Supporting those who should come to work, and those who should not
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 employees 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 manufacturing arrangements to be tested and modified through collaboration between employers and employees and
- companies to take travel to work and childcare considerations into account in decisions around a phased restart
Continue home working
Minimising the spread of the virus will remain important in ensuring the overall protection of public health. Therefore, a safe return to work should assume that those able to work from home will continue to do so. Only the minimum number of people needed should be on site to operate safely and effectively, with a phased return necessary for many businesses. 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 companies, in discussion with trade unions or employee representatives, before deciding which individuals to involve in pilots and/or a phased restart.
Employee health and well-being
Employers should ensure the organisation culture is inclusive, with the aim that every employee should feel that they have returned 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:
- working safely during the coronavirus outbreak - a short guide
- talking with your workers about working safely during the coronavirus outbreak
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.
Individual health circumstances and protected characteristics should be an on-going consideration and discussion with employees after a return to work. This should recognise the protective measures required to minimise health risks to vulnerable or shielded workers or those living in vulnerable or shielded households, exploring whenever possible how these staff can work from home. 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.
Planning may have identified that ongoing physical distancing measures required to reduce the spread of the virus mean the number of employees able to be accommodated safely in the workplace is limited. The workforce may have questions or concerns after returning to work. Companies 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, employees should continue to do so after a period of self-isolation has ended.
Pay for workers who are sheltering, self-isolating, sick or balancing care responsibilities is likely to be a source of concern for employees. Companies should work with trade union or workforce representatives to provide ongoing guidance to 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.
Workers who are shielding or who live with someone who is shielding, should not be compelled to attend work and 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.
Companies 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.
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 COVID-19 in the community.
All employers will need to be familiar with Scottish Government’s Test and Protect Advice for Employers, which outlines how to support employees who are required to self-isolate. It is essential that steps are taken to enable all staff to comply with the requirements of Test and Protect and that they are encouraged to report to their managers when they are experiencing symptoms. Employers must also ensure that staff follow advice to self-isolate if they are living with a person who has symptoms or has tested positive, or they have been informed by an NHS contact tracer that they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive. Employees can request an isolation note through NHS Inform.
All staff reporting symptoms of COVID-19 should also be encouraged to arrange a test as soon as possible through NHS Inform. Employers must ensure staff are fully supported when they are required to self-isolate. Until staff have been tested and told if it is safe to leave home, employers should make sure that staff are not placed under any obligation to return to the workplace.
In order to support Test and Protect, it is important that employers have clear and robust records of staff working on each shift, the make-up of teams and details of any visitors to the site, in case of need to contact trace.
Employers should also monitor reports of illness across their workforce and report to their Local Health Protection Team when more than one case is reported in the workforce which may indicate a potential outbreak. If an outbreak is confirmed, employers will be asked to record details of symptomatic staff and assist with identification of contacts. Identification of an outbreak will also require a review of COVID-19 control plans and identify any breakdown which may need to be addressed to prevent future incident
Local Health Protection Teams may themselves identify clusters of cases amongst employees through ‘Test and Protect’. In this situation, employers will again be asked to support the Health Protection Team with further investigation, communication with the workforce, and review of existing control measures. It is advisable for employers to identify a single point of contact to act as liaison with Health Protection Teams for any matters relating to Test and Protect, reporting potential outbreaks and seeking advice on matters relating to COVID-19 illness in the workforce. You can find contact details for your Local Health Protection Team in the HPS guidance for non-healthcare settings.
Advanced Manufacturing Policy Team