Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): general guidance for safer workplaces

Guidance on safer working during the coronavirus pandemic for those businesses / organisations not covered by sectoral guidance, for example general offices.

9 page PDF

450.0 kB

9 page PDF

450.0 kB

Coronavirus (COVID-19): general guidance for safer workplaces
Workforce planning and support

9 page PDF

450.0 kB

Workforce planning and support

Building trust

Returning workers may have some level of apprehension about their safety. They may require reassurance and demonstrations of the recommended mitigation measures identified by risk assessments.

Organisations should communicate with workers regularly. Multiple channels should be used to reinforce key messages. Visual material may be beneficial in demonstrating changes that have, or are being made. Especially where language barriers exists.

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

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

Information about supporting those who should come to work, and those who should not. As a minimum we expect:

  • working from home to continue, where possible
  • new organisational arrangements to be tested and modified through collaboration between organisations and workers
  • organisations to take travel to work, current schooling arrangements and childcare considerations into account in decisions around a phased restart, noting the disproportionate impact that these consideration have on women
  • health factors to be considered in any phasing of who returns to work, with workers living in at risk or shielded households only expected to return when new safe working environment measures have been implemented and a return to the workplace is consistent with individual medical advice. Those identified as being at the highest risk from COVID-19 should follow the most up to date advice
  • the health, including mental health, and well-being of workers to be considered
  • home working to continue where this is possible - Full home working guidance provides more information for employers on this. Please also see the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advice on home working for further information.

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

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.

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

Continue home working

During Lockdown everyone should work from home where possible.

Home working should be the default, where possible. Minimising the spread of the virus is fundamental in ensuring the overall protection of public health. Organisations should plan for the minimum number of people in the workplace to operate safely and effectively. A phased return will be necessary for many organisations.

Employers must not ask or direct their employees to commit an offence by requiring them to travel for work that it is possible to be done from home.   Nor should employers encourage, authorise or make arrangements that would encourage, allow or put pressure on their employees to break the law.

Home working will be new to many and may have been implemented at pace, without normal health and safety planning to ensure people have suitable working arrangements and equipment. Employers are responsible by law for the health, safety and welfare at work of their workers and these responsibilities apply wherever their staff are working. Arrangements for the welfare of employees must provide for homeworkers, as well as those who work in the employer’s workplace.

If an employer is asking their employees to work from home, consideration must be given to the type of environment they are being asked to work in. Caring responsibilities - which often are undertaken by women, multigenerational households - which may be a particular issue within certain minority ethnic groups, space constraints and noise levels are just some of the considerations that need to be taken into account. Assumptions should not be made that everyone has a suitable place from which to work at home, this should be explored with each employee.

Full home working guidance provides more information on this.

Please also see the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advice on home working for further information.


Protecting people who are at higher risk

Going to work – Updated 4 January 2021

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.

We have added additional advice which is specific to going to work from 5 January 2021. Due to what we now know about the higher transmissibility of the new variant, the CMO is now writing has written to everyone people on the shielding list to advise that you that if you cannot work from home, you should not attend work for as long as these additional lockdown protective measures are in place in the area where you live or work. 

This additional advice on going to work does not apply to areas that remain at Level 3. If you live or work in a Level 3 area, you can continue to go to work if the workplace can be made safe.

If you are not attending your workplace due to the advice from the Chief Medical Officer, your employer, at their discretion, may be able to furlough you through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which has now been extended until April 2021. If you are furloughed, HMRC will give a grant to your employer to cover 80% of your normal salary, and your employer will need to pay National Insurance and pension contributions.  I would You are encouraged you to discuss this directly with your employer.

Otherwise you may be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay, Universal Credit, or other benefits, during this period.  To find out further information about what benefits you may be entitled to, speak to your employer, or visit or contact Citizens Advice Scotland. Some employers may offer additional financial support for employees who are off work for coronavirus-related reasons which may be set out in your terms and conditions of employment.  To find out what financial support you will get, you should contact your employer. 

The Job Retention Scheme does not apply if you are self-employed or to any income from self-employment. However, you may qualify for support under the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme. The online service for this grant is available at

The Strategic Framework introduced 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 authority 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.

Going to work

During lockdown everyone should work from home where possible.

The majority of workplaces can be made safe. We are not advising people to stop going into work if you cannot work from home.

It is your employer’s responsibility to make your workplace and duties safe for you. This may include changing the way in which you work, to support you to follow the extra advice. Employees also have a responsibility to comply with safe working practices.

If you have any concerns you should discuss these with your manager or your employer. You can also get further advice from:

  • Occupational Health services provided by your employer, where available
  • a Health and Safety representative in your workplace
  • your workplace’s Human Resources (HR) department
  • your trade union or professional body

Read the guidance for employers and employees on making the workplace safe. This includes a workplace risk assessment (COVID-Age) tool, which you can use to show your employer your assessment of your personal risk. This can help you to discuss with your employer any additional adjustments or arrangements needed to make your workplace and duties safe for you.

If you live or work in a Level 4 area

We advise that you should not use public transport in a Level 4 area.

You should follow the general advice for everyone in Level 4 areas and work from home if you can. Employers should make sure their staff can work from home if possible.

If you cannot work from home, most workplaces can be made safe, even if you are at the highest risk. You should continue to follow the extra advice set out in the table while at work.

Following the announcement that all of mainland Scotland will be at Level 4 from 26 December, the CMO has issued another letter (Shielding Notification) to everyone on the shielding list to cover everyone who lives or works in level 4 area. This letter is valid for the duration of level 4 status and covers any changes in levels up to then. We will not re-issue letters every time an area stays or re-enters Level 4, unless the advice changes.

We know this is an anxious time for people who were shielding but we are not advising the same strict isolation as the first lockdown. We know how harmful that was to wellbeing. So [even at Level 4,] we are not advising people on the shielding list to stop going outside, which we know is beneficial; to stop going for essential shopping or medicines, or, to stop working outside the home. 

There is a separate letter issued advising parents that children who were required to shield should not go to school, college or formal childcare in a level 4 area. All children left on the shielding list are those currently under the supervision of a hospital clinician hence they are advised to consult with hospital clinicians and not GPs.

There is guidance for employers and employees on making the workplace safe.

The advice on going to work has not changed in the context of the recent announcement about all of mainland Scotland entering level 4 on 26 December. You can continue to attend your workplace as long as your employer has made the workplace COVID-19 safe. If your employer can enable you to work from home this is the preferred option.

Keep up to date with free text alerts

If you have not already done so, please consider joining the free text messaging service for people at highest risk from coronavirus. To join, send a text from your mobile phone with your Community Health Index (CHI) number to 07860 064525. Your CHI number is the 10-digit number at the top of this letter. We only need the number itself. You do not need to text any other information.

You can also get information from the free National Assistance Helpline on 0800 111 4000.

Test and Protect: workers who need to self-isolate

Reduction in self-isolation

Anyone required to self-isolate, due to contact with someone who has had a positive test for coronavirus (COVID-19), or as a result of quarantine rules on arrival from overseas will need to do so for 10 days following updated clinical advice.

The self-isolation period for international travellers and for contacts of positive cases in Scotland was 14 days but this changed from Monday 14 December 2020.

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 are to follow public health guidance and Test and Protect employers 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 not medically exempt), 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.

Organisations should make sure that staff do not have to, or feel that they have to, come in to work if they are self-isolating. 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.

Test and Protect – contact tracing app

Protect Scotland is an entirely voluntary app that is an additional part of NHS Scotland’s Test and Protect service. Having the app should never be a requirement for any workplace. The app complements but does not replace manual contact tracing. It enhances contact tracing and quickly alerts app users that are at risk as they have come into close contact (less than 2m for 15 minutes or more) with an app user that has since tested positive for COVID-19. Further information about the contact tracing app for employers, workers and customers is available.  

Reduction in self-isolation

Anyone required to self-isolate, due to contact with someone who has had a positive test for coronavirus (COVID-19), or as a result of quarantine rules on arrival from overseas will need to do so for 10 days following updated clinical advice.

The self-isolation period for international travellers and for contacts of positive cases in Scotland was 14 days but this changed on Monday 14 December 2020.

Employee health and wellbeing

Organisations should aim to create an inclusive environment. With the aim that every worker feels that they are returning to a supportive, caring and safe environment. The pandemic has had an unequal impact across society. 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 at risk of catching COVID-19 which should be addressed. 

Pay for workers who are shielding, self-isolating, sick or balancing care responsibilities, which is more likely to be undertaken by women, is likely to be a source of concern for workers. Organisations should follow the advice in the 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 should also acknowledge the range of factors likely to cause stress or anxiety amongst employers and workers. These range 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. Organisations and trade union or workforce representatives should be alert to this and direct anyone experiencing mental health issues towards available support. 

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.


In addition to the existing legal responsibilities under the Equality Act, there are other issues that employers need to consider to ensure workplaces are inclusive and are taking account of the impact of COVID-19 on particular groups, such as women, disabled people and people from ethnic minority communities. Further information

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) Scotland can provide advice on a range of issues such as:

They have also produced specific guidance for employers and  guidance for public sector employers about equality impact assessments and having due regard to the Public Sector Equality Duty and Scottish Specific Duties during the pandemic

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, which overwhelming impacts women. The RNIB  also provide information on employing partially sighted and blind workers during COVID, and a COVID risk assessment tool.

Health and safety

Outbreak management

Organisations should suspect an outbreak if there is either:

  • two or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the setting within 14 days


  • 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). Sometimes the first contact may be made by the local HPT to inform the organisation as the local HPT may get information from NHS Test & Protect or other sources.

In the event of an outbreak:

  • continue to follow the existing protection and control measures contained within this guidance.
  • 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 guidance 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.



First published: 16 Dec 2020 Last updated: 15 Jan 2021 -