Managing the return to work after you have made changes to your business

Tuesday July 13, 2021

Although some businesses have implemented successful remote working strategies, and some are considering a permanent move away from the office, a spotlight has remained on the green light to bring employees back to work.

It signifies an important milestone of pandemic recovery, giving employers the freedom to choose if and when home working is right for their business.

It’s a big step for employees too. More than two million people have been furloughed and many others have been away from their place of work for up to 18 months. For various reasons, returning to the workplace needs a well thought out action plan to maintain optimal health, well-being, and productivity.

If you made essential changes to your business during the pandemic, as many business owners have done, these should be factored into your return-to-work plan.

From communicating changes to those that need to know, to making sure that contracts, handbooks, and HR admin is up to date, there’s lots to be considered before bringing employees back to work.

Changing an employee’s role and responsibilities

When a business is forced to change, it’s possible that roles and responsibilities will also need to change.

Even if you have the relevant clauses in your employee contracts, you should consult with employees before making the changes. This way you can explain fully the legitimate business reasons, listen to any concerns they may have and demonstrate the support that will be provided.

Reasonable consideration

A recent unfair dismissal case involving a change of duties, which resulted in a £56,000 win for the employee, shows just how important it is to take care when modifying roles for employees.

After a period of sickness absence, the claimant returned to work to find that a restructure required her to take on new public facing duties, something she found stressful and unable to carry out. She was later diagnosed with “public phobia”.

The employer felt unable to provide a back-office position and the claimant was eventually dismissed on the grounds of capability due to ill health.

The ruling, which included an award for injury to feelings, noted that reasonable consideration had not been given to the claimant’s redeployment.

Changing the location of your business

The pandemic has left some employers reconsidering the location and size of their office.

If you downsize and relocate, can you request that employees attend the workplace as they once did?

It may be that when you first had the employment contracts drafted, the idea of a relocation never entered your mind. Even if it did and you have such a clause, it has to be reasonable.

For example, it should not place a burden on the employee’s financial or family situation. This is important and so any major move must be well considered to avoid complications or claims from employees. Looking at where the majority of your staff live and then calculating travel distances and availability of public transport is a good starting point.

Following a full consultation and giving plenty of notice to employees is best. You may find that a relocation prompts flexible working requests from your team. This is a positive response as it shows that they have thought about how they can make it work. Be sure to consider all requests and reply within good time – there is a legal process for this.

Keeping on top of HR admin

It’s possible that changes to your business could require changes to your employment contracts and company handbook. Keep staff informed and your business protected with up-to-date HR admin.

If you need help managing your people as you bring them back to work, or with navigating contract clauses, don’t forget we are only a phone call away.

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