COVID-19: Preparing for staff return to workplace

A number of resources are available to support you through this period of planning. 

Preparing to re-open the workplace:

  • The CIPD have produced a comprehensive downloadable guide to returning to the workplace, which you can access and download here
  • This CIPD HR-Inform adaptable Checklist on Returning to Work after lockdown can help you check off things you may need to take action on
  • Planning Hybrid working: Hybrid working is a form of flexible working.  Whether you are considering interim hybrid working whilst restrictions are still in place, or if you are planning to make hybrid working a more permanent feature of your working practices, this CIPD report will help you to plan what steps to take, what to consider, and who needs to be involved.

COVID-19 Vaccine: Can employers require employees to be vaccinated?:

  • The government has chosen not to make the covid-19 vaccine mandatory, which means that it is not enforcable for employees to have the vaccine.  However employers can encourage staff through communicating the benefits and sharing reliable sources of information about the vaccine.
  • Providing paid time off to attend vaccination appointments for both doses of the vaccine can also help to encourage vaccination, but this is very much a decision of each individual employer.
  • There can be a range of reasons why an individual cannot take the vaccine and so listening to their reasons and keeping these confidential will build understanding and maintain trust
  • Remind all staff to treat colleagues with respect regardless of their decision over having the vaccine.
  • Download this guidance note on the employment implications and considerations from DAC Beachcroft and visit the ACAS guidance page here.

Supporting previously-shielding staff back to the workplace:

The governments of England, Scotland and Wales have confirmed dates after which those considered clinically vulnerable to the coronavirus will no longer be told to shield. These are as follows:

  • From 1 April 2021 in England and Wales 
  • From 26 April 2021 in Scotland

If you employ staff who has been considered clincially vulnerable, they may have specific concerns about their return to the workplace which you may want to seek to understand and reassure as much as is possible. 

The CIPD HR-Inform advice on HR considerations for supporting the transition for previously-shiedling staff is to:

  • prioritise homeworking, where possible – the guidance in England, Scotland and Wales remains that people who can work from home should do so. The review date for homeworking guidance is still unknown so organisations should prioritise this for as long as is necessary
  • take the time to listen to employees’ concerns and act accordingly, in a manner that benefits both the employee and the business as a whole
  • if homeworking is not possible, remember that the furlough scheme has now been extended until the end of September 2021 so consider putting affected staff on furlough. The guidance says organisations can do this if there has been a decline in business demand; otherwise, staff can be put on statutory sick pay
  • if returning staff to the workplace is a necessity, publish risk assessments online that show measures the organisation is taking to prevent a coronavirus spread
  • reassure staff who are shielding that the workplace is Covid-19 secure by communicating the reasonable adjustments put in place to protect them.

In the workplace, the following provisions might be considered before returning shielded staff to work:

  • avoid face to face seating arrangements in the office by changing office layouts
  • change shift patterns to reduce the number of staff on duty at any given time
  • make virtual communications a means of conducting training or meetings
  • put in place rules for managing social spaces/communal areas
  • promote regular hand washing, sanitising and workspace cleaning
  • being more attentive to staff mental health.

A template letter which can be downloaded and adapted for your organisation has been created by CIPD HR-Inform, and you can access this here.

Changes to Statutory Sick Pay:

On Saturday 28 March 2020, new laws surrounding the payment of statutory sick pay (SSP) were introduced.

SSP should be paid from day one, not day four, of absences in the following situations:

  1. To someone who has the virus
  2. To someone who is self-isolating for seven days because they have even mild symptoms
  3. To someone who is self-isolating for 14 days because, whilst they don’t have symptoms, they are living with someone who has even mild symptoms.

The ‘SSP day one’ rules only have effect for anyone whose first day of incapacity (or deemed incapacity in the case of self-isolation) was Friday 13 March 2020 or later.

Furlough extension:

The furlough scheme has been extended and will now end on 30 September 2021.

The employer’s contribution will increase from July 2021 in a similar way to that which was in place when the Government intended to phase out the scheme last October. In July, the employer must pay 10% for unworked hours plus employer NICs and pension contributions.  In August and September, the employer contribution will increase to 20%. Read the policy paper here.

The cut-off date for eligibility for furlough has also been extended. For periods starting on or after 1 May 2021, employers can claim for employees who were employed on 2 March 2021, as long there was an RTI submission to the HMRC between 20 March 2020 and 2 March 2021, notifying a payment of earnings for that employee.

NCVO Coronavirus Resouce Bank:

As NUS members you can also access certain NCVO services including their Know-How pages on Coronavirus which incude a selection of resources around working with staff, volunteers, know-how for trustees etc, all linked to the pandemic.

Still can't find what you need for your Students' Union?  Contact or chat to HR SU peers in this HR Workplace group about what they are doing.