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May 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

Our Employees Are Back! – How Do I Return My Employees Safely?

Over a year ago now, thousands of employees left their offices and relocated to home offices. As the year went on we began to see different trends in working patterns emerging. I suppose, one of the more worrying of those trends is the fact that whilst working from has had its benefits in terms of flexibility, it has also blurred the lines between work and home life, according to a LinkedIn survey, employees working from home are on average putting in an extra 38 hours work per month. So effectively an extra week per month. The same survey also revealed that home working left employees feeling stressed out. With mental health being one of the key topics of the last year, this is something that needs to be taken seriously.
So how do employers ensure they return their employees to work safely and also ensure their mental health isn’t effected? . . . Well let us be your guiding light and help you navigate through this.
As our customers look to bring their staff back to work, we have received questions on the Return to Work Safely Protocol and also questions on the practicalities of bringing staff back. Some staff will have not worked yet in 2021, they are at home perhaps in a very small bubble – so it is probably a fair assumption to say that there will be some anxieties from staff in relation to returning to the workplace. So it is important for employers to take some time to consider how best to manage the process of returning to work.
To give you an example:
A staff member is refusing to come back to work. What do I do? So the first thing to ask here is what are the individual’s reasons for not wanting to return to work.
Do they have health & safety concerns?
People have been safe at home for a long time now and there is an understandable anxiety amongst some people about going back into the workplace. If this is the reason, then you need to show to the employee how you have met the requirements of the Protocol and how you are taking preventative measures in the workplace. As an employer you have a duty to ensure employee’s safety, health and welfare so it is important that you are taking the right measures and then able to put your employee’s minds at ease. The Return to Work Protocol promotes communication and collaboration between employers and employees. Employees need to be able to show employees the preventative measures they have taken. Perhaps details of risk assessments completed. If there is a particular employee with specific health concerns, you will need to take into account their specific risk factors which you may consult with the employee on.
Lastly, are they afraid to travel on public transport?
Be open to suggestions here as much as possible such as staggering work times in order for them to avoid peak transport times which will mean packed public transport so as previously mentioned be open to suggestions as much as possible.

The Return to Work Safely Protocol was originally published last May, it was then revised and a new version reissued in November 2020 and again in May 2021 to include new learnings on Covid in the workplace. The Protocol sets out a number of measures in order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The Health Service Authority (HSA) also has responsibility for compliance. Overall it has been reported that through their covid-19 work safely inspections there has been a high level of compliance but there has been concerns raised by Public Health around some workplace social contacts where employees are more likely to drop their guard. Specifically, these are around the following issues:
• wearing a face mask
• maintaining physical distancing
• hand hygiene
• cleaning common touch areas
• having visible public health messaging around the workplace
• gathering at lunch breaks
The HSA has advised that employers review the Work Safely Protocol, to ensure that they are fully adhering to its recommendations. They would also encourage employers to re-engage with staff to ensure they are reminded not to attend work if they have COVID-19 symptoms. So what is in the Protocol? There are 7 Key considerations, which are:

  1. Lead Worker Representative
  2. Review Risk Assessment & Health & Safety Policies
  3. Develop a COVID-19 Response Plan
  4. Complete Pre-Return to Work Forms
  5. Provide COVID-19 induction training for all staff
  6. Keeping a log of contact/group work to facilitate contact tracing
  7. Review other Company Policies

These will be covered each week beginning from Monday the 24th of April in blog posts so keep an eye out!

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Posted in Bright Contracts News, Coronavirus, Health & Safety