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Employees in mind

Transitioning your people and workplace to ‘the new normal’ is fraught with missteps and, more seriously, potential legal repercussions. We speak to experts about moving things forward with your people, in the context of employment, health & safety, and mindfulness.

Employees in mind
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  • Maja Garaca Djurdjevic
  • August 07, 2020
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Dealing with the reluctant returner

As lockdown eases, there will be employees reluctant to return to work for varying reasons. Some will be clinically vulnerable, or extremely vulnerable. In these cases, it may be reasonable for them to refuse to return, certainly for those who are shielding. Some will be parents with caring responsibilities. Businesses will need to agree the basis of any absence, which could include furlough leave, unpaid leave or paid holiday. Others will simply be concerned about leaving the safety of their homes.

They can be offered the options above or sick leave if they are signed off  work with anxiety. Businesses may also issue a reasonable instruction to attend work and discipline or dismiss those who refuse.

However, employers should be cautious because possible claims by employees include: 

  • Unfair dismissal claims (by employees with over two years’ service who have been dismissed unreasonably or who have resigned in response to a breach of trust and confidence) 
  • Automatic unfair dismissal or detriment claims (which require no qualifying service and where compensation is uncapped), either because of a protected disclosure regarding health and safety or because the employee believed they were in serious and imminent danger 
  • Discrimination claims in relation to disability, sex or age. 

Businesses should maintain home working wherever possible. Where this is not possible, employers should consult with employees and explain the strategies that have been put in place to minimise risk. Such reassurance should hopefully mitigate any claims by employees in the future.

Jane Biddlecombe is an associate in the employment team at Paris Smith LLP

Employee psychology and communication

As restrictions continue to ease and staff are able to return to work in their traditional office environment, it is important to focus on the psychology of the entire process when creating a communication plan.

It will not be enough to inform and provide clarity of compliance with all health and safety initiatives. Employers need to be mindful that employees fall broadly into four specific categories being those:

  • Eager to get back to the hustle and bustle of daily office life
  • Who are able and willing to work from the office
  • Who are vulnerable or shielding
  • People who are able to return to work but do not feel confident that it is safe to do so.

Your communication plan must address each category separately, as they will need specific communications focused on their circumstances so that they feel included and listened to.

The vulnerable and shielding: Need an operational plan in place to allow them the greatest flexibility to be working from home in a safe environment until such time as the government says it is safe to return to work as normal.

Those able and willing to return to the office need to have the greatest confidence in the preparations made for their safe return.

Those less confident need constant reassurance and understanding. Safety is very personal. It’s a feeling and cannot be objectively measured. Yet these concerns and fears are very real and great care needs to be taken in maintaining the mental health and well-being of such employees.


  • Survey staff each month – monitor changes in sentiment
  • Know who is in each category
  • Flood people with communication; written, video and in meetings
  • Focus your comms plan on each category
  • Treat people as individuals
  • Demonstrate suitable precautions have been taken for safe RTW
  • Explain protocols are in place for managing outbreaks across teams.

Paul Richmond is managing director of theGrogroup


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