Returning To Work After Covid-19
Taking time off work because of sickness is a standard part of work life at the best of times. In 2020, it’s to be more expected than ever.
The many issues and cautions around COVID-19 can make this a more difficult process than usual. Both for employees and management.
For the safety of the other staff members and the returning employee, certain precautions need to be adhered to before and after returning to work.
Should An Employee Be At Work After Having COVID?
For some employees, it may not be possible or should be strongly advised against returning to work during the ongoing pandemic.
These are people that:
- Show COVID-19 symptoms
- Are required to self-isolate or restrict movements
Some employees may suffer from underlying conditions which also prevents them from returning to work. These employees are deemed ‘high risk’ to the exposure to coronavirus and their health should not be risked.
If an employee has contracted COVID-19 or been in close contact with someone with COVID-19, they need to communicate directly with management prior to returning to work.
Under no circumstances should an employee in such a condition return to work without a clear procedural plan from management.
Above all, communication is key to tackling COVID-19 and keeping staff safe and healthy.
Return to Work Safely Protocol After The COVID Pandemic
Back in May, a Return to Work Safely Protocol was published by the government in order to support employers and workers to halt the spread of COVID-19.
Naturally, many people were and still are concerned that the continued spread of coronavirus will have a deep impact on the economy. This protocol outlines measures that, if adhered to correctly, can help lessen the impact of COVID as the country begins returning to work.
The measures have all been identified by the HSE as necessary and all workplaces, regardless of industry, are expected to adhere to them strictly.
There are a number of steps set out in the Protocol. The following is a general of each of the points.
Lead Worker Representative
In each workplace or company, there needs to be an official lead work representative. However, there could be more than one depending on the size of the company. This nominated person or persons will work alongside management to ensure that all preventative measures are adhered to.
Of course, the lead worker representative(s) will need to undergo relevant training in order to effectively carry out their role. But their educated guidance can help a workplace reduce the chance of exposing staff to the virus.
All businesses will need to deal with COVID-19 in a specific way to them, this requires a risk assessment to be completed. Factors that will need to be taken into account include ways in which the virus can transmit easily in your workplace.
Once these areas have been identified it will be easier to take steps to make sure the risks are minimized.
COVID-19 Response Plan
All businesses must have a thorough and clear COVID response plan prior to employee’s return. This is meant to act as a comprehensive guide for dealing with the COVID-19 and the workplace.
Points for inclusion on such a response plan are included on the Return to Work form.
- Updating occupational health and safety risk assessments and safety statements.
- Addressing individual worker’s risk factors – older workers, underlying medical conditions.
- Assessment of risk levels for various workplaces and work activities – areas where employees may be exposed.
- How to deal with suspected cases of COVID-19.
- Contingencies for increased absenteeism, and measures to reduce COVID-19.
- Develop plans in consultation with all members of staff and communicating the plan clearly.
Returning to work after COVID diagnosis
Before coming back to work all employees should be issued with a pre-return to work form. Under the Return to Work Safely Protocol, this form must be completed at least three days before an employee’s return to work.
There are a number of questions on the return-to-work form that workers will need to answer before they can come back to work. Using the form employees can also self-certify whether or not they have COVID-19 symptoms or if they’ve been in close contact with a confirmed/suspected COVID-19 case.
In particular, the form should ask the following questions:
- Do you display symptoms of cough, fever, high temperature, sore throat?
- Have you been diagnosed with or suspected of COVID-19 infection in the previous 14 days?
- Have you been in close contact with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 in the past 14 days?
If an employee answers yes to any of these questions, they should be prohibited from returning to the workplace.
All staff COVID induction training
Once all employees and staff are back to work, they must be given COVID-19 induction training.
What should this training include?
- Advice and guidance on public health.
- Information on what to do if they or a co-worker begins to develop symptoms of COVID-19
- A layout of the steps the business is taking to combat the risk of COVID-19
- A full overview of the COVID-19 response plan
- Any other relevant advice
Perhaps the hardest yet most important part of coming back to work is remaining vigilant. It will be easy once things get ‘back to normal’ to forget about necessary precautions.
However, updating and maintaining a logbook of all close contact activities and interactions will be invaluable if someone gets sick and contact tracing needs to be carried out.
Preventative Measures In The Workplace After COVID
All of the above steps should be strictly adhered to so that staff can go to work in a safe manner.
However, the general advice may need to be reiterated again to staff. This includes the following.
All staff members should regularly practice good hand hygiene. Hands should be washed at regular intervals throughout the day. If possible posters should be displayed in appropriate areas to remind employees to wash their hands regularly.
Many businesses will find it difficult to maintain the recommended social distancing spacing of 2 metres. Physical barriers must be erected in spaces where this distance can not be maintained. Meetings should also be conducted remotely via Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts or other.
It should go without saying but it bears repeating that handshakes are to be strictly forbidden. In places where the staff is too large to be on the premises at one time, shifts should be staggered or workers should be given the option of working from home, if possible.
All employees should take care to use good respiratory hygiene. This includes covering both mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Tissues should be disposed of in wastebaskets which should be evenly distributed throughout the office space.
Employers are under obligation to provide tissues, hand sanitizers, and other cleaning and hygiene products that can make work life more comfortable and safe.
As mentioned earlier, employees with underlying conditions (particularly respiratory symptoms) should be given the option to work from home.