Return to on-site working

Update following the UK Government’s plan to remove ‘Plan B’ restrictions (added Friday 21 January)

On Wednesday 19 January, the UK Government confirmed its plans to remove the current ‘Plan B’ COVID-19 restrictions by Thursday 27 January. The University and colleges are urgently reviewing the Government’s updated guidance, and are taking advice from Oxford’s clinical health experts.

The University remains at Business Continuity Planning (BCP) Stage 2, but is expected to move to BCP Stage 1 next Thursday, 27 January. In anticipation of that move, staff who are currently working remotely are now being encouraged to return to working on-site (as they were in Michaelmas term before Plan B restrictions were introduced). 

In line with Government guidance, face coverings are no longer mandated during university teaching and assessments. However, teaching staff have been given authority to require them to be worn in individual education settings (unless individuals are exempt). Face coverings remain mandatory in libraries.

All other existing University health guidance remains in place. This includes the expectation that staff and students will get tested twice a week while working and studying on-site this term.

More detailed guidance will be provided at the end of next week.

The guidance below covers the wider transition back to the workplace once current measures are lifted. It is completely separate to the New Ways of Working framework which is intended to support departments to have conversations with their staff about a considered approach to longer-term working arrangements, building on positive experiences of remote working during the pandemic.

The step-by-step process, including a return to on-site working induction, set out below should be followed to manage the return to on-site working, and to facilitate a resumption of pre-pandemic working arrangements, when this becomes possible

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:


  • 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.

The safety, physical and mental health and wellbeing of all our staff is of paramount importance and should be the first consideration when planning any return to, or increase in, on-site working. 

For the safety of all of our staff, a full risk assessment must be undertaken and measures to implement COVID-secure workplaces must have been implemented before on-site activity resumes in any given area of the University. These risk assessments must also be reviewed where restrictions are being eased and on-site activity increases. Guidance on these issues is available in the full Return to on-site working guide.

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.  


At present government guidance is that staff should work from home where possible. Some staff will need to continue to work on-site if:

  • there is an operational need for them to work on-site – including if they are involved in delivering or supporting in-person teaching
  • they are unable to work effectively from home (for reasons related to their duties or their welfare)

Once on-site working can resume some staff will be eager to return to the workplace and should be allowed to resume on-site working as soon as all the necessary arrangements, including induction, can be put in place.  Others may be concerned about their return to on-site working for a variety of reasons.  Managers will need to take time to have discussions with their staff and respond to any concerns that are raised, and no individual should be expected to return to on-site working before they have been given the opportunity to discuss any concerns about their safety.

General considerations

Expand All

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 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
    • caring responsibilities including for dependants/household members with serious health conditions

(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 access to childcare, 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

In light of the latest Government guidance there is no longer a requirement for staff to work from home if they can, 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 and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance on protecting vulnerable workers). Departments should ensure that all required COVID-secure measures are being 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: a pregnancy risk assessment should be completed before a pregnant employee returns to the workplace. In addition, managers should assess any additional risks for expectant or new mothers in their role and think about mitigation measures. In some cases, this might include continuing to work remotely or redeployment to an alternative role.  See the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists guidance for further information. Managers should be sensitive to those who wish to be particularly cautious to minimise the risk of infection in the run-up to time-sensitive scans, for example.
  • 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

There is no longer a requirement for staff to work from home if they can, and staff are expected to return to working on-site.  However, some staff members may be unable to return to work on-site in the immediate future. For example: 

  • Anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms or has been advised to self-isolate;
  • Those who have symptoms of COVID-19 must remain at home for 10 days or until they are fully recovered in accordance with NHS guidance.  If they are not well enough to work from home, or unable to do their job remotely, they will receive sick pay subject to entitlement, but this will not be counted towards their sickness absence record;
  • Those who are required to self-isolate for other reasons under current government guidance must remain at home for the full prescribed period of self-isolation. Staff who are self-isolating should work at home if they can, provided that they are well. If they are unable to work at home for operational reasons, they will continue to receive their normal pay.

Note: It is an offence for the University to knowingly permit a member of staff who is required to self-isolate to attend the workplace. Fines for the offence start at £1,000.

Staff in high risk categories

Under Government guidance from 19 July 2021, those who were previously considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable may return to the workplace but may wish to think about additional precautions; see government guidance on protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable from COVID-19 and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance on protecting vulnerable workers

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.

Care responsibilities

Some staff may also have concerns around care responsibilities such as local closures resulting from COVID outbreaks or the continued reduced availability of normal care arrangements. It may be possible to adjust working patterns on a temporary basis to allow staff to accommodate caring requirements during the day, including where these arise at short notice.

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.


(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.

In order to maintain safe working practices and to maintain COVID-secure workplaces 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. See Section 1 of Return to On-Site Working: Guidance for Departments.

  • 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.
  • You may need to ask some staff to work different patterns from their normal pattern, for example where this is required to ensure a COVID-secure workspace,  and to make sure that there are always essential staff such as first aiders, fire marshals and estates staff on-site. This might involve some staff working mornings and others working afternoons; or staff attending on alternate days or alternate weeks. Make sure that as far as possible staff working shifts keep to the same pattern to avoid the risk of cross-infection. It may be necessary to balance shifts across a team to take into account caring responsibilities and personal needs.

  • You may need to ask some staff to work in a different building or in a different part of their usual building, and you should ensure that you keep in regular contact with them if they are working away from others in the team.
  • It may be necessary for some staff members to take on different tasks at a similar grade on a temporary basis to cover for colleagues who are unable to return to the workplace. But staff should not be expected to take on a cover role in addition to their normal role and line managers should make sure that tasks are prioritised to cover key areas without overloading staff. If cover is at a higher grade the normal arrangements for ‘acting up allowances’ may be used. Opportunities to take on higher level roles should be distributed fairly and transparently to ensure equity between staff. Staff in grades 1-5 working overtime should be compensated by TOIL.

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 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 local plans for reopening.  The plans for on-site working to resume 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 what they must do to maintain a COVID-secure work environment.

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)
  • any use of designated entrances and exits
  • COVID-secure measures within the building – in offices, corridors, staircases, lifts etc
  • use of communal facilities – kitchens, canteens, meeting rooms etc, as it may be necessary to stagger usage or to continue to hold remote or hybrid meetings
  • any instructions for cleaning by users of communal equipment such as printers and photocopiers
  • other health and safety instructions such as hygiene practices including how to take appropriate measures if you are using a face covering at work
  • clear instructions on when not to attend work, i.e. when displaying symptoms of COVID-19.

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 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.  A sample induction checklist is available in the RTOSW - Guidance for Departments (Appendix 4) and your department may provide a local version of this for line managers to use. The briefing should cover:

  • information, instructions and reassurance about health, safety and wellbeing, including the 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 and for staff returning from furlough who may not be aware of any recent changes)
  • 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 they must not attend the workplace if they have COVID-19 symptoms (and that they are reassured about arrangements for sick pay subject to entitlement) or are required to self-isolate
  • 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.


Expand All

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 COVID-secure 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.

If the staff member deliberately refuses to follow the instructions or commits a major breach, including coming into work with symptoms of COVID-19, that would be a disciplinary offence and the staff member risks being denied access to the building and being suspended. You must seek the advice of your local HR contact straight away in these circumstances.

If the individual has had a positive COVID-19 test they have a legal obligation to self-isolate, and the employer must not let them come into a workplace: breaches are punishable by fine for both individuals and employers.

The details of any health conditions that your team have is sensitive and should wherever possible be kept confidential. When an individual with COVID-19 symptoms orders a test they will be encouraged (but not obliged) to ask their employer to alert colleagues with whom they have been in close contact. NHS guidance is that those contacts should not self-isolate at this stage unless they feel unwell but must avoid individuals who are at high-risk of being more adversely affected if they contract COVID-19, for example because they have pre-existing medical conditions such as respiratory issues, and must take extra care in practising COVID-secure working practices and good hygiene and in watching out for symptoms.

If the staff member tests positive, the NHS Test and Trace service will contact any colleagues who have been in close contact with the staff member and explain any requirement for self-isolation. If colleagues are “pinged” by the NHS app they must self-isolate as instructed. NB: with effect from 16 August those who have been fully vaccinated will no longer be legally required to self-isolate if they are a close contact, but will be advised to take a PCR test (if that is positive they will be required to self-isolate regardless of vaccination status). See also When to self-isolate and what to do - Coronavirus (COVID-19) - NHS (

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 (


Support and wellbeing

Linked guidance