Developing your ‘Return to Work’ plan needs to include more than just hand sanitizer
Following the Government’s 3 Step Framework released on 8 May 2020, many employers who have had their business closed or restricted during the COVID-19 period are working out a game-plan to returning back to ‘business as usual’.  The reality is that the pandemic may change the way an employer runs their business forever. There are also a number of legal implications for employers to ensure appropriate provisions for their employees. Developing a solid return to work plan is going to need to include more than just hand sanitiser. In this article, we’ve outlined some factors you might like to consider to ensure a safe, efficient and sustainable return to work:

Developing a COVID-Safe Plan
The Queensland Government released Stage 2 easing restrictions on 1 June 2020, which has seen many businesses return to trading albeit in limited capacity.  Employers must develop a COVIDSafe plan prior to reopening or ramping their operations back up to ensure their employees can return to the workplace in a safe manner.  Within a COVIDSafe plan, it must address factors such as constant health monitoring, adequate cleaning and proper policies and systems in place for effective workplace hygiene.  The Stage easing restrictions can be viewed here. If an employer wants an employee to return to the workplace and it is a reasonable request in the circumstances, then the employee should return or they may face disciplinary consequences.

Will you still be needing that big office space?
The COVID-19 period has provided realization that employers do not need all their employees in the office to adequately perform their duties.  Has this signaled the start of the changing work environment? Will you still need that big fancy office or the square footage you currently lease? Employers are starting to realise that they don’t need the big fancy office or the square footage that they currently lease.

Consider your people, policies and culture
Many employees have successfully adjusted to working from home arrangements and doing so very productively.  The downfall of not being in a workplace day-in-day-out, is that employees miss out on the culture, constant interaction, discussions and collaborations that a workplace provides.  Whilst other employees are only a phone call away, missing out on that physical team setting can hamper business development, growth and even mental health.  Flexible working hours, staggered start times, productivity measures regarding employees’ method of transport to work are just some of the measures that employers should consider prior to giving notice to their employees to return to the workplace. 

Even though there are adequate protections regarding flexible working hours for employees, employers are being asked to become more flexible than ever to ensure their businesses can continue to operate while keeping their employees in a job.  If an employee is required to be at the workplace, it may be hard to decline a ‘return to work’ notice from their employer.  This may include retail shop assistants, restaurant and bar wait staff and other employees that need to be at their workplace to complete their job effectively.  While there are limits on people allowed in a business premises at any one time, the staff are not included in that number to allow greater flexibility for business owners. 

Pay close attention to employment law and anti-discrimination policies
Employees at a higher risk such as immune deficiencies, disabilities or carer’s responsibilities may not be able to reasonably return to the workplace and employers pushing for a hurried return to work for those employees may give rise to discrimination action.

It also must be noted that employers cannot lawfully direct employees to download and install the Governments COVIDSafe App or take adverse action against any employee that does not download the app.  If an employer breaches the provisions, they may be liable for fines up to $63,000 and/or five years imprisonment.

If in doubt, contact the legal team at Greenhalgh Pickard
At Greenhalgh Pickard, our expert team of Employment Law specialists can help guide you on developing a solid Return to Work plan. We can help you put the correct plans in place that will contribute to re-building your workplace culture, leading to happier employees and customers and a better bottom line. Contact Greenhalgh Pickard today via email or telephone (07) 5444 1022.