Explain to your staff why it is necessary for your business and remind everyone of your covid health and safety measures. Listen to any concerns and explore what levels of flexibility you can apply.

Make reasonable adjustments

We have already seen several employment tribunal cases stemming from the pandemic.

In one case, Moore v Ecoscape UK Ltd, the claimant sought an unfair dismissal claim after refusing to attend her workplace due to “serious and imminent danger” if she contracted the Coronavirus and passed it onto her “high-risk” partner.

The employer carried out covid-specific risk assessments, made appropriate office adjustments and provided the claimant with her safe working environment.

However, she did not return to the office. The employer refused her request to work remotely due to the nature of her role. The company carried out reasonable steps to accommodate the claimant’s concerns and regularly engaged with her to help her regain her confidence in coming back to the workplace.

The claimant’s covid concerns related to general fear and the perception that danger was everywhere, rather than specific to the workplace. After failing to enter discussions with the employer and refusing to visit the workplace to review the measures implemented, the employment tribunal concluded that the claimant was unwilling to compromise and that the employer had not acted unreasonably.

Establish a clear hybrid-working policy

Are your staff required to be in 2, 3 or 5 days a week?

Set clear expectations on how many days you want staff to be in the office and align your policies and processes to reflect this.

What do I do if my staff have concerns? 

You need methods in place to accommodate staff concerns. If you encounter any health-related matters, seek independent occupational health guidance.

Can you work with the employee to ascertain the root cause of their worry and collectively find a solution?

Health and safety obligations

Continue to adhere to your health and safety responsibilities. Provide the relevant PPE, masks, and hand sanitisers around the workplace.

There is little doubt that further employment tribunals will appear around unclear return to work policies, so remember, honest communication is essential for your business and your employees.

As Blake points out, “what works now, might not necessarily work in three months or even a year. So, let’s not enforce rigid boundaries and instead, of thinking forever, take a whole-organisation, fluid approach to workplace wellbeing.”

If you need guidance in implementing working arrangement policies or an independent HR professional to handle personnel matters, arrange a free consultation with Bal on 020 7724 6060.

Bal Dhesi
HR Manager at Wilder Coe
Bal recognises that effective people management is key to any successful organisation. With a number of years’ experience gained in the field of HR, Bal provides a bespoke and tailored service to her clients whilst delivering practical yet simple people orientated solutions.