Back to work but not back to normal – Employers warned “Don’t drop your guard” as staff return to work places

Return to work warning

6 essential things employers should remember as people return to work 

Workers may soon be flocking back to work after it was announced that COVID Plan B measures for Omicron are to come to an end.   

With guidance on working from home cancelled with immediate effect, employees are being urged to talk to their employers about arrangements for returning safely to work.   

This puts employers back in the hot seat once more. They have a huge responsibility to protect their staff in workplaces at a time when the pandemic has not yet ended.   

Although Government is comfortable that risks have reduced sufficiently, there are many things that employers must continue to bear in mind.  

Back to work cannot simply mean back to business as usual. The pandemic has not yet ended – and safety doesn’t suddenly increase overnight.  

What employers should keep in mind to protect returning staff

Employers planning their way ahead should continue to listen to health professionals and occupational health experts when it comes to fulfilling their duties of care for staff.  We asked our employee health expert Dr Steve Boorman what employers should be considering today: 

  1. Don’t drop your guard. Omicron remains highly contagious, causes illness, and will still drive sickness absences. You will need to have strong absence management and return to work procedures in place at minimum. Larger employers need appropriate platforms and diligent attention to COVID related absences.
  2. Be clear on LFT expectations. You will need to be clear on your expectations around Lateral Flow Testing. Relaxation of restrictions and the prospect of an end to free lateral flow tests (cited widely in the media) may lead many people to feel testing is no longer important. Test avoidance, like presenteeism with mild symptoms, may drive waves of workforce infection. 
  3. Ensure safe work places and practices. Measures designed to reduce crowding and risk of transmission should continue. Increased distance, diligent hygiene, good ventilation, and masks for close contact remain key principles. 
  4. Recognise individual issues. Individuals may remain nervous about returning, whether they have an increased personal clinical risk than their colleagues or not. You need to ensure appropriate individual risk assessments. You should also help managers hold what may be sensitive conversations, and enable appropriate adjustments or flexibility if required.
  5. Remember everyone. Working patterns in your firm may have evolved. If you are have embraced permanent home working for some, don’t focus on returning staff alone. Check our employer’s guide to home working risk assessments for advice that will be useful long after COVID.  
  6. Consider personal practicalities. You may need to advise employees how to return to work safely, especially if they are nervous about using public transport. You may need to remain flexible around the challenges working parents will continue to face due to school infections.  

While the current strain of COVID seemed less threatening, it has nonetheless placed the NHS at a tipping point. We must all do whatever we can to prevent further impact.   

We have a workforce and population that may face many additional health challenges from late diagnoses or unrecognised and untreated conditions, including long COVIDNobody can predict when another new strain will emerge, nor how virulent or dangerous it may be.  

Above all, employers must be ready to protect the health of the workforce on which they depend, and to respond and adapt fast, whatever may come. A strong and proactive approach to employee health is one of the best enablers of this agility. As we outlined in our recent article, there are many more imperatives for planning employee health and wellbeing in 2022 which will be just as essential as how employers respond in the coming days.