With the lifting of lockdown rules on July 19th, people in England are no longer being asked to work from home if they can. Instead, the government is recommending a gradual return to the office. Under the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), employers must take certain measures to keep their workplaces safe as restrictions are lifted. In this blog, we outline what you can and need to do to keep your employees safe as they return to the office.
Restrictions that remain in place
From July 19th, most coronavirus restrictions were removed in England, meaning social distancing guidelines no longer apply. However, workplaces need to ensure they have adequate ventilation, sufficient cleaning, and good hand hygiene practices.
According to the HSE, employers need to ensure there is an adequate supply of fresh air in enclosed areas of the workplace, including natural ventilation such as open windows, doors, and air vents, or mechanical ventilation such as fans and ducts.
Regarding sufficient cleaning, workplaces are required to increase how often and thoroughly they normally clean their workplace, including cleaning shared equipment after each use and frequently cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces that are touched regularly.
Good hand hygiene should also be promoted by your provision of handwashing facilities with running water, soap, paper towels, or hand dryers, and the use of hand sanitiser in areas where people cannot wash their hands.
From July 19th, there is no longer a legal requirement for your employees to wear face coverings in indoor settings. However, the government says it expects members of the public to continue to wear face coverings in crowded and enclosed spaces. As a business, you can ask your employees and customers to wear face coverings while in the office.
You cannot require your employees or potential employees to be vaccinated unless they work in a sector such as care homes where a legal requirement has been introduced.
Workplace COVID-19 testing
You may want to introduce your own COVID-19 testing programme in your workplace. The government provides guidance on the regulations and legal obligations of running these testing programmes and advice to help you make yours as reliable and effective as possible.
Consider the mental health impact
Returning to the office can significantly impact the mental health of your employees, known as ‘returnism.’ There will be an impact, and this will vary from employee to employee. Common effects to be expected include employees feeling anxiety symptoms, stress, panic, and worry, which can lead to trouble sleeping, changes in appetite, and changes in how a person interacts with their colleagues.
You may want to consider easing employees back into the office by staggering their return over several weeks or even months. Generally, what will help ease your workers’ minds is knowing that you have a plan in place. If you communicate this plan clearly and let your employees know where they can share their concerns, you can help your team through this change.