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Returning your workforce: Checklist of employment considerations

01 June 2020
Change is the "new normal" as Italy prepares to return to work, our checklist brings together everything your business needs to consider from an employment perspective. 

With social, economic and cultural norms changing at an unprecedented level, it is essential for employers to support their employees through the process – from mental health to creating a safe working environment, employers have a responsibility and a legal obligation to protect their workforce.  

Key resources 

Official protocol regulating measures for contrasting and containing infections by COVID-19 in the workplace (24 April 2020)

Our checklist below provides the employment considerations which will enable you to assess and control the risk of COVID-19 as lockdown measures are eased:

Preliminary action

The employer is requested to adopt the Government Protocol and measures therein provided, as well as any other additional precautionary measures requested by its specific organisation, working environmental and type of business, to be implemented with the prior involvement of unions' representation (as appointed at company level, called "RSA" / "RSU"), so to safeguard people's safety within the company's premises and grant the workplace's healthiness. Involvement of persons covering official roles under the Italian Health and Safety in the workplace Act, as well as of the committee appointed pursuant to the COVID-19 pieces of legislation.

Key topics mentioned under the Government Protocol and measures to be implemented relate to: (1) information, (2) employees' access to the company's premises, (3) externals' access to the company's premises, (4) cleaning and sanitisation of company spaces, (5) personal hygienic precaution, (6) individual protection devises, (7) management of common spaces (e.g. canteen, changing room, smoking room, drinks / foods dispenser), (8) company organisation (shifts, travel and smart-working, reorganisation of productive levels), (9) employees' entrance and exit, (10) internal movement, meetings, internal and training events, (11) management of a symptomatic person within the company, (12) health surveillance / competent doctor, and (13) updating on the company's protocol. 

Employee relations

Communication 

- Information: In line with Government Protocol, provide written information notice re. authority's and employer's rules to the wider workforce (and any other person entering the company's premises) and/or posting this information notice at the entrance and on main visible places of the premises. Notice periods shall be tailored also taking into account the employees' duties and working environmental. 

Monitor and understand any unforeseen impacts of the changing working environment. Ensure those with responsibility (such as line managers) are fully informed on the protocol. Obtain confirmation from the workforce that they have receipt, understood the new rules and will abide by them.  

- Listen: Understandably employees will have queries and concerns - whether returning to the workplace or continuing to work remotely. Create an easy mechanism to ensure the workforce has a voice which is listened to. For example through helplines, staff forums, concern forums or Q&A sections in the company intranet if available. To the extent this complies with the Government Protocol, implement ideas that are suggested and utilise all forms of media in communicating with more dispersed and technically linked businesses.

Financial support: Consider employer support or advice with referral to consultants/specialists for those employees likely facing future hardship because of e.g. their positions or roles. Ensure that you have details of external support that can be accessed in particular for those with challenging personal circumstances, for example those with a disability.

Mental health and well-being: The impact of the pandemic on mental health and well-being cannot be underestimated. Employer must be mindful of the mental health risks associated with the level of change. Employer should consider the following:

- Contact: Keeping in touch is critical, whether through virtual meetings or otherwise. Messages of support and providing a sense of community is key.  

- Structure: Employees have had to adapt to a sudden change in their working environment and a further period of change is inevitable. It will be important for employers to provide structure and co-ordination of work, setting clear and achievable objectives but making employees aware that further change is highly likely and to expect and embrace that as a means of ensuring the stability of the organisation.  

- Support: To the extent this is in line with Italian data protection legislation, consider physical and mental well-being support for those employees who have been considerably affected by the pandemic, either in-house or by means of helplines, granting doctors' support for free, etc. Be understanding in relation to fears about not working at home, job losses and caring for others.   

Operational planning

Audit: Know your workforce. From questionnaires to business wide surveys, ensure you know who in your business needs what assistance. Audit business processes to ensure you are in the best possible position to plan ahead. Create a clear image, know what is working well and what measures you will want to keep once restrictions ease.

External communication: Communicate with stakeholders/clients/customers to assure them that you are able to continue to operate safely in line with applicable pieces of legislation. Set out any specific measures to offer reassurance.  

Further lockdowns: Organisations are having to adapt at an unprecedented rate. It is important to look to the next stage and consider possible further lockdowns. Consider what measures can be put in place to help facilitate the next phase. Look ahead as much as possible and prepare your workforce for change.  

Homeworking: As well as reviewing your homeworking policy - risk assessments, mental health support and data protection all need addressing. Employers will also need to consider what equipment will need to be purchased for remote workers; including laptops, monitors, stationery and other home office items.  

Insurance: Check your employee insurance to ensure employees are adequately protected in the current climate and with the new ways of working especially if they are working from home on a more permanent basis.

Reorganisation/restructure: Is there a reduction in work?  Do employers need to consider reorganisation/restructuring of the business? Is any downturn temporary or permanent?

Re-training/re-skilling: The workplace may look like a different place. Can employees be re-trained/skilled to work in different areas? Can they access them?

Risk assessments: Employers have a duty of care for their workforce. Depending on the activities carried out, employers shall evaluate to update risk assessments for the workforce, with the support of external consultants and persons covering official roles under the Italian Health and Safety in the workplace Act. In particular, consider vulnerable employees, use of individual protection devises, right distances especially in the case where the workforce is requested to liaise with customers in person, and any extra protection they may require to be brought back to work. Consult with health and safety (competent doctor and employees' representatives for health and safety in the workplace in particular), unions' representation where applicable. Publish the results of the risk assessment in accordance with the guidance.  

Training: From online training sessions to virtual team meetings, ensure the workforce are clear on measures taken and what is expected from them. Keep clear records of training undertaken. Develop communication and training materials for your workforce prior to them returning to the workplace, especially around new procedures for arrival at work.   

Travel: Employers will wish to implement travel restrictions during the current climate. Ensure this is communicated appropriately to the workforce and a red flag system is in place for any travel booked. The Government Protocol highlights the need to suspend or cancel business travels as well as meetings and training sections where employees are requested to join them in person. Employees are likely to be concerned with regard to commuting to and from work, employers should listen to those concerns and be as flexible as possible when addressing any issues raised.
         
Reviewing contracts, policies and procedures 

Annual holidays and other leaves: Consider management of annual holidays and other mandatory leaves to promote business efficacy. Make use of notice/counter-notice provisions to help ensure holidays and leaves are taken at the optimum time for the organisation. Bear in mind the new pieces of legislation granting special leaves for employees-parents and for employees benefiting from days off under Law no. 104/1992.

Bonus / variable salary schemes: Employers will need to consider the impact of COVID-19 (and any period of time under cassa integrazione) on any bonus / variable salary arrangements (including relevant impact on company welfare system). 

New terms and conditions of employment: Consider whether new terms and conditions of employment (e.g., starting and ending time reschedule, home working, etc) necessitate a side letter for the purpose of lawfully implement any of such change. Check of the Collective Bargaining Agreements' and policies' provisions is strongly advisable, so to comply with them.

Induction/supervision: In businesses which are predominantly operating remotely, employers will need to plan inductions and supervision appropriately (in line with applicable law limiting the remote control / employees' monitoring), making use of virtual meetings and any technology available to ensure there is no detrimental impact on quality.      

Policies and procedures

- Disciplinary procedures: Consider possible amendments to address in the case of breach of social distancing, personal hygiene rules or other rules under the Government Protocol as implemented by the employer. Government Protocol has been very specific over measures which must be taken, employers will need to ensure steps are taken to enforce the new safety advice. Employers may see a rise in disciplinary sanctions relating to COVID-19 and the change in working practices. 

- Health and safety: Employers are requested to provide the workforce with appropriate hands sanitisers, through dispensers to be placed easily visible and accessible to all employees. Distances between employees must be observed (minimum 1 meter – unless a longer distance is provided by Regional Rules), if this is not possible and other organisational measures cannot be implemented, employees must wear masks and other individual protection devises (gloves, glasses, suit, hairnet, etc) depending on the specific circumstances of the case. Update policies and procedures to ensure the new measures are clearly spelled out. What steps are being taken to protect the workforce? What part do employees need to play? From enhanced personal hygiene to social distancing in the workplace, employees should be clear on what is expected from them and what they can expect.  

- Access to the workplace and health checks: The Government Protocol specifies that the workforce, before entering the company's premises, can be subject to temperature checks, being then prohibited from entering such premises in the case the temperature exceeds 37.5°C. Special rules apply in the case of employees who had contact with persons affected by COVID-19, they come from certain areas or they contracted the COVID-19 and health official checks had a negative results. If temperature checks are carried out, employer will need to comply with Data Protection law and Data Protection Authority's guidelines issued on this regard, considering that the employer is processing employees' data. 

- Homeworking policy: Review your homeworking policy to ensure it is fit for purpose in the new climate.  

- Absence for COVID-19: check whether this shall be treated as "sickness", "accident at work" or "professional disease" absence from work, and apply National Collective Bargaining Agreements' provisions on this regard, as well as CODIV-19 pieces of legislation (specifically Law Decree no. 18/2020 and Law Decree no. 34/2020).

Return to the overview of the story so far in Italy and what the post-lockdown workplace may look like >

Return to the global overview page to review the story so far in other locations >

Return to our COVID-19: Managing your workplace post-lockdown hub >