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Preparing for a Return to Work post COVID-19

return to work

As restrictions start to lift, it is time for employers to plan for a return to work.  Effective planning will assist employers to respond effectively to the post COVID-19 environment.

Planning should include both what a return to work will look like in the short term as well as a plan for the longer term.

As the OHS Act provides that an employer must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide a workplace that is free from risk to health and safety, it is essential that employers consider the work health and safety risks and continue to adhere to the relevant health guidance.  Whilst employers must monitor the most current information provided by the government health department, there are certain measures that must be implemented for the return of employees to the workplace.

Some significant questions that should be considered when planning the new environment include:-

  • What does our business look like post COVID-19?
  • What changes are required for longer term planning?
  • What is the impact of the economic downturn and how will we respond?
  • Are we able to be an agile, mostly virtual workplace?
  • What change can we make with regard to how the work is performed?
  • What do we need to do to prepare for a possible second wave of COVID-19 (or any other disaster)?
  • Did our documentation (employment agreements, awards, policies) provide the tools needed by the business to respond quickly to the pandemic?

As health and safety will drive physical change in the workplace it is imperative now to plan what you will need to implement in your workplace ie., floor markings, PPE, signage, hyper vigilance around workplace cleaning, employee hygiene and physical distancing.  Further measures will need to be implemented such as risk assessments around work related travel, and customer/client interaction.

In order to create a ‘COVID-19 safe workplace’, useful checklists and information can be found at Safe Work Australia’s website at https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/covid-19-information-workplaces.

Other immediate considerations that will force change:-

  • Open plan offices – look at set up, are screens required?
  • Hot Desking – can this really continue? If so, how can this be done safely?
  • Based on employee numbers, can everyone return at once?  Does social distancing require us to implement a combination of remote and workplace return?
  • Can we continue some remote work ie., work from home, video conferencing?
  • How do we reduce ‘touchpoints’ in the workplace ie., sensor doors instead of manual, automatic sensor lights removing the need for switches, directing flow of traffic through workplace including entry and exit points.
  • How will numbers of persons be counted/controlled in the workplace?
  • How will social distancing be managed in meetings rooms, general office space, lunch rooms, toilets etc?
  • What cleaning protocols will be introduced? Who will undertake the cleaning? How will cleaning of high touch points be managed?
  • Will employees be trained on correct hygiene and cleaning protocols? Who will facilitate this?
  • How to support good mental health in the new environment?

Communication is key.  Consider how communication will be most effective with your employees both prior to their return to the workplace, and how will it continue in the short and longer term.  A heightened anxiety is natural and communication will be the key to building trust that as their employer, you are across all safety protocols and taking all necessary actions to minimise any risk to them upon their return.

Whilst a number of employers are in receipt of JobKeeper; the Fair Work Act has been temporarily amended to support greater flexibility; and modern awards have been varied temporarily, consideration must be given to when this ends.  How do you plan to manage your employees after September 2020?  What are the changes you need to make to your business to accommodate requests for greater flexibility?  How do you avoid challenges of potential discrimination and adverse action claims when flexibility is denied?

For assistance with managing your employees through this return, please contact our advisors at [email protected] or 1300 720 004.

Information in HR Advice Online guides and blog posts is meant purely for educational discussion of human resources issues. It contains only general information about human resources matters and due to factors such as government legislation changes, may not be up-to-date at the time of reading. It is not legal advice and should not be treated as such.

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