Whilst there is a global pandemic which is affecting millions of businesses across the globe,  many companies are eager to get back to business as usual, it is equally important to remember the core values and principles of the business. Such as how it treats, engages and motivates its employees and customers, particularly promoting equality and diversity in the workplace.

Employees are going to have mixed reactions, when employers discuss their return to work plans, with them. There will be factors around childcare, transportation, health concerns and some people’s desire to remain working at home for productivity. How an employer handles this will very much depend on its needs and requirements, but the law and government guidance should also be considered carefully. The key for employers is to have a clear and documented plan, amended transparent policies and to engage in conversations with its team to get everyone on board, where possible. Likewise, employees should be treated fairly and policies such as not to discriminate and actively promote equality.

Employee’s position

It is not unexpected that work pressures and strains will have increased significantly in recent months and that some employees will have personal pressures on top of this. Employers would do well to remind themselves that they should respect their staff for their individual age, sex, race, disability, sexual orientation, and more when discussing return to work plans.

The Equality Act 2010 provides such protection against any discriminatory behaviour for protected people, however employers should look to not only prevent any inequality but actively promote equality in the workforce and outside its operations generally.

People at risk over 70’s and/or have a disability or underlining condition

If an employee has a disability under the Equality Act they are protected from unfair treatment. If an employee has a medical letter placing them being in a “at risk” group, due to age , health or a disability , they should remain on the Furlough scheme, to shield from the Covid19 pandemic, or they should be allowed to work at home remotely for their safety. An employer must follow the government guidance about staff returning to work and have a clear risk assessment and plan. If staff do not feel safe and this is not considered safe and secure any member of staff can raise a grievance under health and safety law, but offering support and due care will usually help the employer encourage loyal and productive staff.

If a disabled member of staff is at risk of being sacked for staying at home, because they are too anxious to return , for example, they could raise a grievance and if fired they can look to claim unfair dismissal/disability discrimination. They are more likely to suffer complications if they contract Covid19 which is a factor to also be considered seriously by employers. They have a right under s44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 for their health to be protected by their employer who must prevent or reduce risks to an employees’ health and safety while at work. However, rather than considering this negative position discussions around reasonable adjustments and support is much more likely to generate a productive environment.

Parents unable to return to full time days and hours due to child care.

A policy can be given to all staff indiscriminately , but those that physically cannot attend the office or work standard hours ,due to a fundamental issue ,will be perceived to of been treated less fairly than those that can. As such employers need to be careful about gender or age discrimination. However, a good employer will first action a manager to discuss the possibility of continuing to work at home, flexible working or address working hours, where this is feasible. This enables productivity and engages staff which is hopefully beneficial to all parties. Employers should give due consideration to any flexible working requests , given the circumstances , and weigh up the business needs to the employee’s imminent needs.

Mental awareness is also something employers will need to consider when returning back to work so a return to work interview perhaps on training , flexible working and any concerns could be provided by the employer.

The future

Protecting equality internally can be done by offering regular training to employees to ensure that all are aware of the need to treat colleagues equally and to ensure that people are not at a disadvantage or are treated differently for any reason. Clear policies and management communications are essential in promoting equality. Promoting equality may extend to outside operations for example actively encouraging and participating in LGBTQ events, offering internal panels and support groups or raising money for charities that aim to remedy inequality. All of these actions actively promote the business as an equal opportunities and diverse place to work and do business.

Employees are at the heart of a business and if they feel that they are looked after they will likely look after the business itself. With the World in a crisis at the moment and the World economy taking a large hit, the businesses that promote real values and continue to look after their staff are likely to be resilient enough to ride out this storm. If, however, a business compromises these values by treating employees unfavourably and forces them back to work too soon, they may find themselves without staff to help them through this period and the coming months which are going to be equally tough.

Likewise treating customers and clients with respect during this period and after is key to preserving the relationship and business. As such training on religion, race, sexual orientation and how minority groups may have been impacted or continue to be impacted by the pandemic would put company managers in a better position to help and avoid claims. Communication is key and if you are loyal, committed to promoting equality to staff and clients alike you should reap the awards.