Return to Work – COVID 19

Return to Work COVID 19

Return to work guidance in consideration of COVID-19

The government has published its plans for bringing the country out of lockdown; one key point in Boris Johnson’s speech was that employees were encouraged return to work under COVID-19 restrictions, if they cannot work from home. In addition eight industry specific papers have been published advising on how each sector should consider safety measures if returning employees to the workplace.

The papers stress the importance carrying out COVID-19 risk assessments, having robust cleaning practices and redesigning the layout of workplaces to ensure social distancing is adhered to. Interestingly it did not put emphasis on the need for most workers to require additional PPE.

The guidance said that all employees should carry out risk assessments relating the return of employees under COVID-19 and where possible publish them on their website, stating more specifically that this is an expectation of businesses with more than 50 employees.

Some methods that have been made that cover all industries include:

  • Staggering shift times
  • Staggering break times
  • Employees working in fixed teams
  • Reduce team size
  • Suitable hand washing facilities provided

Whilst it remains that if you can work from home you should continue to do so; those who cannot should be encouraged to return to the workplace. The papers that have been published do give some practical guidance however each employer should consider how to best apply this to their own workplaces and see it as such; guidance. There will be areas within workplaces that have not been covered that will need assessing and given the rate at which the situation is evolving, any actions will need to be reviewed regularly if not daily.

The eight papers in summary

Construction and Outdoor Work

  • Stagger arrival times
  • Multiple entrances to sites
  • Screen barriers to separate workers
  • Fixed teams to reduce contact
  • Reduce job rotation to limit number of tools in contact with
  • If social distancing not feasible, work back to back or side to side

Factories, Plants and Warehouses

  • Stagger shift times
  • Fixed teams
  • Reduce job rotation
  • Review layout of workstations
  • Stagger breaks

Labs and research facilities

  • Stagger working hours
  • Review layout of workspace
  • Limit amount of shared equipment
  • Review PPE in line with airborne particle risks


  • Review layout of desks
  • One way system round open plan areas
  • Avoid hot desking
  • Maintain social distancing for meetings – meetings to be essential only
  • Meetings held in a well ventilated room

Other people’s homes

  • Maintain social distancing
  • Internal doors left open
  • Hand washing
  • Workers assigned to same household
  • Travel alone in own transport

Restaurants offering takeaway/delivery

  • Few as possible with kitchen access
  • Contact between food production staff and waiting staff minimised
  • Access to pantries/walk in freezers limited to one person at a time


  • Limit number of customers to maintain social distancing
  • Designated waiting position for checkouts/service
  • Contactless payment where possible


  • Cleaned regularly
  • Fixed teams if more than one person in vehicle
  • Contact to minimum with reduced need for a signature and communicate in advance goods drop off

Next steps

The CIPD have released a three point checklist to consider before bringing employees back to work:

  1. Employees should be present only if it is essential for them to be there
  2. You must ensure it is safe for them to be at work
  3. It is mutually agreed between employer and employee

Employers still have the duty of care over the safety and well being of their employees and must balance this duty with the desire to get their businesses up and running again. The government has left the guidance quite broad in its application to allow for employers to interpret as they see fit and in line with their own businesses.

Furthermore; it should also be noted that if workers have concerns over being brought back to work safely they should talk to employer in first instance, and if they don’t get any traction they are being advised to contact the HSE. The HSE will investigate any claims of an unsafe working environment and ask the employer to report back and provide evidence of the measures they are taking and will likely ask for a copy of your risk assessment. In preparation for this the HSE is prepared to use enforcement powers where necessary.

If you would like support with any of the above please get in touch