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Business & Economy

Acas North East publishes new guidance for returning to work

Acas, the employment and workplace advisory body, has updated its guidance in respect of best practice for returning to work during the coronavirus pandemic.

The update comes after calls to Acas’ helplines increased by a third (34 per cent) year-on-year, with employers and staff alike asking how to return to work safely.

Acas North East director, Alex Peel, said: “COVID-19 has caused a lot of uncertainty in workplaces in the North East and our helpline has seen a record increase in calls from employers and employees wanting advice on how to handle changes to their work situation.

“The Government’s advice is to continue to work from home if possible. But many employers and their staff in the North East may be concerned about the practicalities of physically going back to work.

“Some people may also feel that they are unable to go back to work due to health, safety or childcare concerns. Our new advice includes guidance in these areas.”

Acas’ advice for employers and their staff is to have early discussions about any plans to return to work and try to come to an agreement.

These talks can take place with trade union or employee representatives present, but what’s clear is that all staff should be kept informed of plans and be able to feed into discussions.

Acas recommends that talks revolve around the following:

  • when staff might return to the workplace where your plans allow
  • how staff will travel to and from work
  • how health and safety is being reviewed and managed, including sharing the latest risk assessment
  • any planned adjustments to the workplace, for example additional hand washing facilities,
  • staggering start and finish times to avoid overcrowding or floor markings to help people keep 2 metres apart
  • if there might be a phased return of the workforce, for example some staff returning before others

Employers should speak to staff before making decisions as this can help staff understand and feel included in decisions.

Acas also advises that some staff may not feel they are able to return to work due to worries about catching the virus, childcare responsibilities or living with a vulnerable person and employers should listen to staff concerns in this instance.

As non-essential retail shops in England prepare to reopen from June 15, Acas is regularly updating its advice to reflect any changes to lockdown in the UK.