Returning to the workplace

When reopening premises to staff, employers must plan properly and consider the health and wellbeing of all involved.

As of September 2021, the Government is no longer instructing people to work from home if they can, and is expecting workers to gradually return to workplaces and business premises. However, businesses are still free to decide between continuing with home-working or reopening premises with COVID-secure measures in place.

But because many employees will be anxious about their safety, it's vital that employers consult them at every turn and make decisions based on what's best for their physical and mental health.

Official government guidance

Working safely during COVID-19

The Government has practical advice for businesses that are returning to the workplace. This includes priority actions to take to help protect staff and customers, including:

  • completing a risk assessment
  • providing adequate ventilation
  • developing cleaning, hand-washing and hygiene procedures
  • turning away people with COVID-19 symptoms
  • allowing people to check in via NHS Test and Trace
  • keeping workers, contractors and visitors up-to-date on how you're using and updating safety measures

Read the Government’s guidance on working safely during coronavirus

Guidance for specific types of business

As there are many different businesses and workplaces reopening after lockdown, the Government has created guides for various industries and sectors. These include:

  • close-contact services (e.g. hairdressers, beauticians, tattooists)
  • construction and other outdoor work
  • factories, plants and warehouses
  • hotels and other guest accommodation
  • labs and research facilities
  • offices and contact centres
  • restaurants, pubs, bars and takeaway services
  • shops

Use the guide most relevant to your business and follow it to help keep your workers safe.

Find the right government guidance for your business

Making your workplace COVID-secure

A COVID-secure workplace is one which is as safe as possible for staff, visitors, tradespeople and anyone else who might spend time there during coronavirus.

Read more in our guide to making your workplace COVID-secure. For now, you can follow the steps below to help make sure your premises are safe.

Assess the risks

Before you allow workers to return, you must:

  • carry out a risk assessment
  • put measures in place to stop any risks from occurring

A risk assessment identifies and evaluates possible hazards in the workplace. The measures you implement to prevent those hazards causing harm will likely include:

  • hand-washing, cleaning and hygiene routines
  • staggered working hours
  • making sure there is proper ventilation

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has step-by-step advice on how to carry out a workplace risk assessment.

Learn how to assess a workplace for COVID-19 risks

Introduce hand-washing, cleaning and hygiene procedures

Making a workplace COVID-secure means putting in place strict procedures around hand-washing and cleaning, and encouraging people to follow them.

Read the Government’s guidance on cleaning, hand-washing and hygiene

These procedures include:

  • making hand sanitiser available around the building
  • regularly cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces that people often touch
  • setting clear use and cleaning guidance for toilets

Watch an NHS video on the best way to wash hands

Bringing employees back to the workplace

You'll have been in close contact with your employees throughout COVID-19. As you manage their return to the workplace, it's crucial that you maintain this level of communication and keep everyone up to date with what you're planning to do.

Health and safety measures

Tell your employees about the risk assessment you've conducted and the measures you've put in place to ensure their safety when they come back.

By law, you must consult your workforce about any new health and safety procedures you've introduced.

Read CIPD’s guide to returning to work after coronavirus

Reorientation

As part of the return-to-work process, managers should meet with the employees on their teams to discuss health, safety and wellbeing and what adjustments might be needed to help people settle back in.

This will be particularly important for employees who have been furloughed for long periods.

Read our guide to managing the end of furlough

Staff who are reluctant or unwilling to return

It's understandable that some people will be apprehensive about going back to the workplace. As their employer, you should listen to their concerns and take whatever steps you can to alleviate their worries.

Read ACAS’s advice on returning to the workplace

Reference to any organisation, business and event on this page does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation from the British Business Bank or the UK Government. Whilst we make reasonable efforts to keep the information on this page up to date, we do not guarantee or warrant (implied or otherwise) that it is current, accurate or complete. The information is intended for general information purposes only and does not take into account your personal situation, nor does it constitute legal, financial, tax or other professional advice. You should always consider whether the information is applicable to your particular circumstances and, where appropriate, seek professional or specialist advice or support.

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