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Going back to work: A guide for employers

Photograph of Nick Renaud-Komiy

Written by Nick Renaud-Komiya , Personal finance specialist

20 May 2020

As more workplaces are allowed to re-open, there are some things that you can do to help get your business up and running again safely.

Photograph of face masks and hand sanitiser on a wooden table

As things change rapidly during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, this guide will be updated regularly to reflect changes in rules and regulations.

Making your workplace COVID-secure 

As an employer it’s your responsibility to make sure that the work environment is as safe as possible for workers who cannot do their jobs from home.

You can find government advice on the kinds of measures you should put in place to keep your staff safe on site during the pandemic here

This is especially important now that many ‘non-essential’ retail stores will be allowed to re-open from 15 June 2020. If you work in retail or in any other customer-facing business, make sure your employees are able to return to a safe workplace.

The government has published guidance to help both employers and employees work safely across a range of work settings, including:

What you should do will depend on the type of work that takes place. An office environment will obviously have different requirements to a building site. 

Keeping your team safe

The government has advised that all employers should follow 5 key steps before welcoming staff back to the workplace.

  1. Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment

  2. Draw up cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures

  3. Help people to work from home

  4. Get staff to maintain 2 metre social distancing

  5. If this is not possible, do everything you can to manage the transmission risk

Help and advice on each of these steps can be found here.

The government has also given advice to businesses on what to do if someone starts to experience COVID-19 symptoms while they’re working on site.

As part of this there is guidance on asking workers to stay at home if they or another member of their household pick up the virus.

You may also want to consider looking at bringing in shift-working and staggering start times for different employees.

Financial help for employers 

The government has brought in a range of financing schemes to help businesses of different sizes cover coronavirus-related costs and cash flow problems. 

Bounce Back Loan Scheme

If you run a small business and you need help with cash flow or any costs linked to re-opening your workplace, you may want to look at the Bounce Back Loan Scheme

The BBLS helps small and medium-sized firms impacted by COVID-19 to borrow between £2,000 and up to 25% of turnover. The maximum loan available is worth £50,000.

You will not need to pay any fees or interest on the loan for the first 12 months. After a year, the interest rate will be 2.5% a year. A BBLS loan lasts for 6 years, but you can repay early without paying a fee. You will not be asked for repayments during the first 12 months.

To be able to get one of these loans your business needs to have been set up before 1 March 2020 and be based in the UK. Click here to check if your business is eligible for a BBLS loan.

Note that your firm will not be able to apply for a BBLS loan if you have already received a loan of up to £50,000 from any of the other government loan schemes mentioned here. 

Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans Scheme

If you run a small or medium-sized business with a turnover of up to £45 million you may also be able to take advantage of the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans Scheme (CBILS).

Businesses can get CBILS loans by applying to one of over 50 lenders taking part in the scheme. These include all the main high street banks. 

The government has said that it will guarantee 80% of the loan to the lender. It will also pay all interest and fees that you are charged for the first 12 months. 

To apply for a CBILS loan you’ll need to get in touch with one of the lenders taking part in the scheme via the lender’s website. The British Business Bank has a full list of  these lenders.

The length of the loan will depend on what your business will need to do with the money. Full details are here.

Use Funding Xchange's tool to find out whether you can apply for loans through the government-backed Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme.

Check eligibility

If your business turnover is above £45 million a year

Larger businesses can also access government financing help through these two schemes:

The Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme allows eligible firms to borrow up to £50 million. Full details on eligibility and how to apply here.  

The COVID-19 Corporate Financing Facility is a way for the Bank of England to buy short-term debt from large companies. This can be done in order for these companies to cover costs that need to be paid within the next 12 months.  

Full details on eligibility and how to apply are here.

Can you get or claim on insurance?

You might be thinking about being able to claim on your business insurance to help you cover your firm’s re-opening costs.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has put together a Q&A on the Coronavirus, which includes business and trade credit insurance. 

Unfortunately, unless your policy specifically covers disease, which is usually bought as an extension, you are unlikely to be able to make a claim. The ABI suggests that you contact your insurer or broker to find out whether you are covered for losses as a result of COVID-19.

Read more on what small businesses need to know to survive during the COVID-19 outbreak.

What if your employees can’t or won’t come back to work?

If staff are anxious about returning

The government has urged employers and employees to be sensitive to each other’s needs during this difficult time. As an employer, you have a ‘duty of care’ for staff, customers and visitors to your workplace.

Some staff members may feel anxious about their safety if they return to work during this time. It’s best to be clear and proactive in letting your team know what you’re doing to help protect them from the risk of infection.

If you’ve put in place safety measures and communicated these clearly but a staff member still does not feel safe, speak to them about their concerns.

Employees who have care responsibilities

With many schools still closed, some staff members may not be able to return yet, as they have continuing childcare responsibilities. 

There may also be other staff who need to look after vulnerable relatives or help with shielding for those who need more protection from the threat of COVID-19. 

The government’s Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service (ACAS) suggests that you should talk to these employees as soon as possible about the time off that may be needed.

You should both agree to regular conversations so that both sides can plan ahead. You may also want to discuss flexible working procedures.

The pandemic is a frustrating situation for everybody, so it’s best to try to find common ground when discussing how employees can return to work safely.