What HR should know about England’s return to work guidance

The UK government has issued new guidance on how and when employees should return to work.

Following the prime minister’s announcement on 10 May, the UK government has published its COVID-19 recovery strategy reinforcing that workers should continue to work from home rather than their normal workplace wherever possible, for the foreseeable future.

It has also released guidance documents for reopening workplaces in eight different sectors.

The guidance covers construction and other outdoor work; factories, plants and warehouses; labs and research facilities; offices and contact centres; other people’s homes; restaurants offering takeaway or delivery; shops and branches and vehicles.

It urges employers to carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment, maintain two metres’ social distancing to manage transmission risk, work from home where possible and reinforce cleaning processes.

Speaking to HR magazine, Richard Burge, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “This is crucial guidance from the government which is understandably detailed and will take businesses time to work through in order to adequately prepare.

“This preparation includes the requirement for all employers to carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment, including consultation with their staff.

“It is essential that, when they have the opportunity to reopen as part of the phased approach, employers only open when they feel totally ready and with their employees as assured as possible about the plans for that return to work.”

In response to the guidance, the CIPD has said that employers should not bring their workers back into the workplace until they have taken all practical steps to ensure employees are safe.

Peter Cheese, chief executive at the CIPD, said: “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.”

The CIPD has also urged the government to extend the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (JRS) in the hope it will save millions from redundancy over the summer.

Data from the CIPD shows that 60% of employers are in favour of extending the scheme to September 2020.

Cheese added: “A gradual return [to work, as recommended in the government guidance] also may 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.”

An announcement on the future of the furlough scheme is expected later today (12 May).