Tips for dental practices managing staff return to work

The phased return to face-to-face care will mean a significant readjustment for many within the dental industry; for both employers and employees alike.

Dental practices across the United Kingdom will have to ensure that the return to work is managed correctly. The following tips from employment law and consultancy firm Peninsula will help you support staff safely.

Explaining health and safety procedures to employees

Compliance with health and safety requirements is vital to reopening practices, and protecting the wellbeing of both employees and patients must be a top priority. Practices should make sure they are familiar with, and implement, government guidance on this and ensure employees are fully aware of the changes before they start work.

Explaining to employees what has changed and why will help them understand you are taking their safety extremely seriously. It's also important to give employees the chance to let you know about any specific concerns they might have.

Managing employees who refuse to return to work

There may be many reasons why employees tell you they are unable to return to work. These might include concerns over their safety in the workplace, concerns over their public transport commute, or lack of childcare options due to schools not being open. It's important to approach this situation carefully and identify the specific reason the employee feels they cannot return.

Open and honest discussions with the employee are needed here. In each case, all reasonable options should be explored and adjustments made where appropriate. Where there are concerns over safety, ensure the employee knows everything you are doing to protect them and put in place further adjustments for their individual situation where necessary. Concerns about the commute might be fixed by adjusting working hours to avoid peak travel times.

Childcare problems are likely to be the most difficult to solve if the employee is unable to work from home, and employers may attempt to agree further time off work taken as annual or parental leave, for example.

Modifying working hours

In order to strike a balance between the needs of the practice and the employee, it may be necessary to change working hours to accommodate for childcare, or safety concerns during the commute. Normally, requests from employees to amend hours are done through flexible working requests which carry certain eligibility criteria. However, there is nothing to prevent changes being agreed without using that procedure.

It is likely that any changes will be temporary, but new working hours should still be confirmed in writing, as should any consequent adjustment to terms and conditions including pay or annual leave accrual. Where changes are temporary, a review date should be agreed and the employee informed that the review may result in normal working hours being reinstated.

Managing staff on their return

The coronavirus crisis has been challenging for everyone and staff may find it difficult to adjust to the pressures of being back in work when coupled with all other concerns they may have had over recent months. Bear in mind that reactions to the pandemic will vary greatly and some employees may have been affected more than others, and in some cases may have suffered a bereavement.

Managers should be prepared to provide appropriate support if necessary, such as more regular one to one meetings, or retraining in some procedures. Staff should be encouraged to come forward with any concerns they may have and referred to any counselling services, such as an Employee Assistance Programme, if provided.

Being mindful of harassment

Employees and patients should be reminded of the zero tolerance approach to bullying and harassment in the practice. If any allegations are made, these should be investigated swiftly and in line with existing practice procedures.

Workplace policy changes

Emergency legislation put in place because of coronavirus has amended laws that apply to every day HR aspects, such as sick pay and annual leave. Practices might want to review their HR policies, and those relating to health and safety, to ensure they are up to date with recent developments.

Employment law support

Peninsula is a leading employment law and personnel consultancy in the UK. As a benefit of DDU membership, practice principal members can get free access to Peninsula's 24-hour employment advice line and can look to Peninsula for support with employer challenges brought about as a result of COVID-19. Members can also unlock discounted employment law and health and safety consultancy services.

Need more advice? See all of our coronavirus dento-legal guidance.

This page was correct at publication on 19/06/2020. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.