Workforce planning and support
Information about supporting those who should come to work, and those who should not.
- continue home working
- pilot meaures
- employee health and wellbeing
- apprentices and training providers
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. There is also Equality and Human Rights Commission guidance for employers.
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. The RNIB also provide information on employing partially sighted and blind workers during COVID, and a COVID risk assessment tool.
As a minimum we expect:
- working from home to continue, where possible
- health factors to be considered in any phasing of who returns to work, with workforce living in vulnerable or shielded households only expected to return when new safe working environment measures have been implemented and a return to onsite work is consistent with individual medical advice
- new arrangements to be tested and modified through collaboration between organisations and their workforce and
- organisations to take travel to work and childcare considerations into account in decisions around a phased restart
Minimising the spread of the virus will remain important in ensuring the overall protection of public health. Therefore planning for a safe return to work should assume that those able to work from home will continue to do so. We have produced guidance on homeworking. Organisations should plan for the minimum number of people needed on site to operate safely and effectively, with a phased return necessary for many organisations. Home-working should be the default, where possible.
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 organisations, in discussion with trade unions or employee representatives, before deciding which individuals to involve in pilots and a phased restart.
Employers should ensure the organisation culture is inclusive, with the aim that every member of the workforce 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 workforce 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 HSE provide useful sources of information:
- working safely during the coronavirus outbreak - a short guide
- talking with your workforce about working safely during the coronavirus outbreak
Individual health circumstances and protected characteristics should be considered and discussed with workforce before prioritising who is asked to return to work and when. This should recognise the protective measures required to minimise health risks to vulnerable or shielded workforce or those living in vulnerable or shielded households, exploring whenever possible how these members of the workforce can work from home. Consideration of health circumstances and protected characteristics should be given to this as part of the risk assessment process. There should be an assessment with the individual as to whether they or a member of their household might be at higher risk of infection.
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.
For example given that there is some evidence which suggests that COVID-19 may impact disproportionately on some groups (Minority Ethnic communities), organisations should ensure that Occupational Health Service provide practical support to Minority Ethnic staff, particularly where they are anxious about protecting themselves and their families. All Minority Ethnic staff with underlying health conditions and disabilities, who are over 70, or who are pregnant should be individually risk assessed, and appropriate reasonable or workplace adjustments should be made following risk assessment.
Test and Protect
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 if a worker becomes unwell with coronavirus symptoms at work, see further information below. 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.
People who have tested positive for the virus will need to self-isolate for a minimum of 10 days. NHS contact tracers will interview them and get in touch with people they have been in close contact with, and tell them they must self-isolate for 14 days. If your employees are informed by a contact tracer that they should isolate, you should help them to do so straight away. They may feel well, as the virus could still be incubating when they are asked to isolate. Some people who are asked to isolate may not become unwell, but they must stay at home and self-isolate for the full 14 days. Organisations can ask them to work from home if they are able to and they are not unwell. Organisations should not ask someone isolating to come into work before their period of isolation is complete, in any circumstances.
A close contact is defined as:
- those that are living in the same household as a case
- face to face contact with a case for any length of time within 1 metre of a case
- extended close contact within 2 metres for more than 15 minutes with a case
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 protect public health in order to break the chain of transmission of COVID-19.
See Scottish Test and Protect website and NHS Inform for further health advice and information including on duration of self-isolation.
Advice for employers on helping staff who need to self-isolate is also available.
Planning should recognise that ongoing physical distancing measures required to reduce the spread of the virus may mean that the number of the workforce able to be accommodated safely in the workplace is limited. The workforce may have questions or concerns about returning to work. Organisations are encouraged to work with trade union or workforce representatives to enable individuals to work from home while self-isolating, if appropriate. If able to work from home, the workforce should continue to do so after a period of self-isolation has ended.
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.
Pay for staff who are sheltering, self-isolating, sick or balancing care responsibilities is likely to be a source of concern for employees. Organisations should work with trade union or workforce representatives to provide early guidance to their workforces on processes and support for individuals affected by these issues. Again opportunities to facilitate home working where feasible should be actively pursued and maintained.
The shielding category consists of those who have been identified as being at the highest risk from severe illness from COVID-19. Individuals in the shielding category have been advised not to work outside the home, and this will continue until such times as the general advice to shield is paused. See NHS Inform for further information. People who live with someone who is shielding are not advised to stay away from work; however, they should be supported to stringently follow physical distancing guidance.
Those identified as being at increased risk from COVID-19 are those following physical distancing advice more stringently. As they are at higher risk of severe illness (for example, people with some pre-existing conditions) they have been asked to take extra care in observing physical (social) distancing. People who live with someone who is at increased risk are not advised to stay away from work, but as above, should be supported to stringently follow physical distancing guidance.
Workers who are shielding should not be compelled to attend work outside the home for as long as the shielding advice is in place. If workers who are shielded cannot work from home, companies should make arrangements to ensure those staff are not disadvantaged due to obeying medical advice. Companies should explore measures such as suspending the normal application of sickness or disciplinary procedures related to attendance in these cases.
The shielding advice is in place until at least 31 July. If the shielding advice is paused after this, then those who were shielding would be categorised as at increased risk and should follow physical distancing measures more stringently than the general population, and be risk assessed to ensure they can do this. The default position should remain that wherever possible, people should work from home and should only return to the workplace where they can do so safely.
If those at increased risk (but not in the shielding category) individuals cannot work from home, they should be offered the option of the safest available on-site roles, enabling them to maintain physical distancing. Workplace activities should be carefully assessed to identify if they involve an unacceptable level of risk.