What Do The Governments New Return to Work Announcements Mean for Scottish Businesses?

With England already starting a return to work, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland remain on lockdown which means any return to the workplace remains unlikely for the majority of workers furloughed in Scotland just now.

Returning to the workplace is the next big step for employers and employees, but there remains a lot of uncertainty around how returning to work will work in reality. We have already witnessed some chaotic scenes in England of commuters packing onto public transport. We’ve also seen different approaches to how people return to work while following the new “stay alert” guidelines issued on Tuesday (12th May). Government guidance has only just been released, but it has announced that the Job Retention Scheme which allows employees to be furloughed will continue until the end of October.

This leaves a number of scenarios for us to contemplate:

Is it safe for employees to return from furlough?

Can I keep my employees on furlough if I don’t feel it is safe?

What if I only need a few employees back at work?

Can I bring employees back on reduced hours?

Should employees be taking annual leave during this period?

There is rather a lot of information to digest at the moment, but it is important to stop and realise that it is OK to not immediately know the answers to all these questions that are arising.

Nobody has ever been in this situation before and it is important to remember that as a manager you are not expected to know the answer to different questions. This situation presents itself with a theme that is actually quite common when managing people – no two situations are ever really the same, so while you can plan for the short term, there are going to be things that you will need to look at on a case by case basis.

For example, people are now being advised to self-isolate if they choose to take a foreign holiday in the near future. This could potentially mean that an employee is off work for 4 weeks if they decide to take a 2-week holiday as they will need to self-isolate for 14 days on their return. Is this acceptable? Realistically, it depends on the nature of the business and whether you can function without them for this extended period of time. If your business can’t run and you need that employee to be there, you can turn down a request to take the annual leave. If it’s a trip that has been planned and the employee doesn’t know if the holiday is going to go ahead or not, it is difficult to determine what will happen nearer the date but if the employee can work from home after they return then it is about exploring those options. There can’t be definitive answers for all these questions just now and you may need to talk over the issues as they come up to find a realistic solution depending on what the government advice is at that time.

Key Things to Remember

  1. Regardless of where you are or where you work, employees should only be going to work if it’s safe to do so and if employees can work from home they should be working from home.
  2. The easing of restrictions should be gradual – if someone is returning from furlough, you need to ensure its safe to do so. Any return to work should be gradual, safe and mutually agreed. As an employer you need to understand the practicalities of a return to work, if an employee is unable to because of childcare responsibilities then you need to take that into consideration as schools remain closed.
  3. Risk of infection from COVID is as real as it ever was, so employers must be aware of that. You need to make sure it is safe for employees to return. Carrying out a risk assessment is absolutely necessary before any employee returns.

Next Steps

  1. Have you conducted risk assessments for your employees to continue working safely from home if they have to?
  2. Have you considered external factors that may influence an employees return to work i.e. remote working assessment and conducting regular welfare meetings?
  3. Have you considered what a risk assessment would look like to plan a safe return to work?

Support & Advice

We are here to help! For guidance and support, please contact a member of the team on 0131 225 7458 or email us at info@gravitatehr.co.uk

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