Covid Plan B measures: working from home and the considerations for employers to bear in mind
What’s the Plan Stan?
As we all adjust to last week’s announcement and the implementation of Plan B measures from today, 13 December, in an attempt to stem the transmission of the Omicron variant, when it comes to the people’s working lives, the clear direction given to employers is that employees should now work from home, where possible.
There’s still considerable ambiguity associated with the recent announcement and we understand further guidance is expected in the coming days which should help to clarify the position. The work from home mantra is not completely unknown territory and so many businesses will already have the infrastructure in place to move confidently towards a working from home model, but once again employers have been thrust into a quandary of deciding, in fairly short order and without clear direction, how best to respond to this latest development, taking into account their business’ needs as well as the needs of their employees.
Of course, this latest development is not a complete surprise and for some organisations the work from home direction under Plan B will not represent an issue; we know first-hand that there are many organisations who have successfully pivoted to a fully remote model and way of working and this works well for them and their staff. However, in our experience the vast majority of employers have seen and/or have required their employees in recent times to return to pre-COVID working arrangements in some shape or form, with a presence in the office / workplace for some or all of their working time. Businesses in this position will need to come up with their own plan.
If you’re yet to decide fully on your planned response, here’s some of the important considerations to bear in mind:
- COVID risk assessments – reviewing and updating existing COVID risk assessments is an essential first step for any organisation, particularly if the expectation is that there will continue to be some employees who will work from the office or workplace. It is likely that having undertaken that risk assessment, there will be additional safety measures that you can put in place to ensure that the workplace is as COVID-safe as possible e.g. a return to social distancing; increased testing prior to entering the workplace; requesting proof of vaccination status. Any changes to existing working practices, should be carefully communicated and any concerns addressed sensitively and in a timely fashion.
- Undertake an audit of roles and identify those that can be performed from home effectively and encourage staff performing those roles to revert to a working from home arrangement for all or some of their working time. Remember, it is paramount to take the needs of the individuals performing those roles into account – for example, employees’ mental health may be adversely affected by a return to working from home on a full-time basis, and so an alternative or hybrid arrangement may be more appropriate.
- Identify your clinically vulnerable (CV) and extremely clinically vulnerable (ECV) employees – many organisations we work with at the time of the initial COVID-19 outbreak undertook a survey of their workforce to identify CV and ECV staff. Despite the successful vaccination programme, we would recommend a similar exercise is undertaken this time around, as this should also feed into your assessment of any priority cases now or in the future for working from home. That being said, disclosure of medical or health information should be entirely voluntary, and it is important that any information that is disclosed by employees is kept strictly confidential to ensure GDPR compliance.
- Even with a reversion to the working from home arrangements, continue to encourage staff to take up the vaccine and vaccination boosters – including the provision of paid time off to allow staff to attend their appointments during working hours.
- Don’t make assumptions about individuals’ ability to work effectively from home, speak to them (even if they’ve worked from home before). It is important to ask questions like: do they have the right equipment; is home a safe space for them to work; how will their work be supervised effectively; will their mental health be adversely affected if they were to work from home; are there any additional measures that need to be put in place for them to be able to work effectively?
Please get in touch with our expert employment team if you would like help formulating your response to Plan B or if you have concerns about individual cases, as we would be happy to share our experience and insight.