We don’t know when and we don’t know how lockdown restrictions will be eased but now is the time companies should begin to think about how the workplace will function when that time comes.
It is clear that until a cure for COVID is found we will have to continue to practice social distancing. We will all need to consider how to protect staff members who are shielding, living with vulnerable partners, or otherwise at risk either because of age or underlying conditions. You should now begin to identify staff who fall into these categories
In the meantime it is essential you maintain communication with your furloughed staff. Although they cannot carry out work, stay in touch with them using zoom or establish a company Whatsapp group or just phone them. Do not use company email addresses as that may be considered work. Also remember furloughed staff can train without breaching furlough encourage staff to use online training courses to hone particular relevant skills
Carry out a staff survey to see how they feel about returning to work and to reveal any issues or opportunities
Staff accumulate holiday during furlough. You can encourage them to take time off during this period you must give them twice as much notice as the time you want them to take and pay them the full salary not 80%. They can roll forward any untaken holiday for 2 holiday years, remember they can only take holiday with your agreement.
- In some workplaces it might be difficult to put social distancing measures in place because of the physical location people sit or stand and/or the equipment they need to use.
- Develop a social distancing policy now and let people know what is planned. Don’t forget the hand sanitizers and the need for frequent washing. Decide what you are going to do about meal breaks
- Consider reorganising the office layout and whether any forms of PPE are suitable for your organisation
- Stagger start times follow government guidance on masks and if introduced taking staff temperatures on arrival
- Develop a policy for ‘virtual meetings’
Return to work
- Although this might change, Government support currently doesn’t provide any interim measures between furlough and normal working, i.e. no short time working options as you seek to bring people back in.
- Consider a phased return to work remember have a good reason for this otherwise you may face discrimination claims
- Nervous employees might resist a return to work whatever measures you put in place. Remember they have a right under the employment rights act not to put themselves in danger and in effect to walk off the job if they are dissatisfied. Disciplinary action in these circumstances may result in automatic unfair dismissal finding at a tribunal. This is a day 1 right. Make sure your health and safety policies are up to date and you have robust risk assessments in place. The defense is that you have done everything practicable commensurate with your resources which means M&S would be expected to do more than a small establishment
- Develop procedures for visitors and cleaners and other people who are not on your staff but regularly visit your premises
- Consider how you will communicate with your clients and suppliers
- Some employees might resist a return and start pushing for permanent home working.
- Take care when considering a request to extend home working without thinking through the contractual consequences or the wider implications for the rest of the business. Look at your flexible working policy and deal with any requests to continue home working using that policy, do it formally and record your findings. It is always prudent if you do agree to home working to have a trial period to see if it really works. Beware of potential discrimination claims if staff are treated differently.
- Review the agreed home working arrangements to make sure that confidentiality and data protection issues are safeguarded. Have a homeworkers policy in place and carry out a remote risk assessment
- Consider what insurance requirements are necessary
- Review whether the employee has the right equipment at home to carry out their tasks e.g. desk, chairs, and reliable broadband. Consider if you want to make a financial contribution to the equipment and utility costs.
Traveling or visiting other premises
- Look at how you will protect staff outside the workplace e.g. when traveling or visiting other premises. Stagger start times follow government guidance on masks and if introduced taking staff temperatures on arrival
Don’t be too timid!
- Balancing the protection of staff vs the need to return to near normality as soon as possible.
- A risk-averse business might damage its competitive advantage if not aligned with others in their sector.
- Dealing with the isolation and loss of close community/teamwork that can come with social distancing.
- Supporting those who have really struggled mentally during this period and who need specialist or individual support. Pay particular attention to those who have childcare issues, supporting vulnerable partners, or who have become bereaved following the death of a relative or friend.
- It won’t solve the problem but as described allow maintain regular communications with your employees
- Consider regular staff surveys
- If you are considering redundancies post furlough start planning now. You can consult and give notice during furlough. Do not forget discrimination issues which can arise when selecting people for redundancy e.g. do not automatically select a shielded person for redundancy
- Remember the special requirements should you need to make more than 20 people redundant.
- Be humane when remotely consulting staff on potential redundancies. Follow the correct procedures, minimise the risk of tribunal claims.
- Dealing with the difficulty of simultaneously making redundancies whilst welcoming others back on board.
I trust this note will act as a thought-starter for you to identify issues you should consider now when planning how to restart your organisation. Government guidance which is promised shortly may provide some further help.
NewmanHR can help with guidance and provide up to date policies and procedures in these areas Please contact me at www.ukemploymentlawadvice.co.uk/contact or phone on 0203 640 7748.
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