Two in three companies expect some employees may refuse to return to office

A partial return to offices is scheduled to start in companies next Monday. However, the return must be phased and staggered until October 22 when it is hoped that remaining restrictions will be lifted.

The revised workplace safety protocols, agreed between unions, employers and the Government, say the level of return should depend on the workplace and informed by consultation with staff.

A two metre social distancing will remain in place for now, along with requirements for appropriate ventilation, mask wearing in certain circumstances and hygiene measures.

However, the survey of 200 HR professionals, found just 70% felt their organisation is prepared for the development.

Just over half said they are planning for staggered start/finish times to allow employees to avoid public transport during rush hour.

“Allowing staff to stagger their start and finish times can be an effective way of allowing them to avoid crowded buses and trains at rush hour. A measure such as this may go a long way to assuaging the concerns of returning employees,” Ger Connolly, employment law partner at Mason, Hayes & Curran said.

A majority of those surveyed would favour an update to the Work Safely Protocol, with 68pc supportive of social distancing measures in the workplace being reduced from two metres to one metre.

“The partial reopening of offices from September 20 and the full return on October 22 will present challenges for both employers and employees. As the results of our survey show, even if organisations are well prepared for the return of employees, there will inevitably be challenges with employees who don’t want to return, the bedding down of hybrid working practices and the fact that employers can’t ask employees whether they are vaccinated,” Melanie Crowley, Head of Employment Law at Mason Hayes & Curran said.

Ms Crowley said companies welcoming staff back to offices in the near future must ensure they are familiar with the “minimum requirements” of the Government’s Work Safely Protocol in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

“Employers will also need to work with a Health & Safety consultant to carry out an updated risk assessment of their working practices and, more importantly, their workplaces, especially considering that many offices will have been operating at a severely reduced capacity in recent months,” Ms Crowley said.

The Forsa trade union has said that employers must continue to consult with staff in relation to the return to work next week as many workers had “mixed views” about going back into the workplace.

Head of communications with Forsa Bernard Harbor said it is a positive development to see restrictions being relaxed, but added that there is a huge appetite for blended working going forward.

He said that those who have been working remotely welcome the fact that official guidance on returning to work is cautious and that arrangements should be staggered.

Mr Harbor said the health and safety guidance for employers is very strong and is being taken seriously by employers who are being vigilant about the virus.

He said that to ensure the gains are not lost, employers should continue to consult with staff going forward.