Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): safer businesses and workplaces

Guidance for businesses and workplaces - including laboratories and research facilities - on reducing the risk of COVID-19 and supporting staff and customers.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): safer businesses and workplaces
Working arrangements

Working arrangements (working from home/hybrid/flexible working)

We recognise  the economic and social benefits of people being able to meet and work together in offices and in urban centres but also recognise the importance of home working as a means of reducing transmission and the wider benefits of home working that have been demonstrated during this pandemic.

We also recognise that businesses have spent a lot of time and money ensuring staff have the equipment and support they need to allow them to work effectively at home and to ensure that offices are as safe as they can be. Businesses are encouraged to work with staff to facilitate a gradual return to offices in line with staff wellbeing discussions and business need, however  home working remainsan important and effective mitigation for controlling the virus. For now, we ask that businesses still support employees to do this, where possible and in consultation with employees or their representatives. We encourage employers to consider, for the longer term, a hybrid model of home and office working - which may, of course, have benefits beyond the need to control a virus.

There may be, for instance, adverse impacts on mental health for some associated with returning to workplaces that employers need to take into account when deciding the appropriate working model at their workplace. This factor should be one of many that is taken into account, including the needs of the business.

While we recognise that businesses are best placed to understand how their operations work most effectively, employees will want to be assured that their safety and welfare has been reflected in workplace plans which is why consultation with the workforce is important. Employers will want to remind staff about the employee wellbeing and support services available to them. This should include signposting to appropriate mental health and wellbeing support.

Each workplace will have its own unique circumstances but some of the issues that they may want to consider when prioritising staff to return include, but not limited to:

  • those who would benefit from a return to work on mental health or disability grounds
  • those who have less appropriate settings for working at home
  • those who need to be in the workplace for priority business reasons
  • those who are new to the organisation and require training/mentoring (and those required to support this)
  • those who would benefit most from collaborative working in person
  • sufficient provision of first aid and fire safety duty holders

Working from home

Working from home has been an important factor in helping to mitigate the transmission of the virus amongst the general population.

Those who are working from home have been contributing to the public health effort and making it safer for those workers who cannot work from home. Employers should continue to support any employees who can continue to work from home, wherever possible and practical, because the benefits of this may extend wider than just preventing the spread of COVID-19.

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 – whether that be at home or in the workplace. Arrangements for the welfare of employees must therefore support homeworkers, as well as those who work in the employer’s workplace.

Caring responsibilities, multigenerational households, space constraints and noise levels are just some of the considerations that need to be taken into account to ascertain if an employee has a suitable environment to work from home. Assumptions should not be made that everyone has a suitable place from which to work at home; this should be explored with each employee.

A working from home risk assessment should be conducted and should not be a one-off exercise, rather part of regular dialogue between employers and employees working from home. Trade union or workforce representatives can help with this process and can identify what measures are working, where refinements are possible and any gaps remaining. Reviews of measures and risks should be frequent. The open and ongoing engagement between employers and trade union or workforce representatives should enable adjustments to be made quickly.

Workstations and equipment

Employers are responsible for providing appropriate equipment that is suited to the tasks and environment, and encouraging employees to use them as safely as possible.

Consideration should be given to what systems need to be accessed, by whom and if they can be accessed remotely. Also the level of IT support available at home, and if the IT network has capacity to support the number of staff who will be working from home. Employers should be mindful of workers’ individual circumstances e.g. socio-economic constraints that their workers may face in setting up equipment and IT, as well ensuring software packages and platforms used are fully accessible for disabled workers.

Employers must protect their workers from the health risks of working with display screen equipment. This applies to workers who use a Display Screen Equipment (DSE) daily, for an hour or more, and also includes home workers.

Employers should:

  • conduct a DSE workstation assessment
  • reduce risks, including making sure workers take breaks
  • provide an eye test if a worker asks for one
  • provide training and information for workers

DSE at home is provided by HSE as well as the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors (CIEHF). CIEHF also provide information on mobile working.

Communication

Employers should have clear and regular communication with employees, using fully accessible channels to reinforce key messages, especially when part or all of the workforce is working from home.  The physical and mental health of employees should still continue to be supported while they work at home.

Employers should update workers on workplace developments and ensure workers feel supported, while workers should make sure they are able to communicate any issues they are having while working from home with their manager.

Working hours

Employers should be mindful of the issue of overworking, and all employers should support workers to set clear boundaries between work and home-life. For some workers, particularly those with caring commitments, the times at which their hours are worked may need to vary but employers should be mindful of the legal requirements for rest breaks:

  • at least 20 minutes break during each working day lasting longer than 6 hours
  • time period between stopping work one day and beginning the next is not less than 11 hours
  • have at least one complete day each week when no work is done

Employers should ensure that their employees take their contractual paid leave if they wish – notwithstanding circumstances where people cannot travel – in order to comply with Working Time Regulations paid leave entitlements, and ensure rest and employee wellbeing.

Employers should have clear and established boundaries around the use of communication after an employee has worked their contracted hours.

Hybrid working

Hybrid working is a type of flexible working where an employee splits their time between:

  • the workplace
  • working remotely

Working in a hybrid way, where team members may be working from different locations or even at different times, requires planning and organising to guarantee its successful roll out.

CIPD has published Line manager guide on supporting hybrid working | CIPD that employers may find helpful .

Flexible working

Flexible working relates to an organisation’s working arrangements in terms of the time, location and pattern of working. Currently employees with 26 weeks service have the legal right to request flexible working.

Employers must deal with requests in a reasonable manner, which includes assessing the advantages and disadvantages of the application, and discussing the request with their employee.

Where working from home is not possible, businesses are encouraged to manage travel demand through staggered start times and flexible working patterns.

Further information and support can be found at the following resources:

  • the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) website:
  • workers can raise enquiries about working safely with the Health and Safety Executive and with Local Authority Environmental Health Officers who are responsible for office environments.
  • employees may also wish to contact their union representative in the first instance.  
  • in addition non-unionised workers can go to Scottish Hazards for advice via their COVID helpline (0800 0015 022)

Guidance has been published to support the gradual return to offices.


Contact

Email: DLECONPSWT@gov.scot

First published: 6 Aug 2021 Last updated: 15 Oct 2021 -