Workforce planning and support
- building confidence and supporting wellbeing
- Test and Protect
- shift patterns
- apprenticeships and training providers
- advice for those at highest risk
- travel to work
- outbreak management
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and face coverings
Information about supporting those who should come to work, and those who should not.
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. Home-working should be the default, where possible, until Scottish Government advice changes.
As a minimum it is expected that:
- health factors must be considered in any phasing of returns to work. Employees living in vulnerable or shielded households are only expected to return when new safe working environment measures have been fully tested and a return to onsite work is consistent with individual medical advice
- new business practices should be assessed and modified in agreement between employers and employees. Employers should be aware of other regulatory compliance measures and any impacts these may have
- employers should also take account of travel-to-work considerations in phasing a restart, particularly those who may rely on public transport – see Transport Scotland advice pages
- employers should take account of childcare arrangements, in the case of nurseries and schools not being fully operational
- employers should follow guidance on self-isolation of employees and their household members with symptoms, or having tested positive, or being advised to self-isolate through Test and Protect More information on NHS Inform COVID-19
Returning workers may have some level of apprehension about how safe they may be and they may require reassurance and evidence that measures recommended in workplace risk assessments have been implemented.
Employers should recognise the need to have clear and regular communications with employees, using multiple channels to reinforce key messages. Visual materials have proven to be beneficial in demonstrating changes that have been, or are being, made. This is particularly important where language barriers exist.
Employers and trade unions should send a clear message that the workplace is safe - maintaining employee confidence is vitally important.
Employers should ensure that the organisation’s 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. These may relate to factors such as their job role, and demographic/personal circumstances. Consequently, it is important that 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:
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. Consideration should be given as to whether any particular measures or adjustments are required to fulfil duties under the equalities legislation. 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.
For example given that there is some evidence which suggests that Covid-19 may impact disproportionately on some groups (Minority Ethnic communities), employers 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.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) Scotland can provide advice on a range of issues such as:
- reasonable adjustments for disabled people and communication with employees on equality issues
- support for pregnant employees or employees on maternity leave
- flexible working for those with caring responsibilities
- how to deal with harassment at work
EHRC has also produced guidance for public sector employers about equality impact assessments and is having due regard to the Public Sector Equality Duty and Scottish Specific Duties during the pandemic.
Through their Think Business Think Equality toolkit, there is 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.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission Scotland has provided updates to their guidance for employers to include decisions about return to 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 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 10 days. If organisations are informed by a contact tracer that they should isolate, organisations 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 10 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.
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.
See Scottish Test and Protect website and NHS Inform for further health advice and information including on duration of self-isolation.
Pay for workers who are sheltering, self-isolating, sick or balancing care responsibilities is likely to be a source of concern for employees. Businesses should work with trade union or workforce representatives to provide early guidance on relevant 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 should not be compelled to attend work and businesses should make arrangements to ensure those staff are not disadvantaged due to obeying medical advice. Businesses should explore measures such as suspending the normal application of sickness or disciplinary procedures related to attendance in these cases.
Businesses 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 so managers should be conscious of how these factors may impact on the well-being of individual staff members. Business and trade union or workforce representatives should be alert to this and direct anyone experiencing mental health issues towards available support.
If you have a large workforce and previous shift models have resulted in crowding at entry and exit points you may wish to develop plans to change shift patterns to protect the workforce and to optimise productive capacity. This will reduce the risk of transmission by keeping pinch-points to a minimum. Such an approach would however require proper consultation with trade unions or employees if it involved a change in employee terms and conditions.
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 on the Skills Development Scotland website 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.
Shielding was paused on 1 August. Since then we have been advising those who are at highest risk should they contract coronavirus, including those who were formerly asked to shield, to follow the same guidance as the rest of the population stringently and with extra care. The best protection for people who are most at risk from the virus is to stop its spread in our communities. Building on the support we put in place at the start of the pandemic, we are providing the information, advice and tools people need to make choices about their day-to-day activities and interactions, including work.
The Strategic Framework introduces enhanced advice at each protection level to protect people with the highest clinical risk, setting out clearly how advice will change depending on the rates of infection in local areas. As the levels in a local area change, the protection advice for people on the shielding list in that area will change as well. People at highest risk should still follow the advice for the general public as a minimum, but these levels provide additional advice for areas like work, schools, shopping and contact with others.
The majority of workplaces can be made safe. We are not advising people to stop going into work if you cannot work from home, but advise them to ask their employer to use the workplace risk assessment tool to support discussions with their employer so that the necessary adjustments to their workplace can be made. If their workplace cannot be made safe, at Levels 2 and 3, we are suggesting they can discuss whether they need a fit note with their GP or consultant.
At Level 4, the Chief Medical Officer will issue a letter to people on the shielding list which is similar to a fit note and which will last for as long as the individual’s area is under Level 4 restrictions. This letter can be used in the few cases where it is not possible to make their workplace safe. This does not automatically mean they should not attend work.
We are also asking people on the shielding list to sign up to our text message service to get updates to your mobile. To sign up they need to send their Community Health Index (CHI) number to 0786 006 4525.
Health Protection Scotland (HPS) has provided COVID-19 information and guidance for general (non-healthcare) settings which reiterates that people should not travel if they exhibit any COVID-19 symptoms. The HPS advice, and any subsequent safe travelling advice, such as that provided by Transport Scotland, should be factored into decisions on planned returns to work.
People must by law wear a face covering in shops, on public transport and public transport premises such as railway and bus stations and airports, and in certain other indoor public places such as shops, restaurants/cafes including workplace canteens (when not seated), libraries and places of worship.
In workplaces (other than an early learning or school setting), you are legally obliged to wear a face covering in communal areas indoors, unless exempt. More information is available.
The HPS guidance COVID-19 information and guidance for general (non-healthcare) settings also offers advice on the use of PPE, confirming that workplaces should only use PPE which is consistent with local policies and in line with measures justified by a risk assessment.
A risk-based approach focused on a hierarchy of control which seeks to eliminate risks is recommended. This is achieved by combatting risks at source, adapting workplaces to individual needs, ensuring adequate staff training around processes to manage the risk and use PPE - where required. Where PPE is deemed necessary, an adequate supply of the correct materials and items must be maintained and provided free of charge to workers who need it. Any PPE provided must fit properly.
The interpretation and use of any guidance should be considered in line with normal protective security operations and practices where they exist. Where necessary, organisations should consult with and involve their security departments in the interpretation and implementation of this guidance. In particular, security should be considered in any revised risk assessment.
We do not advise the removal or alteration of, or reduction in, existing protective security measures without providing clear recommendations (e.g. from the National Technical Authority/police Counter Terrorism specialists) on how to maintain effective protective security.
This should extend to measures which are not primarily intended to provide a protective security benefit, but which do anyway. For example, removing street furniture could make moving or queueing pedestrians more vulnerable to vehicle-as-a-weapon attacks.
Security staff should remain focused on security duties. Where COVID-19 creates additional staffing requirements, e. g. for queue management, employers should ensure additional suitable staff resource is made available. Employers should ensure that security staff feel safe, e. g. having access to appropriate PPE and hand-washing facilities, and the confidence to raise any concerns. Further detailed guidance can be found on the Centre for the Protection of National Industry - staying secure during COVID-19 and the UKG National Counter Terrorism Security Office webpages.
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
- 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 'General Guidelines' to reduce risk, as detailed above.
- 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 'General guidelines to prevent spread of COVID-19' (detailed above) 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.