Businesses are getting to grips with flexible and hybrid working as a way of returning staff to the workplace, so recruitment agencies need to be ahead of the curve to advise clients on the best way forward as well as addressing their own HR strategy.
Here at UHY, we tackled the issue of flexible working head on by hosting a recent webinar with a panel of HR and mental health experts. The result was a comprehensive overview of the situation, covering everything from risk assessments to employee engagement.
You can access the webinar recording here.
Off the back of the webinar, we have produced a short summary of what to consider with returning to the office and flexible working.
Flexible working strategy
First the legal bit: employees with more than 26 weeks’ service can legally ask for flexible working. Employers must consider the request and provide a decision in writing along with access to an appeal process.
Flexible working should be viewed as a positive move with advantages for both staff and the business. There are challenges, which is why a robust strategy is required to cover all the legal and ethical implications.
If you wish to move to permanent home working either full or part time on a permanent basis for your staff, you must consult with them and get their written agreement to the change in their normal place of work.
Health and safety
Before you and your clients adopt any new way of working, health and safety must be paramount and that begins with a review of all risk assessments. Rather than just being a paper process, staff need to be consulted over Covid safety measures so their views are captured and they feel engaged in the changes.
Physical measures include socially distanced desks, one-way systems, staggered shift patterns and hand sanitising stations. Mental considerations include social interaction for remote staff and internal communication so employees do not feel isolated.
Remote staff should complete display screen equipment (DSE) assessments so that they have the correct equipment at home. Balancing a laptop on an ironing board or dining table is not a suitable workstation for permanent home working.
The NHS is offering rapid lateral flow test kits to the public and businesses. The tests can be done at home and provide results in half an hour. To order a kit, please visit https://www.gov.uk/order-coronavirus-rapid-lateral-flow-tests
Amend your GDPR policy to cover collecting test data in the interests of health and safety. Remember that employers cannot impose testing on staff, so your messaging needs to be one of encouraging staff to get tested so that colleagues can remain safe.
Anyone who has been shielding during the pandemic will naturally feel wary about coming back to work, so businesses must tread carefully and remember the equality and disability discrimination legislation. Be prepared to make additional reasonable adjustments if required.
Pregnant women must, where possible, continue to work from home. If they are unable to do so, they need to be suspended on full pay until their maternity leave starts.
An employee can refuse to return to work for health and safety reasons, so employers need to weigh up the concerns of the employee against the business risk assessments that have been carried out. Communicate what has been done to mitigate the risks and, if necessary, consider unpaid leave and then disciplinary, as a last resort.
Businesses cannot legally require staff to have a vaccine. Put a policy in place to encourage employees to have a jab by including paid leave for a vaccination. Some may not want to work with colleagues who refuse a jab, so consider ways to deal with any conflicts.
Create a safe, stigma-free environment so your employees know where they can go to get help and advice on mental health in confidence. Foster a wellbeing culture by encouraging managers and senior staff to lead by example.
Here are a few ideas to encourage wellbeing in the workplace:
- Appoint wellbeing champions to help promote good mental health and education about mental wellbeing
- Lunchtimed walking
- Remote workers start and end their day with a walk or cycle (the virtual commute)
- Cycle to work scheme
- Low-cost events such as a walking or dancing challenge
- Encourage healthy eating
- Guest speakers and advice sessions
- Wellbeing communication through infographics, blogs, emails and free resources (NHS, Mind and Mental Health UK).
If you require help or advice on the financial impact of returning to the workplace, please do get in touch.