Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for call centres and customer contact centre environments

Guidance for call centre or customer contact centre environments on safe operation during the coronavirus pandemic.

9 page PDF

234.4 kB

9 page PDF

234.4 kB

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for call centres and customer contact centre environments
Workforce planning and support

9 page PDF

234.4 kB

Workforce planning and support

Building trust in the workplace

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

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.

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

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 found at 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.

Test and Protect: workers who need to self-isolate

Test and ProtectScotland’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 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.

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.  

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 statementIt 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. 

To help line managers and staff minimise exposure to, and transmission of the virus, the Scottish Government has developed risk assessment guidance and an accompanying tool. Employers and staff can use this simple risk stratification tool to measure a person’s COVID-age. The tool works by combining known risk factors including age, ethnicity, gender, weight, and health conditions, to measure the risk of infection and to make sure preventative measures are in place.

Minority Ethnic staff all have access to this tool and can discuss any concerns about their COVID occupational risk. Line managers should have sensitive conversations with an employee. The conversation that takes place between a manager and a member of staff are the most important part of the process, and the outcome of these conversations should be agreed by both parties.

If agreement cannot be reached then staff can seek further advice from their GP, Occupational Health Services, Health and Safety Professionals, Trade Unions, Infection Prevention Services, or the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS).


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 communitiesFurther 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.



First published: 26 Nov 2020 Last updated: 4 Feb 2021 -