Top 3 Concerns for Employers on Return to the Office

With restrictions easing and retail and hospitality beginning to reopen, businesses are starting to plan for a return to offices in the near future. Whilst the Government recently published its updated Return to Work Safely Protocol we now look at the top 3 concerns for employers in returning to the Office.

In advance of employees returning to work it is critical that employers put in place comprehensive and practical plans to ensure this goes as smoothly as possible. Employers will want to ensure that the transition from full remote work to a hybrid of remote/office work or full office work has a minimal impact on productivity and that they can seize the opportunities that will flow from these changes.

1. Updating Contracts of Employment and Policies

Over the past 18 months employees have been encouraged to work from home where possible. Policies and terms and conditions will have been altered to cater for this arrangement. Many employers will be eager for employees to return to the office and may need facilitate this return on a phased basis by staggering working hours or specifying in-office days. Such changes may require contractual amendments however it is important that employers revisit both existing policies and contracts to take into consideration any working adjustments that are required. Employers looking to introduce any changes need to be aware that they ought to agree any contractual changes with employees before making any such changes.

Most employers will already have considered whether remote working on a full or part time basis will be something that will work for their business in the long term however now is the time to put in place a suitable policy addressing how this will be managed. This policy will need to consider whether it will be an automatic policy to facilitate remote working or if individual requests need to be submitted. It will need to consider any criteria it will use in assessing the suitability of a role to remote/hybrid working arrangements. Good planning will ensure that these issues are all teased out in advance of the reopening of offices.

2. Data Protection Issues

Any measures taken by employers during the Return to Work phase must be necessary and proportionate under Data Protection Laws. Under the Return to Work Safely Protocol employers and employees will be required complete Return to Work forms confirming any recent symptoms. It is worth bearing in mind that any collection of medical data falls under the category of Special Category Data under GDPR and data protection laws shall apply rigorously. The Protocol highlights that retaining Return to Work Forms is not necessary and once Return to Work Forms have been processed, they should be disposed of as soon as the employee makes their return to the workplace.

3. Discrimination Issues

Under the Return to Work Safely Protocol, employers are obliged to develop and/or update their Response Plan to take into account worker’s individual risk factors such as elderly workers or those with underlying medical conditions. It is vital that employers consider whether their Return to Work Response Plan discriminates against a certain group of employees such as those with disabilities or those with childcare responsibilities, for example. Some employees may not want to return due to health reasons or caring responsibilities and consideration should be given as to whether reasonable accomodation for these employees can be made. Employers should also be mindful of whether or not employees are vaccinated and further information on the issue of vaccinations can be found in our article.

Good planning and clear communications will assist both employers and employees on their return to the office. The above 3 areas of concern are those that we are seeing most regularly but inevitably there will be other issues which at this stage cannot be anticipated. The key to addressing the issues however will be taking a calm and considered approach and working with all parties to find the solution.

 

If you have any queries relating to this article, reopening your workplace safely or employee engagement issues, please contact Emma Richmond at emma.richmond@whitneymoore.ie or Christopher Ryan at Christopher.Ryan@whitneymoore.ie, or your usual contact in the employment law department in Whitney Moore.

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