Employers have been welcoming their workforces back on site, but ongoing concerns around vaccination and employees’ rights may need a new approach. As hybrid working becomes more mainstream, careful and robust policies around health and wellbeing are crucial for its success.
As more people have come to focus on work–life balance in the last 18 months, there are changing expectations from employees on a range of issues beyond the specifics of the pandemic.
Regular Covid-19 testing
There is no reason why you cannot implement a policy requiring regular Covid-19 testing as a condition for workplace attendance. This could be achieved by:
- buying tests and setting up workplace testing
- paying an approved provider; or
- asking employees to arrange their own testing.
You should have a clear plan in place for how positive test results will be managed. For example, should you require everyone attending the workplace to be tested, or just employees?
Insisting on employees being vaccinated as a condition of workplace attendance is a more contentious issue, especially if it’s just one or two employees who are opposed to immunisation.
Although there is no legal reason why you cannot adopt a full vaccination policy, it is a risky approach to take. Along with potential legal claims, it could also result in the resignation of key personnel. The number of care home staff expected to leave because of this sector’s mandatory vaccination policy, for example, should act as a stark warning.
It may be more practical and less inflammatory to encourage employees to get vaccinated, and some workplaces offer time off during work hours to do so.
Although the sudden transition to homeworking was difficult for most employers, many businesses have also discovered unexpected benefits. Staff are often more productive and there can be huge property cost savings. It might also mean you can recruit talent from further afield. However, there are some basic questions that need answering before making hybrid working the norm:
- Does it work for your clients, customers and your business overall?
- Will employees be allowed to work remotely full-time, or will they be required on site for a certain number of days?
- Is there a risk of staff feeling isolated, particularly new recruits, or losing motivation if the ‘whole-firm’ feel is lost?
- Are your IT systems, communication tools and video conferencing equipment up to scratch?
- And the obvious question – is this what your employees want?
More focus on work–life balance has led to changing employee expectations on old and new issues. You might be advised to change your company policies accordingly.
Sick leave: Many employees are understandably worried about their health and safety with the return to work. Allowing worried staff to work from home is one solution, at least over the shorter term. Paying full pay during sickness can be expensive, but consider doing so (if you are not already) for at least a certain number of days.
Menopause: There is a rising number of employment tribunal cases where the menopause has been cited as proof of unfair dismissal. The majority of women want better employer support if they are struggling to stay in work while experiencing symptoms. You need to have a work culture that recognises the difficulties and provides support. Many women will have a wealth of knowledge and experience in their fields and so, as well as risking legal action, you could also lose a valuable resource.
Mental health: Working hours became longer since the start of the pandemic, leaving a large number of employees dealing with significant stress. Research indicates that staff are more concerned about their mental health than they are about their physical health. Creating a supportive work environment where help is available is becoming an increasingly important recruitment and retention benchmark.