Returning to work Part 3: Consulting with staff

Returning to work Part 3: Consulting with staff 1280 853 Commissioning HR
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Employers must consult with staff in a meaningful way when planning to return to the workplace.

The best approach is to have an open conversation about returning to the workplace before any decision to return has been made. The Office Guide recognises that the “people who do the work are often the best people to understand the risks in the workplace and will have a view on how to work safely.” Employers also have a legal duty to consult employees in good time on matters relating to their health and safety at work and about the introduction of any measures at the workplace that may affect the health and safety of employees. 

If an employer has a recognised trade union, the employer must consult with the health and safety representative selected by that union.

Employers should also consult individually with members of staff about their return to the workplace to consider any uncertainties they have about precautions in place to make the workplace COVID-19 secure. It is good practice to consider individual circumstances, such as the journey to work, caring responsibilities, and if the person falls within a higher risk category.

What are employer’s obligations under the GDPR?

Employers may find themselves in possession of more sensitive “special category data” about the health of their employees and other individuals. For example, when discussing their concerns about returning to the office, employees may inform their employer of medical conditions, pregnancies or relationships with or information about household members. Employees may notify their employer when they have suspected or confirmed COVID-19. Employers who implement testing programmes will obtain special category data from the test results, and the information and contact details obtained for NHS Test and Trace will also constitute personal data.

Any person or organisation processing information relating to an identifiable individual must comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and Data Protection Act 2018, which requires information to be handled lawfully, fairly and transparently. Employers should demonstrate their compliance with the GDPR by keeping accurate records of data processing and by undertaking a data protection impact assessment (DIPA) where necessary.

Employers should also review and update their privacy notices to include the new ways in which they may capture and process employees’ and third parties’ personal data, including for the purposes of NHS Test and Trace.

Reviewing HR policies 

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the working environment, and the measures put in place to mitigate transmission will undoubtedly continue to impact working practices for some time. Employers should consider whether existing HR policies are adequate to deal with the new COVID-19 landscape. Changes may be needed to a number of policies, including:

  • Annual leave, especially in view of quarantine requirements and extended carry-over of annual leave entitlement
  • Home working
  • Sickness absence, particularly to address periods of self-isolation and associated pay
  • Flexible working, as employers may expect an increase in requests following an extended period of working from home
  • Dependants’ leave, given the risk that there may be further school and nursery closures in the future
  • Stress and mental health, in an era of increased anxiety and possible isolation and remote working
  • Health and safety policies
  • The staff privacy notice and data protection policy to reflect the additional processing of personal data in relation to COVID-19

Employers should also consider whether new policies may be required to deal with unprecedented situations, including policies around dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak, requirements to test and self-isolate, notification from NHS Test and Trace and guidelines on what staff need to do to comply with COVID-19 measures in the workplace and potentially also outside the workplace.

Communication and training in relation to any new policies and procedures will be required.

 In our next blog, we’ll share how employers can stay in touch with and support employees who continue to work remotely.

This is part 3 of a 4 part series. Please visit the ‘People’ section of the blog to discover more blogs in the series. 

 How we Support

Commissioning HR specialises in transformative change and putting people at the heart of business. We are passionate about ensuring Good Work is embedded in organisations and helping South West businesses emerge as ethical employers. Contact us for advice and support on returning to the office, and other HR matters.

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Commissioning HR

Deliver professional and credible HR advice, guidance and structure, for positive outcomes for employees, managers, directors, customers, stakeholders and investors across Devon and Cornwall.

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