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Warwickshire County Council
Warwickshire County Council

Return conversations and individual risk assessments


We know that the return to the workplace will be more challenging than the lockdown, there are so many variables. Colleagues may be anxious about returning, or desperate to get back, or can’t imagine ever returning to their commute. Some will be experiencing different levels of risk due to their ethnicity, age, economic factors, or underlying health conditions. Some will have experienced the tragic loss of family, friends or colleagues. 

What we do now will stay with employees forever, therefore it’s important that organisations respond with empathy and clarity. The need for inclusion in these challenging times goes far beyond the law, and we need to take every individual’s needs and circumstances into account in fostering a supportive and caring employment relationship. 

Schools have a legal responsibility to protect staff and others from risk to their health and safety. This means they need to consider the risks and do everything reasonably practicable to minimise them. Schools also has legal responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 and Public Sector Equality Duty and this means they must eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations. 

This document includes guidance on the following: 

  1. Practical Tips for Return Conversations 
  2. Completing an Individual Risk Assessment
    1. Example Risk Assessment Check List 

1. Practical tips for return conversations

A successful return to the new normal will depend on understanding individual differences and challenges and responding with empathy and clarity. These practical tips offers a best practice approach to support the conversation with the employee about returning to the workplace. 

Overview – before your conversation Specific questions
  • Ensure you understand the broad plan for the organisation so you are able to explain the current position with regards to social distancing, cohorting teams, risk assessments, staggered start and finish times, health and safety etc so you respond to questions with confidence. If necessary, follow up.
  • Take a structured approach to these calls which should take place in advance of any return and make notes of each individual conversation.
  • In advance, think about the individual's circumstances and adjust your approach to fit the person – are they part-time/home-working? Do they live alone or with a large family? Have they had the virus? Are they in a higher risk group?
  • Be human and warm – connect on the issues that are important to the individual.
  • Show that you have listened and understood, but do not make any promises that you can’t keep – if you don’t have an answer follow up and report back as soon as you can.
  • Agree next steps.
  • How are their family / partner / loved ones?
  • How have they found the lockdown?
  • Specific challenges? Any good bits? Have they felt healthy throughout? Have they / should they access the Employee Assistance Programme?
  • Do they have any concerns or challenges about returning to work? (if so, explore these to gain full understanding – maybe issues of travel / caring / home schooling / anxiety will emerge). Is there any specific support that they need?
  • Are they in a group that faces heightened risk and will require an individual risk assessment? See 2a
  • Have they thought about how a return would work best for them?

Use this information to inform the plans for your team and to make the process as successful as possible for all.

2. Completing an individual risk assessment 

Individuals who are required to return to their workplace should have a ‘check-in’ with their line manager or another appropriate person. If any issues are identified as part of that check-in, then an individual risk assessment should be completed. An example risk assessment check list has been included at 2.1 to support schools in ensuring that, in addition to the general risk of infection when returning to the workplace, any potential, specific, risks to individual employees and their mental wellbeing, has been considered and assessed. 

This will also ensure that the appropriate measures are in place to reduce the risk to the lowest possible level. It remains the case that anyone who falls into the following criteria should not return to work: 

  • Those who have symptoms, however mild, or is in a household where someone has symptoms 
  • Those (shielding) who must not work outside the home 

During these times our situations are likely to change, therefore it’s important to review the individual checklist/risk assessment with the employee on a regular basis. This can form part of your one-to-ones or regular catch-ups. 

If you require any additional guidance or advice, please contact: 

Health, Safety and Wellbeing team

  • Email: 
  • Phone: 01926 476803

HR Advisory Service

  • Email: 
  • Phone: 01926 412370

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) team

  • Email:

2a. Example risk assessment checklist 

This checklist follows the government guidance “COVID-19 Secure” and other associated national guidance.