Catherine Kerr is Partner and Head of Employment at Primas in Warrington. In this column she discusses returning to work post lockdown

After three months of lockdown, guidance has now been issued advising employers on how to safely return to work.

However, there may be some aspects of working life that are cause for concern. Employers should be receptive to issues raised by staff around their return to work and proactive in their attempts to resolve these. All employers have statutory duties to provide a safe workplace and general legal duties of care towards anyone who may be accessing or using their place of business

All employers should be following guidelines on making their workplaces safe and undertaking risk assessments where necessary. In fact, all employers with over 50 workers are must publish their COVID-19 risk assessments on their website. If employees feel that safety measures have not been implemented or are not satisfactory, employers must address these concerns. Employees also have independent statutory duties to take reasonable care for their own health and safety, and that of other persons, and to co-operate with their employer.

When it comes to staff returning from furlough leave, employers must ensure that they are aware of the latest government updates on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and be mindful of the welfare of the staff members they select to come back. If a furloughed employee has expressed concerns about the safety of returning to work, these should be taken into account during the selection process.

Concerns could include childcare difficulties for parents returning to work (whether furloughed or otherwise). Here, it is advisable to explore alternatives, including a change in shift patterns, remote working where possible or continued furlough leave.

Additionally, there may be concerns for those who commute on public transport. While employers do not have any statutory legal responsibility for an employee’s journey to work, there’s argument to suggest that an employer’s implied duties of care, and to maintain trust and confidence, may mean that employers should take at least some account of the risks associated with an employee’s commute.

Guidance remains that office workers should continue to work from home, so even if your company’s return to work is not in the physical sense, there is still plenty to be considered. Any staff members returning on a phased/part-time approach should be properly communicated with and should understand what is expected of them during working hours.

The key takeaway is that all staff should be happy with the return-to-work. Whether it is a return to on-site work, or from furlough, proper guidance must be adhered to, mitigations put into place for vulnerable employees and all concerns must be dealt with sincerely. Employee wellbeing should always be the top priority – a healthy and happy workforce is the best way for your business to thrive, especially in the current climate.