23 April 2020

Back to work – planning for a successful restart

By Godelijn Boonman

As companies plan for the slow restart of their business, they face a new challenge: operating in a 1.5-metre society.

In this “new normal”, what must employers consider in order to make the return to work a success? Here are 5 essential points to include in your preparation.

While the various sectors develop plans and protocols for their industries to re-open, businesses with employees who work in office buildings face a singular challenge; they must balance the need for a successful restart with their obligations to their employees. This requires planning and preparation.

Take the following 5 points into account as you prepare your company’s restart plan.

1. Transport to and from work

  • Make an inventory of which of your employees are dependent on public transport.
  • At present, public transport may only be used when the trip is necessary and no other transport is available.
  • If or when public transport is allowed to transport “everyone” again, in the 1.5-metre society, the current understanding is that public transport (NS) may only be able to transport 10-15% of the normal amount of passengers.
  • On that basis, it seems unrealistic to expect employees who are dependent on public transport to commute in order to work at their business location again.
  • See which alternatives you can offer to those employees: lease bicycle (bicycle plan) or bicycle compensation, lease car or car compensation. If large(r) groups of employees come by car to the office, consider any potential limitations with regard to parking facilities.

Consider drawing up a short arrangement about this (travel allowance and transport).

2. Number of employees in company premises

  • Offices and/or workrooms that cannot meet the 1.5-metre requirements are only partly usable. This means that fewer employees than before can work at the same time.
  • That probably means that not all employees can be in the office at the same time.
  • This requires working in shifts within teams or departments where one group works at the office and the other at home, and these groups alternate with each other.
  • Working at home will (largely) become permanently necessary; this may require further instructions for an “Arbo-proof” workplace at home. This may also require further adjustments to working methods, ICT structure (you may want to follow how and what employees do at home – trust vs control: pay attention to the Works Council’s right of approval).
  • Ensure that the keyboard, stair railing, door handles and telephones are cleaned more often (especially when employees start working in the shifts at each other’s (adapted) workplace).
  • Limit elevator use, encourage stair-climbing, limit or cancel company events.
  • Limit meetings by time, frequency and number of participants and ensure that participants can sit 1.5 metres apart.
  • Think of changing the working hours (regulation) in consultation with the Works Council, as well as drawing up or changing the work from home policy.

3. Safe workplace and illness

  • The Working Conditions Act prescribes that the employer is responsible for a safe workplace. This means that, in accordance with instructions from the Cabinet / RIVM, the employer must ensure that (returning) employees have the lowest possible risk of corona infection.
  • The employer will still not be able to check temperatures or to question or investigate their employees’ medical situation at the entrance due to medical privacy rules. You can consider asking the company doctor to do this, but bear in mind the time and costs involved.
  • Insofar as the instructions of the Cabinet / RIVM remain that employees should stay at home in case of fever, cough, and cold, the employer must also propagate that guideline and therefore instruct employees with such complaints not to return to work. If an employee returns to their (adapted) workplace with such complaints, the employer must instruct him/her to go home. This may require adjustment of the internal regulations regarding illness and notification.
  • Expect a higher rate of absenteeism after a (slow) restart (not only due to possible illness / corona symptoms of the employee themselves, but also if he/she has to care for a sick partner / children). Ensure a good relationship with the company doctor who, for the time being, may only be able to do consultations by telephone.
  • When restarting work at the office, take into account the home situation of the individual employee – think of children who are not yet (fully) allowed to go to school or childcare.

The illness and absenteeism arrangements may need to be adjusted.

4. Taking vacation days

  • As much as possible, agree to take/proceed with vacations that have already been planned and approved, even if the employee cannot “enjoy” these as originally intended.
  • Enable employees to take their vacation (days). Employees have a legal right to vacation / rest and recuperation time. Also, if this is not done, then in early 2021 employees may start booking time off en masse to avoid losing vacation days which expire in 1 July 2021.
  • One can think of limiting the inclusion of holidays “after corona”.

5. Adjusting risk inventory and evaluation

Each employer must create their own rules or protocol for compliance with the 1.5-metre rule and these should be included in a Risk Inventory & Evaluation (RI&E). The RI&E should contain supplemental information on the risks that the corona crisis entails and the measures that the employer is taking to deal with them. From the employer, the prevention officer is responsible for drawing up the RI&E; this must be done in collaboration with the Works Council (which has the right of approval) and the Occupational Health & Safety Services as it regards changes to the working conditions.

Get advice you can trust

If you need legal support or assistance, or you would like custom advice on your company’s specific situation, please contact us.

Godelijn Boonman

Godelijn Boonman

Lawyer / partner

Godelijn Boonman has focused entirely on employment law for over 20 years, with international employment law playing an increasingly important role in her practice.

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