Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for the technology sector

Guidance for the technology sector on safe re-opening during the coronavirus pandemic.

Contents
Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for the technology sector
Workforce planning and support

Workforce planning and support

Information about supporting those who should come to work, and those who should not. 

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

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 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 and wellbeing of workers to be considered
  • new 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

Building confidence, supporting wellbeing

Returning workers may have some level of apprehension about how safe they may be and they may require reassurance and demonstration that measures recommended in workplace risk assessments have been put in place to ensure safety. Employers should recognise the need to have clear and regular communications with employees, using multiple channels to reinforce key messages. Visual material has proven to be beneficial in demonstrating changes that have or are being made, especially where language barriers exist. 

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

Workforce planning

Consideration should be given within the risk assessment as to whether sector restart might have greater impact on some groups than others depending on social circumstances, health conditions or legally protected characteristics.  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.

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

Employers still have legal obligations to make sure that decisions they make in response to coronavirus do not directly or indirectly discriminate against employees with protected characteristics. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has produced guidance to help with decision-making as you consider restarting work.

Continue home working

Minimising the spread of the virus will remain important in ensuring the overall protection of public health. Therefore planning for a safe return to the workplace should assume that those able to work from home will continue to do so. Companies should continue to plan for the minimum number of people needed on site to operate safely and effectively, with a phased return necessary for many businesses. Home working should be the default, where possible.

Information for people who previously had to shield

As the number of cases of COVID-19 in Scotland have fallen significantly, from 31 July we have been able to amend our advice. We have paused the advice that those who were identified as being at highest risk of the virus should shield. This means those who were shielding can go back to workplaces where they cannot work from home. Working from home and working flexibly where possible should remain the best option for people who had been shielding. Employer’s should support people to safely return to work and ensure they can stringently follow public health guidance around physical distancing and hygiene. An individual risk assessment guidance and tool has been developed help staff and managers consider the specific risk of COVID-19 in the workplace.

There may be the requirement to revert back to some level of shielding in the future at either a national or local level if the number of cases rise again. Those who previously had to shield will be kept informed of any relevant health advice if things do change. You can also keep up to date with the most recent advice.

Employee health and wellbeing 

Employers should ensure the organisation 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 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, inequality or unconscious bias. There is also a risk of victimisation of those infected, suspected, or more high risk to COVID-19 which should be addressed. This advice applies to all companies whether workers are based at home, in the workplace, or a mix of home-based and office-based workers.

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

Equality considerations

Consideration of health circumstances and protected characteristics should be included as part of the risk assessment process during and following the COVID19 pandemic. Permission should be sought from individuals before collecting any information on health conditions of those within their household.

Employers should consider involving and communicating appropriately with workers and especially those with protected characteristics to ensure that they are not exposing them to a different degree of risk, or taking any steps that may be inappropriate or challenging for them, particularly where one metre physical distancing measures are in place.

Consideration should also be given as to whether any particular measures or adjustments are required to fulfil duties under the equalities legislation. The requirement to make reasonable adjustments applies when working remotely as it does in the workplace, to avoid disabled workers being put at a disadvantage. Employers should aim to replicate reasonable adjustments as far as possible in a homeworking setting but it may be necessary to put in place a process to assess the needs of disabled workers, for example, such as an occupational health assessment of their home working space.

Evidence suggests that the effects of COVID-19 are felt disproportionately by some groups (Minority Ethnic communities, older people, and women for example). Employers should ensure that they provide practical support to all staff where they are anxious about protecting themselves and/or their families.

The health and safety risks for new or expectant mothers should also be assessed – the EHRC have advice for employers on this while the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) have guidance for new and expectant mothers themselves.

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 specific protected characteristics.

Homeworking policy and protected characteristics

Planning for a safe return to work should assume that those currently able to work from home will continue to do so. Organisations, working with unions, should seek to develop or review their homeworking policy as soon as possible.

When implementing, sustaining and promoting homeworking policies, employers should recognise and address issues that arise from their employees working in a different working environment. Some individuals may have different needs and requirements, especially those with protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 (Age; Disability; Gender reassignment; Marriage and civil partnership; Pregnancy and maternity; Race; Religion and belief; Sex; and, Sexual orientation).

Understanding and addressing equality issues can avoid all the different types of unlawful discrimination. An individual’s employment support needs may be also be affected by caring or health commitments, housing situations or levels of privacy at home, which may affect performance expectation if not addressed appropriately. Flexibility around start and finish times may help people continue to work and care while homeworking.

Employers should ensure that any existing or new workplace policies on homeworking are inclusive, which will include considering what they can do to mitigate the impact that homeworking will have on, for example, those with caring responsibilities (which disproportionately affects women), disabled workers, and minority ethnic workers. In particular, employers should be aware that their responsibility to provide reasonable adjustments for employees continues during home working.

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

EHRC have also produced 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.

Protection from workplace harassment and abuse

Creating a safe and welcoming environment, where everyone is respected and valued, should be of upmost importance to an employer. Working remotely can however make some individuals feel vulnerable. Video conferencing has been one of the main methods of communication throughout the crisis, however it may expose, for example, the socio-economic differences between colleagues if parts of their home are on display that they would rather were not.

Employers should be aware that communication tools, such as video-conferencing and instant messaging, can facilitate forms of bullying, harassment and particularly sexual harassment. Employers should therefore make every effort to ensure employees understand the conduct that is acceptable over these forms of communication, and have policies, co-developed with workers, in place.

Close the Gap, through their ‘Think Business Think Equality’ toolkit, have produced guidance on:

Read the full guidance for homeworking.

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 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 COVID-19 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 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.

Accommodating the different needs of your workforce

Planning should recognise that ongoing physical distancing measures required to reduce the spread of the virus may mean that the number of employees able to be accommodated safely in the workplace is limited. The workforce may have questions or concerns about 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.

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.

Pay

Pay for workers who are shielding, self-isolating, sick or balancing care responsibilities 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. 

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 both individual staff members’ wellbeing, and their own. Companies and trade union or workforce representatives should be alert to this and direct anyone experiencing mental health issues towards available support.