As Covid 19 restrictions are being lifted, companies are starting to welcome employees back to the workplace. Given that the pandemic is far from over, it is natural that employers and employees will have some anxiety regarding the return. Smaller businesses, for example, may wish to consider returning employees on a phased basis. That is, returning employees for 2-3 days and increasing the duration as time progresses.

We have compiled the following tips to assist employers in the transition back to the workplace:

1. Consult with all employees prior to their return

It is natural that employees may be hesitant to return to the workplace. Therefore, it is important that you consult with them prior to their return. To reassure them, appoint a designated individual who employees can turn to with concerns in relation to Covid 19. Arrange follow up consultations every 4-6 weeks. In doing so, you may help reduce employee anxiety.

2. Listen to the concerns of high risk or hesitant employees

Be open to making exceptions for high-risk employees. Consider granting them flexibility in their return, or allow them to not return at all, if possible. You are entitled to request a medical certificate if employees confirm they are high risk. Alternatively, introduce the 2 meter social distancing rule or the 6 employee pod to help further reduce risk of transmission in the workplace.

3. Communicate your need to reintroduce restrictions, if required

Alpha, Delta, Omicron, who knows what’s coming next? Employees may be delighted to see the back of the restrictions, however, it is important that you inform them that these measures may have to be (and will be) reintroduced at any given time in the interests of public health and safety, depending on the behaviour of new strains and public health advice. The workplace team should share a commitment to putting any safety measures that are officially advised to the public back into place.

4. Promote a rapid response to Covid-symptomatic employees

Instruct any employee with Covid 19 symptoms to self-isolate and seek medical advice immediately, regardless of their vaccination/booster status. If employees report other symptomatic employees, instruct them to do same. Update your company policy to reflect all expected actions in such a scenario.

Please note: Legislation has been passed for employees to formally request to work from home. If a request is made, an employer can refuse this request on 13 different grounds. Clear and timely communication is key to ensuring the approach taken to any request is fair, transparent and reasonable by employers. You can read a list of circumstances an employer can refuse a request to work remotely here.