September 2, 2020

Considerations When Returning to the Workplace

As the children go back to school at the start of September, the government are launching a campaign to encourage the UK workforce to move back to their normal place of work.

But what do employers need to consider before moving staff back into the workplace?

In July the Office for National Statistics reported that just under 40% of workers were working from home, many of whom are enjoying the benefits, including saving time and money on commuting.

However, not everyone can or wants to work from home, with feelings of social isolation, difficulty focusing, and less motivation being the three most common challenges people are facing at home. Some employers will also want to see workers being back in their office for reasons including better data security and improved productivity. 

Whilst acknowledging this, employers will also have to be meet the new COVID-secure requirements in place when bringing people back into the office.

What Are the Consequences of Getting the Return to Work Wrong?

In recent weeks there have been press reports of:

  • Large outbreaks of COVID-19 in food manufacturing plants
  • Pubs and clubs closed due to poor controls
  • Wedding parties broken up by police in the North West
  • Limits imposed on the numbers allowed to enter pubs
  • Prohibition notices issued to pubs and clubs in Northern Ireland where the employer had failed to implement suitable controls

These reports show the seriousness of disregarding the rules and not following government guidelines.

Behind all of this we see ongoing detection of the virus through testing following the low point in early July, despite a reduction in hospital admissions and the use of ventilator beds and fatalities.

In this context, there is a clear need for employers to weigh up the benefits of returning to the workplace with their workers’ safety. A large outbreak in an organisation could have a significant impact on the employer’s ability to maintain productivity and service levels (as employees will need to self-isolate), as well as potentially putting people at risk.

Making a Workplace ‘COVID-Secure’

The Government require business to be COVID-secure before returning workers to their premises or continuing to operate. This requires employers to:

  • Have carried out a COVID-19 risk assessment and shared the results with the people who work there
  • Have cleaning, hand-washing and hygiene procedure in line with guidance
  • Have taken all reasonable steps to help people work safely from a COVID-19 secure workplace or work from home
  • Have taken all reasonable steps to maintain a 2m distance in the workplace, or:
  • Where people cannot keep 2m apart, we have ensured at least a 1m distance and taken all the mitigating actions possible to manage transmission risk

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provide guidance on the government requirements to make the workplace COVID-secure: find out more here. 

Practical Ways to Create a COVID-Secure Environment

Social distancing

Where possible you should keep people 2m apart. If this is not viable, keeping 1m apart with risk mitigation is acceptable.

These are some of the things you can do to encourage social distancing:

  • Use floor tape or paint to mark work areas
  • Provide signage to remind people to keep a 2m distance
  • Use screens to create a physical barrier between people have people working side-by-side rather than face-to-face
  • Limit movement of people rotating between jobs and equipment using lifts and work vehicles in high-traffic areas like corridors, turnstiles and walkways
  • Allow only essential trips within buildings and between sites

Cleaning and hygiene

Coronavirus can transfer from people to surfaces. It can be passed on to others who touch the same surfaces. Keeping your workplace clean reduces the potential for coronavirus to spread, and is a critical part of keeping your business ‘COVID-secure’.

Face covering and masks

Whilst not required in workplaces for workers you might want to consider encouraging the wearing of face coverings in some communal areas such as stairwells and lifts .

What if We Decide to Prolong Homeworking?

Where employers moved to homeworking it’s now likely to be 6 months since the move to ‘temporary’ homeworking was implemented. If these employers are now making a decision to extend this homeworking for some or all of their employers, does this remain a temporary situation?

Once there is a decision to make homeworking a longer-term solution for workers, then employers need to be looking closer at the facilities their homeworkers have access to, and may need to provide equipment such as desks and chairs.

Using this article as a basis of an assessment may help determine who should be returning to the place of work.

How Can Moorepay Help?

Our team of Health and Safety Professionals have been working with clients since the start of the COVID-19 in the UK delivering support to clients through webinars and blogs, dating back to February, As a customer, you can access our 24/7 H&S advice line and onsite consultancy.

Onsite consultancy allows our team to fully understand your business requirements and support employers as they adapt the Government Guidelines to suit the requirements of both premises and working procedures.

If you’d like bespoke advice on this topic, download our free brochure about our COVID-19 consultancy service or see our upcoming webinars.


NB: It is worth noting that there are subtle differences to the guidance provided in the devolved administrations. Whilst the government in Westminster is encouraging people to return to the workplace soon, some of the devolved governments are still advising work at home where possible.

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About the author

Philip Barker

About the author

Philip Barker

Philip has worked for Moorepay for over nine years, starting as a Health & Safety Consultant in February 2008 before taking up the position of Consultancy Manager in January 2015. Coming from a retail background, both as a store manager and health & safety professional, he already had a good cross industry experience. Working at Moorepay has provided an opportunity to broaden both knowledge and experience across a wide range of industry sectors. Philip started his health & safety career after a number of years managing retail stores and holds a HNC in Environmental Health Studies, a Diploma in Environmental Policy and a NEBOSH Diploma.

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