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   How to safely support your workforce back to the office
Although the majority of businesses support staff and promote the
COVID-19 restrictions were lifted on 19th July 2021 the pandemic is far from over and the Government has
advised businesses to proceed with caution. First and foremost, employers must not lose sight of the fact that they still owe a duty to safeguard the health and safety of its workforce (and others) and must, therefore, ensure measures are kept in place to protect against COVID-19. Our Employment Team have been working closely with many clients to help navigate the next stages of returning to the office and have summarised some key questions:
1. Should staff be coming back to the office?
Although the ‘work from home’ message has been lifted, the Government recommends and expects a gradual return to the office. Be sure to ask for feedback from your employees about any potential changes you are making to working arrangements, and understand how it could impact people individually. Also consider whether a change to working hours, or continued use of homeworking, may be useful in reducing exposure and crowded offices. Depending on your business, a phased return is certainly recommended, and staff will need adequate notice of any changes.
2. What about social distancing in the office?
Employers should consider this as part of their risk assessment, and depending on circumstances (for example the size and nature of the workplace, and the number of vulnerable staff), may need to continue social distancing in the workplace. An employer with smaller premises may feel social distancing is impossible in the workplace, and therefore other protective measures should be considered.
3. Should we continue using face masks?
Again, this has been left to the employer’s discretion. As the Government is still advising people to cover their faces (on a voluntary basis) in crowded indoor areas, employers should review their workplace and consider whether staff can maintain safe distance from each other. What about in meetings or in communal areas such as kitchens?
Don’t forget to consult with staff about the use of face masks. If you do identify that face masks are one of the necessary measures to protect employees and visitors you will need to take steps to ensure that masks are provided and that employees are using them appropriately.
Remember to be careful about introducing and enforcing blanket policies requiring employees to wear face coverings, as you could run the risk of unlawfully discriminating against people who have legitimate reasons for not wearing them.
4. Can we require staff to have vaccinations?
The Government has released guidance on the COVID-19 vaccination which urges employers to encourage vaccination; this includes information and resources to help
However, there is no legal requirement to be vaccinated (subject to requirements in the care sector). Therefore, whilst employers can encourage staff to get vaccinated, insisting on it could risk exposure to claims other than in exceptional cases.
Employers can still continue to offer lateral flow tests. If employers are asking for test results, remember that careful consideration should be given to data protection obligations, and a data protection impact assessment should be put in place.
5. How can we make it an easy transition?
The ending of mandatory restrictions represents a significant change and employees will undoubtedly be anxious. Effective communication with staff about the workplace return, risk assessments and measures to reduce the spread of the virus will therefore be key. It is also important that businesses engage with people to understand how they feel about the return to the workplace.
6. What else should we be doing?
To minimise the spread of infection, employers should remind staff about regular and effective handwashing and provide hand sanitiser. You should also review cleaning arrangements, and ensure equipment is wiped regularly with anti- viral cleaner.
Good ventilation can help reduce the risk of spreading the virus so look at how to improve this in your workplace.
This is only intended to be a summary and not specific legal advice. For more information on how to navigate the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in your workplace please contact

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