With Covid restrictions lifting this summer, there’s been a big focus on what companies are doing to prioritise the safety and wellbeing of their staff. As a charitable organisation, we know that your staff are a huge part of your success. As well as having a legal duty of care to them, we know you’ll want to do as much as you can to help your teams feel as safe as possible when they come to work.
As one of the leading charity insurers in the UK, we work with thousands of large and small charities to help them cover various aspects of their business - from liability to property, cyber to motor, and everything in between. In this article, we’ll highlight some important steps you can take to keep your staff safe now that covid restrictions are being lifted.
Employer’s duty of care to staff
No matter the size of your charity and how many paid staff or volunteers it has, you have a duty of care towards those who work for you (it’s worth noting that rights will vary depending on whether workers are paid staff or volunteers). It’s important that you do whatever is “reasonably practical” to prioritise this duty of care and for more general health and safety tips, you can visit the HSE website.
This article will focus solely on what you can do as an employer to prioritise your staff’s wellbeing and safety in relation to Covid.
Keep your covid risk assessment updated
The first step in prioritising your staff’s safety is likely to lie within your risk assessment. Whenever your charity is affected by a change in the government restrictions, it’s important to document this within your risk assessment plan. This will help you understand the steps you need to take to ensure staff are working safely.
Your assessment should clearly show how your charity is adapting its business operations to reduce the spread of Covid e.g., working from home arrangements.
You should also ensure there is a procedure in place to document all changes in procedure so they can easily be referred to at any point. You will likely need to keep any documentation that demonstrates these changes, for example, risk assessments, safe working procedures, photographs, training records and CCTV footage).
Clearly communicate covid measures, including changes to existing plans
Even though restrictions are lifting, and things are starting to go back to ‘normal’, you’ll still need to have covid policies in place. Updating and communicating your stance on covid measures in line with government updates will ensure that you are always considering staff’s safety.
It’s worth thinking about the fact that communicating the lifting of covid restrictions could be seen as both positive and negative by different staff members. Those who are keener for things to get back to normal may be ready to embrace an easing of restrictions, whereas those who are slightly more anxious about the risks involved may be more resistant. You should consider this when thinking about the stance your charity will take, alongside the communication of that stance.
Providing reasoning behind your charity’s decision to change covid measures can be a good way of helping staff understand and embrace your choice.
For example: “At this moment in time, we have decided to continue enforcing social distancing due to a consideration for more vulnerable members of our charity. When the rollout of the vaccine has been completed and our hybrid working policy has been finalised, we will then consider a further easing of our covid measures.”
Address concerns early on
Employees have specific rights in the workplace. This includes being safeguarded by The Employee Rights Act 1996 if they don’t feel they’re returning to a safe working environment. Ensuring your employees have positive relationships with their line managers will encourage staff to express any concerns so that they can be addressed. This will allow for transparency on your part, where you can make adjustments and reassure your teams that you have their best interests at the forefront of everything that you’re doing.
Consider which covid measures to keep for staff safety
As we mentioned above, just because the government are lifting covid restrictions, it doesn’t mean that your charity has to. You may find continuing positive promotion of mask-wearing, good ventilation, social distancing, cleaning etc. remains a part your charity’s day to day plans going forward into the future.
Encourage use of the NHS Track and Trace app
Following an influx of app notifications (nicknamed as the ’pingdemic’) that resulted in over half a million people being ‘pinged’ to self-isolate, some companies are encouraging their staff to delete or disable the NHS app due to staff shortages.
If you choose to encourage the deletion of the NHS app, this is essentially removing staff’s ability to find out whether they may be at risk. As this action makes multiple people within your business vulnerable, it severely questions your duty of care to employees. Staff shortages are something which should be documented in your risk plan. And depending on the nature of your business, a ‘ping’ from the NHS app doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be short staffed. If you’re an office-based charity and the staff member is feeling well, you may be able to facilitate working from home.
Reduce shame around ‘getting pinged’ or testing positive
Your charity’s approach to covid communication will largely determine how comfortable staff feel if they receive a self-isolation notification, or even test positive for covid. Sometimes there’s shame associated with both of these scenarios. Making sure you have set processes in place for when this does happen, and managers are trained to deal with the situation sensitively, can make a big difference to staff wellbeing.
What is your flexible working arrangement?
If covid has made office-based charities realise one thing, it’s whether they can work successfully from home. Some charities are thriving with hybrid working. Working from home has allowed them to have more flexibility, achieve a better work-life balance and even save money on overheads. However other charities, for example, charity shops, won’t have been able to adapt in the same way.
If you’re one of the lucky charities and home working has been successful for your organisation, it’s worth thinking about how this can help your team moving forward. As well as considering risk, life-balance etc., you may like to ask staff what they’d prefer. If working from home provides all of the above benefits, but nine out of ten staff members would rather return to the office, then your team morale may suffer in the long-run.
Make sure remote staff have appropriate equipment
Working from home has meant adjustments to the way your staff normally work. Whether that’s fewer team meetings, reduced equipment or an uncomfortable kitchen table setup.
If working from home is going to be a long-term arrangement, it’s worth paying careful attention to your staff’s equipment. Do they have comfortable chairs? Are they staring at a small laptop screen all day? Do they need a second monitor? Do you have budget to support with equipment? It’s important to consider all of these things whilst keeping in regular contact with staff to discuss their wellbeing.
Take extra measures to cater for those who are more anxious about covid
Naturally there will be a different mix of people in your charity when it comes to how they feel about covid. And recognising that the easing of safety measures can be good for some, but cause anxiety for others is a good way of showing your duty of care to all staff.
Endsleigh are approaching this by introducing colour-coded wrist bands that help colleagues express their level of concern in relation to covid. Whilst these wrist bands aren’t compulsory, they allow staff to be considerate when working with those who feel more anxious whilst in the office. For example, perhaps wearing masks when in meetings with those displaying red wrist bands.
Supporting vulnerable workers
Your charity may have staff who are more vulnerable to infection due to ongoing health issues. These may include those in higher risk groups, those classified as clinically extremely vulnerable (previously ‘shielded’) and those who are pregnant.
There is varying advice for each of these different groups and it’s important to familiarise yourself with this guidance to ensure you’re supporting all categories of staff.
Some additional safety measures could include working from home arrangements, putting additional control measures in place or paid leave. More detailed information on supporting those who are higher risk, classed as clinically extremely vulnerable or pregnant can be found on the HSE website.
Consider a phased return to work
Many organisations have already started embracing the easing of restrictions and getting their teams back to their normal premises. If your charity is still largely working from home, but you intend to return to your normal working environment in the coming weeks or months, consider a phased return to help staff settle back in. For example, bring certain teams in on specific days and consider a hybrid approach to help staff readjust.
Assess your staff wellbeing support
Did you know that as of May 2021, 40% of workplaces were yet to implement any new mental health policies in response to the pandemic? If you haven’t already, now might be a great time to reassess how you manage staff wellbeing support.
For example, do you provide workers with access to mindfulness apps? Gym memberships? Fitness packages? Counselling support?
Returning to ‘normal’ life may cause anxiety amongst some of your team, so adjusting your charity’s benefits package (if it has one) may be a good way of showing your duty of care. For example, at Endsleigh, we’ve been working to improve our staff wellbeing offering over the last year or so, and not all of them have required investment. Here are a few things we’ve introduced:
- No meetings between 12 and 1pm to allow for a compulsory lunch hour.
- No meeting Fridays – to allow staff the time to finalise weekly projects and wind down for the weekend.
- New mindfulness app subscriptions for all staff - to support them in their work and home life.
- We’ve partnered with Health Assured to provide various benefits to our staff, including 24-hour wellbeing support via qualified counsellors.
Think about whether you need a crisis team
With guidelines changing frequently, it’s worth having a team dedicated to understanding those changes and what it means to your charity. You may also find it beneficial to appoint a team dedicated to dealing with any potential disruption caused by positive covid cases, or notifications to self-isolate. Ideally the person leading that time will be a competent senior manager with a level of accountability
Consider the implications of the end of the furlough scheme
It’s looking like the government’s furlough scheme is due to end on 30 September 2021, which means that if you’re still utilising the scheme, you’ll need to think about next steps.
Consider your charity’s needs and your end of furlough strategy. Will you be bringing everyone back full time? Are you considering retraining and redeployment to other areas of your organisation? Do you need to implement a recruitment freeze? Are there new opportunities for recruitment? Is there an option for reduced working hours? Each decision will come down to your business needs and the worker in question’s individual circumstances.
Charities’ duty of care to members following the lifting of covid restrictions
Charities also have a duty of care to their members or customers. There will be similarities, or duties that follow on from the above, but the overall goal is to take reasonable care to protect against injury and prioritise customer/member safety.
Such measures will vary from charity to charity. Here are a few things to consider in relation to customer duty of care and Covid.
Keeping members and customers updated
Reduced facilities? Busier than normal? Changed your organisation’s working practices? It’s important to let members and customers know key updates that may affect their safety. For example, if a leisure centre’s busiest times were between 4 and 7pm, members may prefer to visit at an earlier or later time to minimise their contact with other people.
Implement clear policies in line with government guidelines
Whether it’s relating to masks, social distancing, or maximum capacity, making policies as clear as possible will help ensure people abide by the rules and safeguard each other.
There are various ways you can communicate such policies including posting on your social media channels, sending an email to your member/customer database, displaying signs throughout your premises, or even verbally telling members and customers as they arrive.
Promotion of the NHS Track and Trace app
Although not a legal requirement for members/customers, the promotion of an NHS Track and Trace barcode within your workplace allows members to remain cautious. It protects both staff and customers by letting them know whether they’ve been at risk – allowing them to reduce the risk to anyone else that they may spend time with.
Encouraging staff to follow sickness procedure
Ensuring staff feel comfortable enough to avoid coming to work if feeling unwell will protect their fellow colleagues and customers from general illnesses as well as covid.
Constantly assessing risk
Assessing risk, implementing policies and keeping those policies under regular review is essential to general and covid-specific health and safety. The tricky thing about covid health and safety is that whilst the government guidelines are continuously changing, you’ll need to keep an even closer eye on your internal procedures to make sure they reflect.
Make sure staff have regular training
Whether it’s specific training, or just being updated with your charity’s procedures, up to date staff help minimise risk. For example, return to work modules, cleaning requirements, shift pattern changes etc.
Keep a close eye on fire safety
Although the enforcement of fire safety has been prioritised by the government (through the promotion of fire safety workers to key workers), changes in your internal processes may present a risk to staff and customers.
Changes to things like shift patterns, staffing numbers and seating plans to accommodate social distancing will have had knock-on effects on evacuation plans, fire alarm procedures and more. It’s therefore vitally important to keep your risk assessment up to date with current procedures and review it more regularly than you would have before the pandemic.
Protecting your charity
Charity insurance plays an essential role in protecting your assets, staff and income. At Endsleigh, we have over 30 years’ experience and insure thousands of large and small UK charities. We provide them with flexible cover, expert consultation and specialist advice. Find out more about charity insurance and get a quote today.