Remote working is the pattern of choice for millions of workers, yet, there is evidence that a return to the office would improve their wellbeing. A report in CNBC highlights the view of one behavioral economist that the workplace is better for the health of workers and the health of a business, increasing productivity and boosting mental health. With employers often preferring the personal contact and improving relationships that in-person work provides, a return to the office looks inevitable. What isn’t clear, however, is how that squares with the health and safety landscape.
One key area of health and safety concern surrounds coronavirus. This is already an area of considerable discussion; as The Drum highlights, there are questions over whether vaccines can be enforced and monitored under HIPAA, and what level of protection employers will have to provide for employees who contract the virus while in the workplace. Legal experts FVF Law clearly outline what is and isn’t covered under personal injury law while at work. Whether viral infections come into this, given the laws put into place by the government to help protect public places and workers, is up in the air, and will be an important bone of contention to resolve before the return to work comes.
A hybrid schedule
Tackling this challenge is the hybrid schedule. The Detroit News covers how Ford, Apple, GM and other companies are giving a cross-section of the modern labor industry and how they are sequencing returns to work at a proportional rate. This will help to improve health and safety with regards to infection rates, but also in terms of operational capacity. Reduced numbers in offices and the reduction in auxiliary services has created the potential for a higher rate of incidental injury in the office. Bringing those staff back, and ensuring that the more congested workplace is safe from hazards, is crucial in ensuring a safe return.
The home issue
Of course, the problem with home-working is that it presents its own set of health and safety problems. Some have argued that mental health and anxiety created from isolation and loneliness constitute a HR-related issue that employers need to deal with. Similarly, accidents at home, when that becomes the ‘office’, are sometimes considered under the purview of workplace HR departments. Establishing where the barrier is, and what role employers have in the environments their employees are creating home, has been a regulatory minefield. Returning workers to in-office environments at least clears the field with regards to this form of injury, and makes a clear demarcation between what is and isn’t the responsibility of the employer.
That’s good news for employers and, arguably, employees. Un-blurring the lines of the work/life balance is a big objective of the new normal – it will assist everyone in getting back to their best. Regulation, and clarification on it, is required to achieve this.