UK Businesses have been asked to provide mental health hotlines when workers return to the office next Monday, known as ‘freedom day’ when lockdown restrictions are no longer compulsory.
A document from the Department for Business released on Wednesday reminded managers some employees will need “extra consideration” after working from home for over a year.
Companies are being advised to provide Perspex screens to separate desks, limiting the number of people in the office at any one time and encouraging workers to wear face masks.
The government’s guidelines state: “You should continue to support these workers by discussing with them their individual needs and supporting them in taking any additional precautions advised by their clinicians.”
But bosses say the government advice is misleading which could see staff raising lawsuits if they fail to meet requirements.
Managers are also being warned trade unions will sue any company which forces people back to work against their will.
Roger Barker, policy director at the Institute of Directors (IoD), said: “Like everybody else, businesses across the country have been awaiting ‘freedom day’ with bated breath.
“But instead we have had a series of mixed messages and patchwork requirements from the Government that have dampened that enthusiasm. Today’s guidance has done little to dispel that confusion.”
The government has also asked business to provide mental health advice through a “telephone support” system.
Jane Gratton, of the British Chambers of Commerce, told Microsoft News: “Issues such as managing health problems mean that some staff will find a full return to the office more difficult, and employers will want to make adjustments where possible.”
A spokesman for the Confederation of British Industry believes the new guidelines will help business return to normal working environment.
They said: “This latest guidance should support firms making informed decisions on how best to protect health in the workplace. Where it boosts confidence, firms will support the ongoing use of Covid secure measures, such as use of masks in crowded places.”
However, Barker says companies are “understandably confused” about the new legal requirements.
He added: “What the Government needs to do is inspire confidence amongst the country’s businesses and workforce that we can all begin to return to work safely. Today’s series of rather obvious statements does little or nothing to that end.”
‘Freedom Day’ on Monday 19 July is the governments’ “Step 4” towards the UK return to normal.
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