The Return To Work and The Role HR Will Play Keeping The Workplace Safe

By Lucy Wyndham | June 10, 2020

Despite calls for remote working to become the norm, millions of employees across India will be returning to their workplaces this week. As India begins to ease its lockdown measures, the human resources department of many workplaces will be hard at work drafting up new employee and workplace policies aimed at ensuring the safety of workers in a post-COVID-19 era. As people adjust to the new normal, these new safety policies will not only act as a deterrent against the spread of the virus but also reassure employees of their safety upon returning to the workplace. From a revamped health and safety employee policy to new employee sickness regulations, here is what HR should be doing to keep the workplace safe as people return to work.

Revise Employee Illness Policies

Updating the employee sickness policy to allow for remote working if needed, gives the space for infected employees to recover safely away from colleagues and customers. The HR department will also need to look at include employee and family sick days should the employee need to self-quarantine. In India, companies are introducing a special leave provision for employees that are advised to quarantine. During this time, employees are entitled to full pay. Other companies are opting to encourage employees to use their annual leave or switch to remote working for as long as they need it. In this case, remote working systems need to be fully operational and employees need to be trained on remote working protocols, practices, and tools.

The Provision Of Staggered Shifts Or Flexible Work Options

The implementation of staggering working shifts works to reduce the number of employees coming into contact with each other or using public transport at the same time. In India, 66 percent of households in rural and 62 percent of households spending on bus transport. Staggered breaks are recommended by the government, who say that workers should be split into shifts with breaks of at least one hour between. Staggered working times will also allow for regularly scheduled biohazard remediation and virus sanitisation of the workplace. In some cases, weekend hours may need to be introduced temporarily to account for the worker’s fulfilling their contracted hours.
Even before Covid-19, 60 percent of employees were seeking flexible working according to’s Future of Flexible Working Survey. Offering remote working options for workers minimises the risk to the workplace, particularly if they are carrying the Covid-19 virus. This protects employees from others bringing the virus into the workplace and it also works to protect their family should the employee contracts the virus in the workplace. Remote working also helps sustain productivity as businesses try to manage social distancing and capacity protocols.

Implementation Of An Outbreak Response Plan

In addition to mandatory thermal scanning and testing on-site, guidelines should be implemented recommending the use of a worksite isolation space if an employee showcases signs of Covid-19. However, if there are multiple cases the plan should direct the closure and disinfection of the workplace for 48 hours. To help, HR personnel can utilise Covid-19 Response Plan templates published by the Health and Safety Authority.
It is also important to include contingency planning in any HR policies being implemented. Companies must have temporary recruitment protocols in place in the event of several workers getting ill at the same time. This includes identifying the most critical employee groups, including workers whose skill set is not easily replaced at short notice. An outsourcing plan can provide options for skill shortages if needed.
With such an unprecedented outbreak, the return to work post-COVID-19 will take a period of trial, error, and adjustment. With the right HR policies in place, the transition back to work can be a seamless and well-organised one.