COVID-19: Returning to Work after Coronavirus

Lois McMurtrie | 16 June 2020

COVID-19: Returning to Work after Coronavirus

Returning to Work after Coronavirus

Written 16th June 2020.

As the UK and Scottish Governments provide us with further detail on what life will look like for the coming weeks and months, many employers will be considering how to return to work in a safe manner when it is possible, taking individual employee’s circumstances into account, particularly as many have been on a fairly lengthy period of ‘furlough’.


Health and Safety

We advise that you seek the assistance of a Health and Safety Advisor for your specific business however we have detailed some general considerations below based on advice from the UK Government:

  • carry out a review of the risk of harm from coronavirus (COVID-19) in the workplace and determine suitable controls to reduce those risks (a risk assessment);
  • developing cleaning, handwashing and hygiene processes by, for example, frequent cleaning of busy areas and high-contact objects and surfaces and providing hand sanitiser and hand drying facilities;
  • facilitating working from home where possible;
  • maintaining 2m social distancing where possible by, for example, avoiding shared workstations, implementing one-way traffic within the workplace, and introducing signage and floor markings; and
  • managing transmission risk where 2m social distancing is not possible by, for example, determining if certain activities need to continue, installing screens or barriers, and reducing social contact by staggering arrival and departure times and implementing "fixed teams or partnering".



Throughout this pandemic, communication with employees has perhaps been more important than ever, with many working from home or being on furlough leave.

It is therefore sensible to have a communication plan on how you intend to re-open your workplace and let them know of what to expect, as it is likely to look different to the workplace they left in March.

A few points for consideration are detailed below:

  1. Give employees reasonable notice of when you intend to open the workplace so that they are aware of what you have planned. It is alright to change things down the line, but it gives them an idea so they can start to plan their personal commitments outside of work.
  2. Send out a questionnaire or email to establish if anyone falls into a risk category so that you are aware of individuals who may not be able to return to work. For example, those that are self-shielding, pregnant or are currently unwell.
  3. In this note, you may also want to ask if employees have concerns about returning to work. This has been a difficult and scary time, and adjusting to life after lockdown is going to be hard so naturally employees will want to ask questions. You could issue an FAQ to all employees with any common queries to reassure them about their return and the measures you have put into place.
  4. Give them an idea of what the workplace will look like in terms of social distancing measures or new health and safety measures you have put in place. For example temperature testing when they arrive at work, only one person in the lift, a one-way system, a new policy for using shared facilities such as the kitchen and bathrooms.
  5. When considering which employees you would like to return to work, if it is only some and not all, then take a fair and consistent approach. If employees have been furloughed, explain to them the reason for their return. If they have been working from home and cannot continue to do so, explain why you feel it is best that they return to the workplace.


Returning after furlough leave

You may now be considering bringing employees that are on furlough leave back to work. You should give the employee reasonable notice that they are to return to work, and we would suggest one week as a minimum notice period of their return. You should call them personally to let them know and/or send an email and ensure that they have received this. You could send a letter out to any employee returning to work welcoming them back and explaining the changes that they should expect in their workplace.

If the employee is currently on furlough leave but will be moving to ‘Flexible furlough’ from 1st July, you should ensure that any change to their working hours is agreed and given to them in writing. The guidance is not clear if they need to have a new agreement for each weekly period, however it is advisable to ensure that the discussions and any changes are well-documented for your audit trail for HMRC.


Employees that are reluctant to return

As the current guidance stands, people should in general be working from home. However as the guidance changes, a time will come where employees need to transition back to working in their usual workplaces as long as it is safe to do so.

If employees are not clinically shielding but would be considered high risk or have childcare issues for example, then the guidance for employers is to be ‘reasonable’ and explore all options open to them,

If employees have concerns about using public transport to get to work, then you can discuss changing their start and finish times to allow them to travel at a quieter time for example.

For further guidance on re-opening your workplace, please visit the HSE website and take guidance from the Scottish Government. The current advice on Phase 1 can be found here  Please note that the above guidance is generic and subject to change. The most up to date guidance should always be followed. Please contact French Duncan HR services if you have any specific questions.

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Further HR Support:

We hope this has given you food for thought ahead of the upcoming furlough deadline, but if we can help you with anything further, please contact us on 0141 221 2984 or email Louise McCosh, HR Director at


Other similar resources:

Full details of how we can help you around COVID-19 / Coronavirus is available on our special page ( which you can access by clicking here. We will be keeping all our information updated as things progress and schemes are clarified, so please check back regularly, or follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn to keep informed of all the changes.

The below blog refers specifically to Furlough and Maternity Leave, other HR / Furlough related resources we have available include:




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