Returning to work

When reopening after lockdown, employers must plan properly and consider the health and wellbeing of all involved.

While government guidance remains that people should work from home if they can, businesses are still free to decide between continuing with home-working or reopening premises with COVID-secure measures in place.

However, 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.

Working safely during COVID-19

The Government has practical advice for businesses that are yet to return to the workplace. This includes:

  • helping employees to work from home
  • carrying out a risk assessment
  • developing cleaning, hand-washing and hygiene procedures
  • maintaining two-metre social distancing (where possible) and managing the risk of transmission if people can’t be kept two metres apart

Read the Government’s guidance on working safely during coronavirusLink opens in a new window

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 businessLink opens in a new window

Although the Government is encouraging employers to make workplaces safe so staff can return, the advice is still that people should only travel to work if it is “not reasonably possible” to work from home.

If your business chooses to put in place or continue with home-working arrangements, make sure you have:

  • carried out a risk assessment
  • developed a home-working policy
  • guided staff on how best to work remotely

Read our guide to managing working from home

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:

  • social distancing restrictions
  • hand-washing, cleaning and hygiene routines
  • staggered working hours

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 risksLink opens in a new window

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.

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

Read the Government’s guidance on cleaning, hand-washing and hygieneLink opens in a new window

Watch an NHS video on the best way to wash handsLink opens in a new window

Maintaining social distancing

The Government’s guidelines on social distancing continue to apply, and vary slightly depending on where you are.


Where possible, employees should be two metres apart.

If that isn’t possible:

  • there should be at least one metre between them
  • you, as the employer, should take extra measures to keep them safe and limit the risk of the virus being transmitted

Scotland and Wales

Employees should stay two metres apart at all times.

How to do it

Ways to keep a two-metre distance between employees include:

  • putting one-way systems in place
  • closing communal areas
  • taking desks out of use
  • stopping hot-desking

If you aren’t able to keep employees two metres apart, you must do everything you can to manage the risk of coronavirus being transmitted. You can do this by, for example:

  • asking staff to wear face coverings
  • making them work side by side rather than facing each other
  • putting up dividing screens or barriers
  • staggering working hours, so employees don’t arrive and leave all at the same time

Read the Health and Safety Executive’s detailed guidance on social distancingLink opens in a new window

You’ll have been in close contact with your employees throughout the COVID-19 lockdown. As you begin to 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 coronavirusLink opens in a new window


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 workplaceLink opens in a new window

Regional support

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