Masterclass in Preparedness Getting Ready to Return to Work After COVID

Lockdown is ending and many are anxious about returning to work. This is because they have been told for the last three months to stay home, respect social distance and lose touch with their work routine. It’s crucial that workplaces evaluate the best ways to reintroduce staff safely and successfully.
DPG’s human resource and L&D advisors have created a masterclass on preparedness that addresses important issues that HR departments are responsible. Any employer who is responsible for making decisions should draw on the expertise of HR professionals and follow the most recent government guidelines.
Let’s take a look at some of these issues HR departments might face in order to help you be prepared.
What happens if an employee refuses to return to work?
Employers in charge of decision-making should use HR expertise to understand the concerns of their employees and demonstrate transparency and accountability.
As a first step, anyone returning to work should conduct a Risk Assessment. Although it may be a good idea or even necessary to involve Unions and Employee Representatives, staff should be able to participate in the Risk Assessment Committee to ensure that employees’ voices are heard and their concerns are considered.
What if employees aren’t interested in returning to work?
If a workplace is equipped to maintain social distance under Government guidance, with screens, personal protective equipment, etc., then employees will be told they must return to work. Normal workplace rules (and the consequences of employment law) will apply to those who refuse.
The UK furlough program will be available until October 2020. This means that workplaces with a gradual return of staff can choose to have staff selected based on their willingness and ability to return first. Some staff are eager to go back to their old ‘normality’.
This may not be a good idea for all staff. It is important to be open about mental health and well-being and to offer support to those who need it.
What if employees feel unsafe at work and cite S.44 ERA 1996?
Despite all efforts to comply with safety and Government guidelines, some staff may refuse to work for health or safety reasons.
Section 44 of the Employment Rights Acts (S.44 ERA), gives employees the right not to suffer any detriment if they believe they are in imminent and serious danger that they cannot reasonably expect to avoid.
Current understanding is that COVID-19 can be considered a serious threat to employees. This means that they are entitled not to attend work (or leave work, if they have), and not to suffer any detriment (i.e. Disciplined or fired.
What should you do if an employee refuses work because of COVID?
Copycat behavior is the biggest risk to the business. The best way to mitigate risk is to avoid copycat behaviour, as there is no case law that will establish how the employment tribunals will rule regarding the issue of pay — specifically COVID-19.
Employers who continue to pay employees who refuse to go to work, citing S.44 ERA. This is not a good incentive for other employees to come to work. They can also refuse to work, cite S.44 ERA and be paid in full to remain at home.
Employees should be instructed to work from home if possible and, if necessary, to remain on furlough if they are still available. If neither of these options are possible and the employee refuses to go to work, unpaid leave could be granted. Cover for their role may also be organized if necessary.
If a court later decides that they are not entitled to payment, the remedy is to pay them what

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