Return to on-site working

28 March 2022: Safe behaviours for University Staff and Students  

The guidance on this site is provided for University staff. College staff should refer to their own colleges for specific guidance. If you are working at a hospital setting you must continue to follow all local NHS guidance. 

The University’s COVID-19 restrictions have now been removed (apart from hospital settings), however it is important that we continue to take steps to minimise the risk of COVID-19. We ask all staff and students to:

  • Be responsible by playing your part to make University spaces safer and therefore accessible for all.
  • Be considerate by being mindful of other people, and paying particular attention to those who are concerned about returning to in-person work and study.

Working arrangements

Staff should continue regular on-site working to maximise the value and benefits of in-person interactions. This may not necessarily be on a full-time basis for all staff, and decisions about work patterns should ultimately be based on the University’s operational needs and support for its academic mission.

Although there is no longer a legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive, minimising contact with others whilst infectious remains the responsible course of action. The University’s guidance reflects the revised government approach, and strongly advises that anyone who has COVID-19 should:

  • If you test positive for COVID-19, you should remain away from on-site work or study for five days, as this is the most infectious period 
  • If you have a fever or more severe illness, whatever the cause, and cannot be tested for COVID-19, you should stay away from on-site work or study until the fever subsides and you are asymptomatic 
  • If you have minor respiratory symptoms, you can continue to work or study on-site, but, if possible, do a lateral flow test (LFD) to ensure you are do not have COVID-19.   
  • If you have non-COVID respiratory symptoms (or are untested) you should consider wearing a face covering when working or studying on-site while you are symptomatic.  

 Staff should continue to report absences to their line manager. Please remember to report every LFD test result (positive, negative or void) to the NHS, as soon as possible after you know the result.

Further guidance is available on our health webpage

Health measures

Face coverings are no longer required in University buildings (apart from where individuals are embedded in hospital buildings), wearing them is a matter of personal choice and staff and students are asked to respect individuals decisions. Social distancing is not formally required. However, staff and students are expected to respect one another’s space, using the experience of the last two years. 

 RTOSW guidance

This guidance is for line managers and supervisors, including heads of department for academic staff (see Notes below), referred to as “line managers” throughout. It covers how to work with staff to manage the return to on-site working. Your department will inform you of the latest guidance for students.

See also:

Notes:

  • Academic staff: Heads of department/faculty board chairs may delegate this responsibility where appropriate, for example to heads of sub-department or sub-faculty or other appropriate colleagues. Guidance on dealing with academic staff may be sought from the divisional office.
  • Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (OUHT) sites: staff working on sites which are managed by OUHT will also need to follow local guidance issued by the Trust.
  • Many staff have now returned to on-site working but some are still working remotely. This guidance is for those staff who have not yet returned on-site.
Introduction

No staff should return to on-site working until they have been advised to do so and the step-by-step process (including RTOSW induction) has been followed.  

 

General considerations

It is the responsibility of the line manager to:

  • set out a timetable for return to on-site working in line with the departmental plan and explain this clearly to their team.  This is most effectively done at a team-meeting so that all staff are given the same information at the same time;
  • give clear, up to date information and instructions about safe working in their particular location and make the relevant risk assessment(s) available to staff in advance of the return on-site (if staff do not have online access at home an on-site meeting can be arranged, or the information sent by post, or discussed by phone);
  • reassure staff members that their safety is paramount, that any COVID-19 guidance from government and the University will be observed;
  • ensure equity across team members as far as possible, remembering that the impact of working from home and/or on-site working will be different for different staff members;
  • offer each individual staff member a conversation about their own situation and individual needs. The discussion should allow individuals the opportunity to raise any issues which may affect their return, such as:
    • health conditions and/or disabilities, including any which may mean the individual cannot be vaccinated (noting that official guidance suggests that these are rare)
    • mental health and/or wellbeing concerns
    • pregnancy

(If staff are uncomfortable discussing their personal situation with their manager they may prefer to speak to the local HR contact, in the first instance).

  • recognise that staff may have concerns about factors beyond the immediate control of the University, such as the need to use public transport, and be aware and sensitive to the fact that staff may be feeling stressed or anxious about work and/or their personal circumstances. For staff with concerns about their own health or the safety of returning on-site guidance on holding the conversation is available and managers can seek  further advice from their local HR contact;
  • encourage disabled staff to discuss their need for any reasonable adjustments, if they have not done so already, or review existing reasonable adjustments if their needs have changed since they last worked on site.
  • ensure that staff know who to contact if they have questions or concerns.

1. Work requirements

There is no longer a requirement for staff to work from home and staff are expected to return to working on-site. Managers should work with their head of department and departmental administrator/HAF to develop a clear, documented plan for the return to the workplace based on work requirements, equality considerations, and individual circumstances. Managers should take health and safety considerations into account while not making assumptions that are based on people’s characteristics.  

2. Equality considerations

In planning for a return to on-site working, departments must make sure that equality issues are taken into account, including arrangements for travel to work.

For example:

  • Disability: the definition of disability includes mental health and some long-term health conditions.  Managers have a legal obligation to protect the health and safety of all staff at work and also to make reasonable adjustments for disabled staff.   Some disabled people who were previously considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable and advised to shield may now return to the workplace with all necessary adjustments being in place (see government guidance on protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable from COVID-19 ). Departments should ensure that any required COVID-secure measures will be strictly maintained, noting that a small number of disabilities or health conditions may mean that individuals cannot be vaccinated. For some staff, a reasonable adjustment for their disability may be to continue to work remotely. It may also be possible to redeploy some staff to an equivalent role where these concerns can be reduced or removed.  Some staff with disabilities and/or long-term health conditions may be able to receive support from schemes such as Access to Work. Line managers should discuss any additional support needs with staff and attempt to find ways to meet their needs, seeking advice as needed from the local HR contact and/or the Staff Disability Advisor.

It would also be good practice to review any existing reasonable adjustments, particularly if staff have been away from on-site working for a prolonged period of time, to ensure that their needs have not changed and are still being met, and to encourage any staff who have not previously declared a disability to do so.

  • Pregnancy and maternity: please see the guidance on supporting staff with concerns. 
  • Other issues: managers should be particularly mindful of any concerns about returning to on-site working which relate to any protected characteristic (age, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation). In particular, during the pandemic there has been widespread discussion of the particular impact of COVID-19 on older people, men and the BME population, and staff may have related concerns.

3. Individual circumstances

Some staff members may be unable to return to work on-site in the immediate future. For example: 

  • If they have  been assessed by Occupational Health as being at high risk, and adjustments cannot be made satisfactorily to manage the risks associated with a return to working on site. 
  • If they have a letter from a GP or medical practitioner stating that they should not return for reasons related to COVID-19. 
  • If they have tested positive for COVID-19 or have symptoms

Staff in high risk categories

Where staff have concerns about returning to work on-site because they believe they are in a high risk category, or have other concerns, please see the guidance on supporting staff with concerns about on-site working.

Public transport

Some staff may have concerns about using public transport.  The University has a dedicated travel web page and provide regular updates about travelling arrangements for those using public transport as well as car parking.

Disabilities

(see equality considerations above).

NB Information which staff provide about their health and personal circumstances must be treated in confidence and any records stored securely in the departmental HR office (or sent by password protected email to HR staff for secure electronic storage, where physical filing is not used or available) in accordance with GDPR requirements.

Managing the work of the team and staff work patterns in order to maintain the COVID-secure workplaces

In order to maintain safe working practices it may be necessary to consider some changes to working practices as part of a structured risk assessment and risk mitigation process. Risk assessments for the relevant work area must be taken into account. 

No one should be asked to return to the workplace, even intermittently, without being offered a conversation with their line manager, well in advance of the return date, at which any concerns can be explored.

It may be agreed that some staff will work only part time on-site and part time at home, if they are able to do some of their work remotely, and have a suitable working environment at home (ie a space which meets DSE guidance and where they can work without distraction, etc.) Any staff who are required by the University to work reduced hours, for operational reasons, should be reassured that they will continue to receive their full normal pay.

Contracts

Individual contracts may specify normal working hours and place of work; in the current unusual circumstances, line managers may ask staff to work different hours (although not excessive hours) and in a different location for a limited period of time, if there is a properly justified rationale for so doing. Any proposed changes to normal working patterns must be discussed with the member of staff and the rationale fully explained. The staff member should then be informed of the changes in writing and asked to agree to them before they are implemented. A template letter is available at the right hand side of the page. Seek advice from your own manager, local HR contact or departmental administrator/HAF if you are unsure how to respond to staff concerns.

Make sure that staff members are given clear instructions about work patterns, place of work, work tasks and priorities etc.

Step-by-step

Step 1. Advise the team of the date that on-site working is planned to resume and offer a 1:1 meeting with any team member who would like to discuss their particular circumstances

Line managers should be keeping their team up to date with the plans for on-site working. These are most effectively discussed at a team meeting where all members of the team can hear the same message at the same time. Managers should outline the benefits of  resuming on-site working such as improved team-working, networking and support as well as appropriate physical work set ups, as many staff have been working in very ad hoc ‘home office’ arrangements.  However,  make sure that you offer to talk to each team member individually, if they wish, to discuss their particular circumstances (see the section Planning the return to on-site working: individual circumstances) and any concerns they have about returning on-site.

If staff feel comfortable returning to work and do not have any concerns, there is no need to have an individual conversation with them about their circumstances (unless you have reason to believe that a staff member is putting themselves at risk) and communications should focus on practical plans, including induction on return to the workplace.

Where staff would like to have a discussion, issues to cover include:

  • whether they are vulnerable, or live with someone or have a dependant who is vulnerable
  • their own health including mental health and/or wellbeing concerns and any disability or long-term health condition which could affect either their ability to return on-site or their ability to work at home
  • any caring responsibilities
  • how they would travel to work.

Read the guidance on holding the conversation and consider a referral to the Occupational Health Service if appropriate.

Step 2. Ensure staff have clear and detailed instructions about the planned return and any new working arrangements on-site

Make sure that staff working on-site understand safe working.

Ensure that staff receive clear instructions before the return on-site (by post or telephone for staff who do not have internet access) about how and when to return and about how to maintain a safe environment in the workplace, offering to have discussions individually about any concerns or anything that is unclear. University-wide guidance will be provided centrally; departmental guidance will be provided by the head of department or HAF; you should provide local instructions for the specific laboratory or work space as necessary. These instructions constitute a reasonable management request and must be followed by all staff on-site.

Instructions (which may be provided by the department) should cover:

  • when and where to report on the first day back (and any access requirements)
  • clear instructions on when not to attend work, i.e. if you test positive for COVID-19, you should remain away from on-site work or study for five days, as this is the most infectious period. 
  • If you have a fever or more severe illness, whatever the cause, and cannot be tested for COVID-19, you should stay away from on-site work or study until the fever subsides and you are asymptomatic 
  • If you have minor respiratory symptoms, you can continue to work or study on-site, but, if possible, do a lateral flow test (LFD) to ensure you are do not have COVID-19.   
  • If you have non-COVID respiratory symptoms (or are untested) you should consider wearing a face covering when working or studying on-site while you are symptomatic.  

You should also discuss any concerns staff may have about safe travelling to and from work.

If you need to ask staff members to make changes to their normal work patterns (see the section Managing the work of the team) set out the changes in writing and ask the staff member to confirm their acceptance. A template letter is available from the right hand side of the page.

Make sure that staff receive regular reminders about health and safety precautions, appropriate staff behaviours and are updated as necessary about any changes to requirements and safe working practices.

Step 3. Carry out induction upon return to the workplace

All staff should be given an induction briefing on their return to the workplace. The scope of the induction will vary according to the type of work and whether, for example, the individual is returning to a familiar workplace and team, or whether they have joined the team/University during the period of remote working.  Line managers should decide who is most appropriate to deliver the induction, whether it is appropriate for a group of staff to be inducted together, or for one to one meetings to be held. The briefing should cover:

  • information, instructions and reassurance about health, safety and wellbeing, including any risk assessment(s) applicable to their role
  • introductions to any new colleagues who have joined the team, or associated teams, during the period of remote working
  • a reminder of any changes in ways of working, work patterns, tasks to be carried out as previously discussed (this will be particularly important for new staff who have not worked on-site before)
  • a discussion of any ongoing support which the staff member may require
  • support that is available to staff on-site and who they should speak to if they have questions or concerns
  • who the staff member should contact if they become ill while at work or at home, ensuring that they know the current guidance
  • an opportunity for the staff member to raise any questions or concerns with you or with the local HR contact or HAF as appropriate. The Departmental Safety Officer, Departmental Safety Advisory Committee members, local or University trade union representatives or the University Safety Office may also be able to help with questions or concerns

Some issues may be sensitive (e.g. the support that the staff member may require) and would be better raised in a remote meeting before the physical return on-site rather than being discussed in an open-plan or shared office. A face to face meeting should then be held on the return on-site. If you are not on-site, consider who could meet the staff member on arrival to provide reminders about working arrangements, health and safety instructions, and the relevant contact details.

FAQs

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Employees have a legal obligation to co-operate with their employers on matters relating to health and safety.  

If the breach is clearly inadvertent and minor, remind the staff member that it is a requirement for everyone on-site to follow safe working practices, both for their own safety and the safety of colleagues, students and others in the building. Explain to them that their colleagues are observing the safety instructions and expect them to do so as well, and emphasise to them the seriousness with which the University views health and safety issues. If the breach is repeated, you may need to consider sending the staff member home on special paid leave; seek advice from your local HR contact first.

 

There is detailed guidance on how to manage situations where an individual has been working overseas during the pandemic and are now unwilling or unable to return to the UK. See Staff who have been overseas during the pandemic | HR Support (ox.ac.uk)

Resources

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