Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for call centres and customer contact centre environments

Guidance for call centre or customer contact centre environments on safe operation during the coronavirus pandemic.

9 page PDF

234.4 kB

9 page PDF

234.4 kB

Contents
Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for call centres and customer contact centre environments
Workforce planning and support

9 page PDF

234.4 kB

Workforce planning and support

Information about building confidence and supporting wellbeing.

Returning workers may have some level of apprehension about how safe they may be and they may require reassurance and demonstration that measures recommended in workplace risk assessments have been put in place to ensure safety. Risk Assessments should be published and made available to employees to ensure full transparency and visibility. Employers should recognise the need to have clear and regular communications with employees, using multiple channels to reinforce key messages. Visual material has proven to be beneficial in demonstrating changes that have or are being made, especially where language barriers exist. 

Employers must make sure that the measures put in place to maintain distancing/improve hygiene do not have a negative effect on the ability of staff to take regular breaks away from their desks.

A clear message from employers and trade unions is that building and maintaining employee confidence is vitally important and a challenge that should not be underestimated.

Workforce planning

Information about supporting those who should come to work, and those who should not.

Nobody should go to work if their workplace is closed under current government regulations.

As a minimum we expect:

  • working from home to continue to be the default, where possible
  • health factors to be considered in any phasing of who returns to work, with employees only expected to return when new safe working environment measures have been implemented and a return to onsite work is consistent with their individual medical advice
  • employees who are identified as at increased risk from COVID-19 are able to attend work in person but should strictly follow physical distancing measures
  • new contact centre arrangements to be tested and modified through collaboration between employers and employees
  • companies to take travel to work and childcare considerations into account in decisions around a phased restart.

An individual risk assessment guidance and tool has been developed help staff and managers consider the specific risk of COVID-19 in the workplace. It is relevant to all staff, but will be particularly relevant to those who are returning to work after shielding, those who are returning to normal duties after COVID-19 related restrictions, those who are returning to the workplace after working from home or anyone who has a concern about a particular vulnerability to COVID-19.

Apprenticeships and training providers

Apprentices can return to work at the same time as their co-workers. For specific concerns regarding the safe return to work for apprentices there is information and support and apprentices can speak to an advisor directly on 0800 917 8000.

It is important to ensure there is a functioning training infrastructure to support economic recovery and the sustainability of apprenticeship programmes. For those training providers and assessors that are providing continuity of contracted services for apprentices, learners and employers in the workplace during the pandemic must adhere to the applicable sectoral guidance.

Home working

Minimising the spread of the virus will remain important in ensuring the overall protection of public health. Therefore planning for a safe return or continuing operation of work should assume that those able to work from home can do so. Employers should continue to plan for the minimum number of people needed on site to operate safely and effectively, with a phased return necessary for many operations.

Consider who is needed to be on-site. For example:

  • workers in roles critical for business and operational continuity, safe facility management, or regulatory requirements and which cannot be performed remotely
  • workers in critical roles which might be performed remotely, but who are unable to work remotely due to home circumstances or the unavailability of safe enabling equipment

Home working should be the default, where possible.

It is important that employers monitor the wellbeing of people who are working from home and help them stay connected to the rest of the workforce, especially if the majority of their colleagues are on-site. Employers should keep in touch with off-site workers on their working arrangements including their welfare, mental and physical health and personal security, as well as ensuring they have access to equipment and all the systems they need to perform their job. Read Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for homeworking.

Close the Gap, through their 'Think Business Think Equality toolkit', have produced guidance on employers supporting employees affected by domestic abuse during the pandemic and a more general online self-assessment resource for employers on domestic abuse.

Pilot measures 

As implementing new enhanced safety measures may take time to embed it is good practice to pilot measures, either within part of a facility and / or with a proportion of the workforce at lower risk from the virus, before rolling out across the workplace as a whole. Travel to work and childcare considerations for individual employees should be taken into account by companies, in discussion with trade unions or employee representatives, before deciding which individuals to involve in pilots and a phased restart.

Employee health and wellbeing 

Employers should ensure the organisation culture is inclusive, with the aim that every employee should feel that they are returning to a supportive, caring and safe environment. The pandemic has had an unequal impact across the workforce, as different employee groups, and individuals, will have been affected in diverse ways according to factors such as their job role, and demographic/personal circumstances. Therefore, it is important organisations foster a fair and inclusive working environment that does not tolerate discrimination. There is also a risk of victimisation of those infected, suspected, or more vulnerable to COVID-19 which should be addressed. 

The following guides from the Health and Safety Executive provide useful sources of information:

Consideration should be given within the risk assessment as to whether sector restart might have greater impact on some groups than others depending on social circumstances, health conditions or legally protected characteristics. The Equality and Human Rights Commission can provide advice on a range of issues such as non-discrimination, communication with employees on equality issues, adjustments for disabled people, support for pregnant employees, flexible working for those with caring responsibilities, support for employees affected by domestic abuse, how to deal with harassment at work, and mental health issues.  

Individual health circumstances and protected characteristics should be considered and discussed with employees before prioritising who is asked to return to work and when. This should recognise the protective measures required to minimise health risks to workers at high clinical risk. Consideration of health circumstances and protected characteristics should be given to this as part of the risk assessment process. Permission should be sought from individuals before collecting any information on health conditions of those within their household.  

It is important to take into account the particular circumstances of those with different protected characteristics. This could include involving and communicating appropriately with workers whose protected characteristics might either expose them to a different degree of risk, or any steps taken may be inappropriate or challenging for them. The RNIB provide information on employing partially sighted and blind workers during COVID, and a COVID risk assessment tool.

Consideration should be given as to whether any particular measures or adjustments are required to fulfil duties under equalities legislation (Equality Act 2010). Reasonable adjustments should be made to avoid disabled workers being put at a disadvantage and the health and safety risks for new or expectant mothers should be assessed. It is important to make sure the steps implemented do not have an unjustifiably negative impact on some groups compared to others, for example, those with caring responsibilities or those with religious commitments. Workers should be aware of the specific challenges facing some of their colleagues, for example their blind and partially sighted colleagues, in physical distancing and to be supportive in dealing with the challenge this presents them.

Given that there is some evidence which suggests that COVID-19 may impact disproportionately on some groups, such as disabled people, people with particular health conditions and Minority Ethnic communities, employers should ensure that Occupational Health Service provide practical support to staff, particularly where they are anxious about protecting themselves and their families. 

Equalities

There are other issues that employers need to consider to ensure workplaces are inclusive.  The Equality and Human Rights Commission can provide advice on a range of issues such as non-discrimination, communication with employees on equality issues, adjustments for disabled people, support for pregnant employees, flexible working for those with caring responsibilities, support for employees affected by domestic abuse, how to deal with harassment at work, and mental health issues.

Close the Gap, through their Think Business Think Equality toolkit, have produced guidance on employers supporting employees affected by domestic abuse during the pandemic and a more general online self-assessment resource for employers on domestic abuse.

See Equality and Human Rights Commission - Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance for employers.

Shielding

Information for people who previously had to shield

As the number of cases of COVID-19 in Scotland have fallen significantly, from 31 July we have been able to amend our advice. We have paused the advice that those who were identified as being at highest risk of the virus should shield. This means those who were shielding can go back to workplaces where they cannot work from home. Their employer should support them to do so safely and ensure they can stringently follow public health guidance around physical distancing and hygiene.

There may be the requirement to revert back to some level of shielding in the future at either a national or local level if the number of cases rise again. Those who previously had to shield will be kept informed of any relevant health advice if things do change. You can also keep up to date with the most recent advice at Coronavirus (COVID-19): shielding advice and support.

People who need to self-isolate

Individuals who are advised to stay at home under existing government guidance should not physically come to work. This includes individuals who have symptoms of COVID-19 as well as those who live in a household with someone who has symptoms.

All workers should be supported to follow up to date health protection advice on isolation if they or someone in their household exhibits COVID-19 symptoms. Advice within workplaces should continually remind workers of the symptoms to look for and clear advice should be provided on how to respond if symptoms become apparent while at work.

Test and Protect: workers who need to self-isolate

Test and Protect, Scotland’s approach to implementing the 'test, trace, isolate, support' strategy is a public health measure designed to break chains of transmission of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the community.

The NHS will test people who have symptoms, trace people who may have become infected by spending time in close contact with someone who tests positive, and then support those close contacts to self-isolate. That means if they have the virus they are less likely to pass it on to others. Organisations will play a vital role in ensuring that their workers are aware of and able to follow the public health advice.

Organisations should follow public health guidance and Test and Protect employers guidance if a worker becomes unwell with coronavirus symptoms at work. The person should leave work to self‑isolate straight away and, if possible, wear a face covering on route and avoid public transport. 

Organisations should direct workers to NHS Inform or, if they can’t get online, call 0800 028 2816, to arrange to get tested.

Until they have been tested and told if it is safe to leave home, organisations should make sure that staff do not have to, or feel that they have to, come in to work.  Workers can request an isolation note through NHS Inform.

Where Infection Prevention Control measures have been utilised such as protective screen or use of PPE the contact tracer will conduct a risk assessment to identify contacts at risk. The priority is to public health in order to break the chain of transmission of COVID-19.

Organisations should follow the advice in COVID-19: Fair work statement.  It states that no worker should be financially penalised by their organisation for following medical advice, and any absence from work relating to COVID-19 should not affect future sick pay entitlement, result in disciplinary action or count towards any future sickness absence related action. This statement applies to workers who are sick or self-isolating under the Test and Protect strategy.

Organisations are encouraged to work with trade union or workforce representatives to enable individuals to work from home while self-isolating. Advice for organisations on helping staff who need to self-isolate is also available.

Organisations should also acknowledge the range of factors likely to cause stress or anxiety amongst employees, ranging from living with lockdown arrangements to concerns about travel, schools, caring responsibilities and relatives impacted by the virus, amongst others. This may have implications for mental health with managers encouraged to be conscious of how these factors may impact on the well-being of individual staff members. Companies and trade union or workforce representatives should be alert to this and direct anyone experiencing mental health issues towards available support. 

NHS Inform has published advice on Coronavirus (COVID-19): Your mental wellbeing and Coronavirus (COVID-19): Physical activity.

Outbreak management

Organisations should suspect an outbreak if there is either:

  • two or more linked cases (confirmed or suspected) of COVID-19 in a setting within 14 days - where cross transmission has been identified; or
  • an increase in staff absence rates, in a setting, due to suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19

If an organisation suspects a COVID-19 outbreak, they should immediately inform their local NHS board Health Protection Team (HPT). The organisation may be then contacted by them, as they may get information from NHS Test & Protect or other sources.

In the event of an outbreak:

  • continue to follow guidance contained in this document to reduce risk
  • the local Health Protection Team will undertake a risk assessment and conduct a rapid investigation. They will advise on the most appropriate action to take
  • staff who have had close contact with case(s) will be asked to self-isolate at home. In some cases, a larger number of other staff may be asked to self-isolate at home as a precautionary measure. Where settings are observing guidance on infection prevention and control, which will reduce risk of transmission, the local health protection team will take this into account in determining whether closure of the whole setting will be necessary.
  • depending on the risk assessment outcome, the Health Protection Team may establish an Incident Management Team (IMT) to help manage the situation
  • the Incident Management Team will lead the Public Health response and investigations, and work with the organisation to put appropriate interventions in place

To control an outbreak the Health Protection Team and Incident Management Team will work with the organisation to put appropriate interventions in place. These will generally include ensuring that the preventive measures described in this document to prevent spread of COVID-19' are fully implemented. Other measures may include:

  • cleaning in the setting: for cleaning and waste management, refer to guidance on cleaning in non-healthcare settings for maintaining hygiene
  • consider wider testing of affected population and staff
  • information: ensure that staff (and other relevant people) are aware of what has happened and the actions being taken
  • closure: may be done following advice from the Health Protection Team and Incident Management Team or the business may make their own decision on closure ahead of this advice as a precaution or for business continuity reasons

The Health Protection Team or Incident Management Team will declare when the outbreak is over.

Legionella testing

There is an increased risk of Legionnaire’s Disease when buildings have been out of use, or not running at full capacity. This is because water systems may become stagnant when not in use, increasing the risk of legionella within water supplies. Many public and office buildings have been closed during the COVID-19 crisis, making legionella a legitimate concern as lockdown restrictions are eased.

The Health and Safety Executive have published advice on the risk of Legionella in buildings which are closed or running with reduced occupancy during the COVID-19 crisis on the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland (REHIS) website.

Building owners or operators should undertake a health and safety check of buildings, and deep cleaning prior to reopening where necessary, to mitigate risks. More information on Legionella Testing can be found on the HSE website.


Contact

Email: contact-econ@gov.scot