COVID-19 has heralded unparalleled levels of change linked to the work environment and the relationship between you and your employees.
With most employees back to work in some capacity (whether that be remotely, on less hours or alternate days etc.), you may be experiencing growing concerns in relation to employee requests to alter workplace arrangements or, more worryingly, their refusal to return to the workplace.
Did you know… a national survey conducted by the Fair Work Commission last year found only about 5% of workers who were sent home to work during lockdowns want to return to the office on a full-time basis, and around 35% want to return on a part-time basis only.
BUT WHAT DOES THE LAW SAY ABOUT RETURNING TO THE WORKPLACE… CAN AN EMPLOYEE REFUSE TO RETURN TO THE WORKPLACE?
In a nutshell, the law makes it clear that, if your business has a COVID-safe plan, the job requires the employee to be in the office and you advise your employee it’s time to return; then not doing so can result in you taking disciplinary action up to and including termination against that particular employee(s).
Reasons why an employee might refuse to return to the workplace include if the workplace is not following a COVID-safe plan; if the employee is ‘at-risk’ (i.e. they have a medical condition which impacts their immunity or makes them more susceptible to a respiratory infection); and/or if the employee has been in close contact with (or needs to care for) someone who is COVID Positive.
Under the Fair Work Act, there are only a few instances where employees have the right to make a request for flexible working arrangements including work from home arrangements and flexible hours.
As an employer, you are obligated to consider any such requests including the below:
1. Recognising employee fears
Many of you will be and have been flexible with your teams and make arrangements for individual employees based on their personal circumstances.
However, it needs to be acknowledged that the emergence of COVID clusters and hotspots has left a lot of people feeling vulnerable and uncertain about the start to the new year. Front of mind is the fact the virus is still active and highly contagious.
It’s only natural some people will feel trepidation about being able to social distance adequately in an office space, having to use shared spaces and general hygiene standards in the office environment as well as on their public transport commute.
2. Mental health considerations
Where an employee has a mental health issue (e.g. depression or anxiety), these fears can be exacerbated. Furthermore, their condition may have worsened over the past few months. Under the Fair Work Act, this may not necessarily be a reasonable excuse not to return to work.
What we as employers must recognise is everyone will respond to the process of returning to the workplace differently. For some it will be difficult and stressful. For others it will be a welcome return to some kind of routine and normalcy.
These are unusual times, and while state and federal Governments are championing safe return to work because it’s a signal of productivity and good for the overall economy, in some cases, people will need more time and compassion from their employers and co-workers as they adjust to the idea.
It can be a daunting prospect for businesses and managers to not only know where to start, but how to manage return to workplace or flexible work arrangements.
Akyra can provide you with a review of your workforce to assist with flexible workplace arrangements, policies and guidelines... plus, a multitude of additional HR tailored services and support to ensure you are compliant with the Fair Work Act.
Every industry and business will have unique requirements and for further guidance or advice on human resource management.
CONTACT US NOW to book a time to discuss any areas of HR concern; after which we will provide a way forward where it might be needed.
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