09 Sep 2020

Returning to work post COVID-19

Authored by: Rachel Hill

1. Communication

Ensure open lines of communication are maintained at all times with employees. Consider identifying a team of specialist employees (e.g. Legal, HR etc.) to develop plans, monitor compliance, assess effectiveness and make modifications where appropriate. Determine the procedures (e.g. who, how, etc.) that apply for employees to communicate with the employer, including appropriate processes in relation to self-monitoring, symptoms, and inability to return to work.

2. Precautionary Measures

Employers should highlight and ensure their employees are aware of measures implemented to address health and safety in the work place. The Dubai Health Authority maintains up to date COVID-19 Guidelines and these should be regularly reviewed by HR staff to ensure compliance. These guidelines currently include, but are not limited to, the following:

Social Distancing

  • Outline clear seating arrangements for office workers with appropriate social distances;
  • Reduce contact between employees by implementation of shifts if appropriate; and
  • Arranging timing of meal breaks to reduce the number of people sharing limited space.

Hygiene

  • Provision of supplies for sanitising;
  • Provision of face masks and gloves;
  • Encouraging handwashing and good hygiene; and
  • Ensuring good ventilation in the workplace. 

It is important that employees are aware of their own responsibility to adhere to governmental measures and minimise the risk of spread of COVID-19. Non compliance with such measures may lead to sanctions for the employer and individuals 

3. Employee Notice to Return

While there is no legal obligation to provide notice to employees in respect of return to the office, we recommend communicating with employees so that they can make any necessary arrangements in order to return to work.

4. Employee Refusal to Return

Be prepared to respond to situations where employees are reluctant or unwilling to return to the workplace:

  • Recognise legal obligations, if applicable to the specific circumstances (e.g. where the employee has a serious underlying medical condition), to determine the extent to which flexibility is required);
  • Reassure the employee about the precautionary measures in place;
  • Consider staffing, morale, potential loss of valuable employees and other factors when determining what to do;
  • Be consistent and clear in communications and decision-making;  and
  • Determine steps the employer may take, for example:
    • allowing the employee to work from home for a period;
    • giving the employee the opportunity to remain at home and determining whether that should be with full, partial or no pay;
    • considering whether to insist on immediate compliance with the return-to-work request and the consequences of the employee not complying.

In strict compliance with the law, circumstances where an employee refuses to return to work without appropriate justification, could amount to being absent from work without consent. Employees should be warned that failure to return to work may amount to a disciplinary offence. We recommend that advice is sought on a case by case basis before disciplinary or legal action is taken.

5. COVID-19 ALERT

Know your legal reporting obligations in circumstances where an employee is either suspected of having contracted, or has a confirmed diagnosis of, COVID-19.

Where an employee falls ill while at work, or reports a positive COVID-19 PCR test, the employer must call the DHA hotline. The confirmed or suspected case will be investigated and managed in accordance with government guidelines. The DHA will then convey to the employer the next steps. Action may include temporary closure of office space and mandatory quarantine for certain employees until COVID-19 tests are completed and results received. The office should then be cleaned and disinfected before allowing reentry of employees.

Consideration of the above enhances employee confidence in employers and allows for effective management as all concerned embrace the responsibilities associated with living and working in the world of COVID-19.