Q. Some of my employees are reluctant to come back to the office. How can I address this?
A. Employee safety must be the priority during the initial return to work period.
Where it is required that they work from the office, employees will need to be reassured that the necessary measures are in place to ensure their safety.
Requiring employees to work in an environment that puts their health at risk could breach an employer’s duty of care.
Some employees may be cautious about returning to the workplace for fear that it puts them at a greater risk of contracting Covid-19.
It is up to employers to not only reassure their staff but also to listen to their concerns.
Employers can help mitigate the likelihood of a second wave of coronavirus and keep staff at ease by avoiding face-to-face seating arrangements where applicable and improving ventilation, for example.
The government has also suggested setting out staggered working hours and shifts to ensure.
This will also ease congestion on public transport for employees who may be worried about commuting.
Alternating working hours could assist with social distancing requirements and may also help employees who have childcare requirements.
Employers should take the specific circumstances of an anxious employee into consideration because this may be relevant in decision making.
For example, an employee, or their partner, may have been advised by the NHS to shield because they fall into the most clinically vulnerable category.
Although it was announced that shielding would come to an end from August 1 in England and Scotland, employers still need to consider this.
If an employee in this position still does not want to return to work, employers may agree to allow a new or extended period of home-working, keep already furloughed staff on full furlough (or the new flexible furlough, which began at the start of this month), or arrange for time off as annual/unpaid leave.
Finally, it is generally the case in employment law that when making amendments to employee terms and conditions, even temporarily, employees need to agree to it.
Therefore, employers must hold productive talks with their employees first to explain any changes being made. If an employee still refuses to attend work without a valid reason or if they refuse to accept alternative measures, employers may wish to consider dismissal – though this should be a last resort.
Employers should first make any necessary adjustments to avoid this, in addition to government guidelines, for anxious employees.
Peter Done is managing director of Peninsula