Publication - Advice and guidance
Coronavirus (COVID-19): safer businesses and workplaces
Guidance for businesses and workplaces on reducing the risk of COVID-19 and supporting staff and customers.
Since 31 January 2022, we have encouraged employers to consider the implementation of a hybrid approach to working – with workers spending some time in the office and some time at home where that can be done safely. It is recognised that homeworking still remains one of the most effective protections against the virus and for maintaining business resilience.
In line with good practice, employers should work with their employees to consider hybrid and flexible working models to help avoid a wholesale return to offices at this time. These may of course have benefits which go beyond the need to control the virus – for example, economic recovery, attracting and retaining talent, supporting wellbeing and environmental initiatives.
A wide variety of models of working have already been successfully trialled prior to the arrival of the Omicron variant by businesses, in consultation with their workforce. Employers and employees are still best placed to understand the most effective balance of home/ flexible/ hybrid working, through collaboration with employees and in discussion with unions where applicable and appropriate.
Employers are encouraged to follow the advice in the COVID-19: Fair work statement. Employees with no union representation can seek advice and assistance from the STUC and Scottish Hazards.
In relation specifically to hybrid working, businesses and organisations should consider the following points:
- agree with workers or their representatives, what model or models of hybrid working and going to be offered to the workforce
- set out which roles are eligible for hybrid working
- consider how duties can be most effectively carried out
- explain how staff can request specific models of hybrid working
- determine if there are any roles or individuals that should be prioritised for return to the workplace, hybrid working; or, continued working from home
- consider the needs of colleagues and customers who might benefit from some level of face to face contact or service
- through discussions, identify and consider any employees who may need or prefer to continue to work from home in the short term, for example, because they are at higher risk, have ongoing or newly diagnosed health conditions (not on the highest risk list), disabled staff, pregnant employees, have family members with health conditions, have mental health and/or anxiety concerns about returning to workplaces or are undertaking caring responsibilities.
- support those who are on the Highest Risk List. The advice from the Chief Medical Officer is that people on the Highest Risk List can go into the workplace if they want to, or if required to by their employer, unless their clinician has advised them individually otherwise. Some people on the Highest Risk List may feel especially anxious about returning to work and may prefer to work from home for now, or may need support to return to the workplace. Others may want to return to the workplace to benefit from this along with others as part of flexible or hybrid arrangements, and employers should not discourage this if continued working from home is not the person’s choice or in their best interest
- please see the latest advice for people on the highest risk list. This includes advice on individual risk assessments which can help people to highlight their individual risk to employers in order to support discussions about any additional changes that may be needed to make the workplace safer. This also includes advice about additional safety steps people can take, and employment support for people who may be finding it hard to return to work
- consider encouraging some physical distancing should be kept in place
- ensure good ventilation levels in the workplace
- ensure that other mitigations e.g. face coverings, hand hygiene, surface cleaning, respiratory hygiene are adhered to
- ensure that risk assessments on workplaces, activities and for individuals are reviewed and up to date. This should include consideration of mental health and wellbeing
- establish and communicate a plan for when employees will work from the office and when they will work from home in collaboration with employees. This could include reference to caring responsibilities, wellbeing issues and any relevant personal circumstances and preferences
- consult with employees (and trade unions were appropriate and applicable) on plans for returning to the workplace and encourage them to raise questions or concerns
- clarify roles and responsibilities for hybrid workers and people managers
- review other related policies including, for example, expenses, IT usage, equipment and homeworking and data protection
Hybrid working is based on effective communication therefore communication within hybrid teams needs to be more intentional as casual or ad-hoc conversations may be reduced. Effective communication needs to be seen as the responsibility of everyone in the team.
Each workplace will have its own unique circumstances but some of the issues that you may want to consider when prioritising staff to be in the office include, but are not limited to those who:
- would benefit from a return to work on health or disability grounds, including those whose mental wellbeing may be adversely affected by working from home
- have less appropriate settings for working at home
- require to be in the workplace for priority business reasons
- are new to the organisation and require training/mentoring (and those required to support this)
- would benefit most from collaborative working in person
- contribute to sufficient provision of first aid and fire safety duty activities
These issues will not be the only elements taken into account when introducing or reintroducing hybrid working model but may be helpful in those considerations.
Equality, mental health and wellbeing considerations
People on highest risk list should be central to determining organisation’s hybrid models policy.
Consideration should be given as to whether any particular measures or adjustments are required to fulfil duties under the equalities legislation and supporting those with protected characteristics. The requirement to make reasonable adjustments applies when working remotely as it does in the workplace, to avoid disabled staff being put at a disadvantage.
These adjustments should be carefully reviewed if disabled workers continue to work from home as they may feel negatively impacted when interacting virtually in meetings with colleagues who are located together in a physical office environment. This may potentially lead to them feeling excluded and could have a detrimental impact on their wellbeing.
Creating a safe and welcoming environment, where everyone is respected and valued, should be of upmost importance to businesses and service providers. Working remotely can however make some individuals feel vulnerable, socially isolated and affect their wellbeing and mental health. Employers should be aware of and support staff to access about the employee wellbeing and support services available to them. This can also be done by encouraging boundary-setting and routines to improve wellbeing and prevent overwork.
The following sources of information may be of use:
- guidance on supporting staff affected by domestic abuse during the pandemic - Close the Gap, through their Think Business Think Equality toolkit
- information on supporting those with caring responsibilities is available from Carer Positive
- CIPD also have further guidance for employers on how to become a carer-friendly workplace
- the Clear Your Head campaign has advice and tools to aid people who may be feeling the adverse effects of mental health
- Healthy Working Lives have information and guidance for employers on how to support staff mental health
- Stonewall advice on creating LGBTQ inclusive workplaces
Workstations and digital
Businesses are responsible for providing appropriate equipment that is suited to the tasks and environment, and encouraging staff to use them as safely as possible.
We advise that consideration should be given to what systems need to be accessed, by whom and if they can be accessed remotely. Also the level of IT support available at home, and if the IT network has capacity to support the number of staff who will be working from home. Businesses should be mindful of workers’ individual circumstances e.g. socio-economic constraints that their workers may face in setting up equipment and IT, as well ensuring software packages and platforms used are fully accessible for disabled workers.
Businesses must protect their workers from the health risks of working with display screen equipment. This applies to workers who use a Display Screen Equipment (DSE) daily, for an hour or more, and also includes home workers.
Advice on DSE at home is provided by HSE as well as the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors (CIEHF). CIEHF also provide information on mobile working.
Businesses and service providers may wish to take advantage of schemes such as the Scottish Digital Development Loan and the DigitalBoost programme which are both aimed at improving the digital capacity of organisations.
Working from home creates unique cyber security challenges and risks that must be appropriately managed.
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) have produced guidance on the steps employers should take when introducing (or scaling up the amount of) home working.
Businesses should have clear and regular communication with staff, using fully accessible channels to reinforce key messages, especially when part or all of the workforce is working from home. The physical and mental health of staff should still continue to be supported while they work at home.
Businesses should update staff on workplace developments and ensure workers feel supported, while staff should make sure they are able to communicate any issues they are having while working from home with their manager.
Businesses should be mindful of the issue of overworking, and all businesses should support staff to set clear boundaries between work and home-life.
For some staff, particularly those with caring commitments, the times at which their hours are worked may need to vary but businesses should be mindful of the legal requirements for rest breaks:
- at least 20 minutes break during each working day lasting longer than 6 hours
- time period between stopping work one day and beginning the next is not less than 11 hours
- have at least one complete day each week when no work is done
Businesses should ensure that their staff take their contractual paid leave if they wish – notwithstanding circumstances where people cannot travel – in order to comply with Working Time Regulations paid leave entitlements, and ensure rest and employee wellbeing.
Businesses should have clear and established boundaries around the use of communication after an individual has worked their contracted hours.
Expenses and finances
Members of staff may find that working from home can affect an overall change in financial circumstances. Working from home may result in an increase in utilities’ costs like heating and lighting, while saving on other costs such as commuting costs like public transport and fuel.
Additional costs are expected to be covered by the business or service providers and staff should be aware of the policies in place to cover additional costs.
Businesses and service providers may find it beneficial to check the HMRC guidance on working from home allowances to check which expenses can be paid without incurring a tax liability in relation to who are working from home due to coronavirus.
Businesses and service providers should ensure their insurance covers them for staff carrying out their role from home. Individual staff should also ensure there are no issues with them working from home with their own home insurer, mortgage provider or landlord.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) provides advice and guidance to support those who are continuing to work from home.
Individuals on a low income and in immediate financial need can apply to their local authority for help from the Scottish Welfare Fund.
Home Energy Scotland can provide impartial energy efficiency advice, and advice to consumers on how to keep their home warmer and more affordable to heat and Government-funded domestic energy efficiency schemes.