'Reluctant returners': Managing absence post-lockdown

Returning to the workplace following lockdown will no doubt be met with mixed responses writes Felicity Staff, Senior Legal Advisor at Make UK.

Some employees may be keen to return, but others may have concerns. With absence management policies unlikely to be suitable in the context of Covid-19, HR professionals need to think about adjustments for the post-lockdown return. They also need to be ready to respond to and, where practicable, accommodate individual circumstances on a case-by-case basis.

Some of these characters may be familiar to you…

Shielding Shona received a shielding letter, as she has severe respiratory problems, and has been self-isolating since the start of lockdown. Although currently shielders are advised not to work outside the home, from 1 August it seems likely that they will be able to, if the workplace is ‘Covid-secure’. This means undertaking thorough risk assessments, exploring possible workplace adjustments - and perhaps flexibly furloughing Shona will be key. 

Protective Pete is fit and well but is concerned about returning to work, as his partner is pregnant. He doesn’t want to risk picking up the virus and taking it home. Managing an effective return to work for Pete will require sensitivity from HR to satisfy him that the workplace is safe.

Fearful Ffion is worried about travelling by tube to work, and has expressed strong concerns about the risks of working on a production line. She is worried that sufficient care is not being taken to protect her health and safety. Here, HR should be guided by Ffion’s individual circumstances, rather than taking a “one size fits all” approach.

Struggling Stan has three children of primary school age and is unable to return to the workplace until all of his children are back at school. Although initially Stan could be furloughed, his employer will need to consider the family-related entitlements available (including flexible working arrangements) once furlough comes to an end.

Symptomatic Steve has been contacted by the NHS Test and Trace service and is required to self-isolate for the next 14 days. As well as effectively managing Steve’s absence and return to work, his employer will need to think about the impact on other employees.

Jet set Josephine booked a trip to Russia for a family wedding pre-lockdown so will need to self-isolate for 14 days when she returns. Here, clear drafting of HR policies will be needed given evolving government guidance on travel quarantine.

If these issues seem likely to arise in your organisation join the webinar, “Reluctant Returners and Absence Management in the Context of Covid-19” on 28th July from 1pm to 3pm where we will explore “new” types of absence you might see arising, and policy adjustments you may need to implement, in the context of Covid-19.

HR professionals grappling with these types of post-lockdown issues should be mindful of the risks of discrimination and related claims. During these unusual times, a careful balance will need to be struck when managing the overlapping importance of legal compliance and the practical impact of internal policies on the workforce.

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