May Updates: Ready for a return to work?

With the latest advice from the government being that those who cannot work from home and whose workplace has not been told to close/stay closed should go to work it seems timely to look at what measures should be taken to ensure that working environments are safe, whenever they are re-opened.


Before looking at the practicalities though the wisdom of bringing people back to the workplace needs to be assessed. There’s been a fair bit of talk this week about s.44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 which offers protection to employees who leave a workplace or refuse to return because they believe there is “serious and imminent danger” in doing so. Employees who have doubts about the safety of their workplace are advised to approach their employer about this via their union (and if this is you and you aren’t in a union, join one, probably Equity, BECTU, WGGB or Unite in this sector).

The CIPD has come up with a three step test for assessing whether bringing people back to the workplace is wise, they recommend employers ask themselves.

  • Is it essential?
  • Is it safe?
  • Is it mutually agreed?


Preparing the workplace

It is expected that it will be many months before venues re-open for performances, however, ITC members do all sorts of work in all sorts of spaces and may, like ITC itself, be based in performing arts venues that serve as hubs for many arts organisations as well as putting on their own work. There is government guidance on safe working at offices though none yet for performance venues. Key actions to be considered are:

  • Carrying out Covid-19 risk assessments in consultation with workers and/or trade unions.
  • Looking at whether re-design of workplaces is needed to ensure employees stay two metres apart wherever possible.
  • Ensuring robust cleaning processes are in place.


Risk assessment revision:

  • Obtain up-to-date information from the public authorities on the prevalence of COVID-19 in your area.
  • Involve workers and their unions in risk assessment revision.
  • Use the revised risk assessment to make an action plan with appropriate measures.


Desks:

  • If space is limited consider keeping some employees working from home.
  • Have a strict clean-desk policy, non-essential items should be stored in cabinets or drawers not on desks.
  • Supply disposable paper placemats daily for use at each desk.
  • If desks or work areas are shared, advise individuals to sanitise all surfaces upon arrival.
  • Supply disinfectants and hand sanitisers on each desk or nearby.


Physical distancing:

  • If the building has several entrances reduce the number.
  • Provide floor markings to indicate safe distancing for queues or waiting areas.
  • Provide glass screens between reception staff and guests.
  • Remove reception furniture to reduce public touchpoints.
  • Provide PPE to building guests.
  • Install wayfinding signage or floor markings to direct foot traffic.
  • Rearrange furniture to promote social distancing.


Meetings:

  • Limit the number of attendees at in-person meetings and only hold meetings in spaces that accommodate safe distances.
  • Host large team/staff meetings via video conference rather than in-person.
  • Do not have external guests at in-person meetings.


Cleaning/hygiene:

If premises have been closed for a period of time, they should be deep-cleaned before re-opening. After that aim to maintain enhanced cleaning and disinfecting practices by -

  • Ensuring all phones/keyboards, etc. are wiped daily with anti-viral cleaner.
  • Continuing to remind staff about regular and effective handwashing.
  • Providing hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and other such products near or on each desk or work area and by all doorways.
  • Considering low-touch or no-touch switches, doors, drawers and other fittings.


Preparing the workforce

While workplace layout, cleanliness and safety are critical you should also consider the readiness of people for the return: physically, emotionally and psychologically. They are likely to want to know about the future of the organisation, their jobs and perhaps even the future of their industry.

In theory furloughed staff and those working at home can be asked to return to work immediately do bear in mind that they may have to make arrangements to cover childcare and other responsibilities at home in order to do this so give a reasonable period of notice to return.

Returning staff should be offered a re-orientation or re-induction process including one-to-one return meetings with their manager, focusing on health, safety and wellbeing. These discussions should cover any adjustments and/or ongoing support staff may need to facilitate an effective return to the workplace as well as any changes to their work duties or tasks. Some staff may require a phased return to their full role or a new working arrangement, especially if their domestic situation has changed because of the pandemic.


Additionally

Pay special attention to workers who are at high risk and be prepared to protect the most vulnerable.
Consider support for workers who may be suffering from anxiety or stress. Those who are returning to the workplace after a period of isolation are likely to have worries, particularly about the risk of infection. Provide information about the measures you have taken and the support available to them.

And finally, make sure that your payroll staff or provider are aware that furloughed staff are back at work and should return to full pay if they have been on a lower rate.


Further sources of information

Official guidance on returning to work in offices is at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19/offices-and-contact-centres

Occupational Safety and Health has guidelines to help employers and workers to stay safe and healthy in the working environment.

Cushman Wakefield has an in-depth guide entitled Recovery Readiness: A how-to guide for reopening your workplace and a wall chart with the basics of “The Safe Six Checklist”

There is guidance from the Health & Safety Executive on Social distancing, keeping businesses open and in-work activities during the coronavirus outbreak