Employers call for Government guidance on return to the workplace

Many businesses are revising plans to return to offices due to the Delta variant

Businesses that are focusing on getting staff back to the office are not expecting them to return on a full-time basis

Businesses that are focusing on getting staff back to the office are not expecting them to return on a full-time basis

 

Employers are urging the Government to update its guidance on a return to the workplace as the Delta variant forces many of them to revise their plans.

A number of companies say they are unsure if they should be encouraging employees that can work remotely to continue to do so or if they are best to proceed with plans to have staff return to offices.

Government Ministers previously suggested that offices were likely to be in a position to reopen in September as the number of people receiving vaccinations increased. However, the Delta variant has scuppered plans for businesses to do this as case numbers are consistently high.

“Businesses are eager to return to the office in September or October, and the majority have indicated that there is strong interest from employees for a hybrid working model, with time spent in the office as well as working from home. However, there are still barriers to this return,” said Aebhric McGibney, director of international and public affairs at Dublin Chamber.

“One of the key barriers is the lack of clarity on how to reconcile health and safety of staff in an indoor setting, GDPR, and vaccination status. Employers are now waiting on the ‘go ahead’ from Government, and for greater guidance on accounting for vaccination status,” he added.

A new survey by HRLocke reveals that legal restrictions on ascertaining employee vaccination status are creating issues for HR departments, with many worried about related increased costs. The study shows many expect the issue to lead to delays in returning to the office.

Employers’ group Ibec, which on Thursday called for greater urgency in opening up the entertainment sector, also noted the business community’s disappointment regarding the continued absence of any timelines to support employers in safely returning staff to the workplace.

A recent survey from the Institute of Directors in Ireland shows a high level of continuing uncertainty, with more than 20 per cent of business leaders seeing Covid as the biggest threat to their business in the months ahead.

That study shows that almost half of employers expect a return to the office to happen in the fourth quarter, with a further 18 per cent saying it will likely be the first quarter of 2022 before employees get back to the workplace.

Some 6 per cent of businesses are following in the footsteps of many tech giants and pushing out a return till the second quarter of next year at the earliest.

Hybrid

Those that are focusing on getting staff back to the office are not expecting them to return on a full-time basis, with nearly all of those surveyed expecting to operate some sort of hybrid model.

In May professional services firm PwC told its 3,100 staff that it would expect them to work in their offices or at client sites for two to three days a week on average in a new hybrid working model from the beginning of September.

When asked about its current position, the firm said: “We will obviously review any updated Government guidance on a return to office. In terms of our own communications to staff we have been clear that there is no expectation of a full return to the office on September 1st, rather any return will be gradual.

“Our hope is that the majority of our people will have had the opportunity to experience at least one day in the office by the end of September as we gradually build to a hybrid working model of two to three days in the office or at client sites.”

A spokeswoman for Vodafone said meanwhile it has been planning the safe reopening of its head office for a number of months but was unsure exactly when staff would return.

“Due to the current rise in cases related to the Delta variant, we will continue to review and follow guidance as set out from the Government and the National Public Health Emergency Team to inform our return to work date,” she said.

Insurance Ireland said its members are following the ‘work from home’ guidance from Government and will closely monitor any change to this advice.

“ The insurance industry has effectively adapted to remote working during the Covid-19 pandemic to maintain service levels and continue to pay claims. The majority of Insurance Ireland members have indicated that there is no urgency to return to office,” a spokeswoman said.