HR in the Hot-Seat: A Return to the Workplace?

Published 9th July 2021

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We continue our HR in the Hotseat series, by looking at some of the matters employers may find themselves thinking about when it comes to the future of work and workplaces.

With the recent announcement from the government that if all goes to plan England will be lifting nearly all of the COVID-19 restrictions on 19 July some employers will be thinking about how their organisation may operate in future and for some there may be big questions to ponder, such as:

  • Will there be a return to the office / workplace?
  • What about continuing remote working or moving to a (much touted) ‘hybrid’ model?

For some organisations (and employees) it may not be the ‘where’ that is the most significant consideration in the ‘post-lockdown’ era but the ‘when’ with flexibility taking on a greater significance for many.

With such matters in mind, we take a look at the ‘future of work.’ The focus of our first instalment of this series, below, is a return to the office / workplace for those who have been temporarily required to work from home.

Returning to the office / workplace: four things every employer will need to think about

1. Communication

It will be important to communicate appropriately and effectively with employees regarding any return to the workplace and to do so in good time.

2. Reluctant returners

There may be some employees who are reluctant to return, this could be for many reasons such as worries that have built up during lockdown about attending the workplace, health / safety concerns or even that employees have simply enjoyed working from home and any benefits that may have brought to their lives.

If an employee expresses a reluctance to return to the workplace, in many cases, the first step will be to ascertain the reasons for it to ensure that the situation is handled appropriately and where needed, sensitively. There are a few areas in particular that are worth bearing in mind:

  • If an employee is considered disabled under the Equality Act, whether because of a physical or mental health condition, employers can be under a duty to make reasonable adjustments for them
  • Employees have employment law protections in relation to whistle-blowing/staying away from a ‘dangerous workplace’ as reported previously 
  • Employees may in some situations be able to argue that they have been constructively unfairly dismissed because of the way they have been treated
  • If there are no complicating factors and an employee wishes to carry on working from home permanently simply because they have enjoyed it, they will usually need to make a flexible working request. Basic information regarding flexible working can be found here

It’s important to seek advice from Kingfisher Professional Services Ltd on your situation before taking any action if an employee is reluctant to return to their usual workplace for any reason or if you receive a flexible working request.

3. Helping employees settle back in

For many employees it will have been a long time since they last worked in the office / workplace and it may take a little time for them to readjust. It will be important for employers to think about how they can support any employees who may need help to settle back in. This could include steps such as letting employees know they can talk about any workplace issues or concerns they may have with their manager or providing refresher or other training.

4. Making sure policies and procedures up to date

If it’s been a while since you last reviewed your policies and procedures, it’s a good time to check that those you currently have in place meet your requirements and accurately reflect your working practices. If you identify that changes may be needed to your Employee Handbook or contracts of employment, please contact Kingfisher Professional Services to discuss your situation.

If you have an employment law matter you would like assistance with, please do not hesitate to contact Kingfisher Professional Services Ltd as we are happy to help.