Employers are required to consult with employees on coronavirus, but how?

image depicting employer consulting with employees over a zoom call

As employers start to prepare to reopen their workplaces, there’s concern about whether staff feel safe and confident about returning to the workplace. To address this concern, and to assist employers, the HSE has published some guidance. The guidance should help employers to fulfil their coronavirus consultation responsibilities.  Let’s look at some key highlights from the guidance.

Legal requirement on consultation with employees

Firstly, employers have a legal obligation to consult with their employees on health and safety matters. This includes consultation on risks to their health and the measures you’re putting in place to deal with them. Recognising that anxiety around returning to work during the coronavirus pandemic is a common feeling amongst staff who have been at home.

What’s covered?

The guide begins with an overview of the issue and then provides further guidance on consultation. There are sections looking at particular topics such as:

  • support for vulnerable workers,
  • homeworking,
  • workplace cleaning,
  • ventilation,
  • stress, and
  • communications.

Key Point 1: A useful aspect of the guidance is that each section concludes with a list of questions. Use these to draw out any concerns of employees. This will create an opportunity to provide reassurance or improve your arrangements, making for a smoother transition back to normal.

 Key Point 2: Your coronavirus consultation can either be through elected or appointed staff representatives, or you can do it directly with staff. If they are presently working from home, it makes sense to have your discussions using remote communications ahead of their return to the office.

More vulnerable staff

One topic in the guide is “supporting vulnerable workers”. Staff who have been shielding are more likely to be nervous about coming back to the workplace so this information could be useful to you.

Key Point 3: You’ll need to provide opportunities for staff to talk confidentially about personal health concerns so that you can assess individual risks and any special risk control measures needed. You might, for example, allow the continuation of homeworking for some staff.

Coming back

When discussing the return to work, you can break it down into the sequence of activities staff will experience, including the changes relative to pre-pandemic times.

Key Point 4: Talk through the coronavirus -related changes on site including:

  • new rules on arrival,
  • one-way systems,
  • staggered start and finish times,
  • social distancing,
  • screens,
  • restrictions on visitors,
  • continuing working at home, etc.

Reassure workers by telling them about the extra cleaning measures you’re taking

Key Point 5: Ask open questions to encourage participation, e.g.

  • “What are your concerns about coming back to work” and
  • “What else can we do to help those coming back to work”.

You could also ask for specific input such as “How can we change work tasks so that staff can be socially distanced?”.

Key Point 6: Check that staff know who to speak to in confidence if they are suffering from stress or have worries about their safety on returning to work.

The full guidance entitled, “Talking with your workers about preventing coronavirus (COVID-19)” can be found here.

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