|Whether or not you have people on a leave of absence at the moment, coronavirus is undoubtedly affecting your business: You will be responding to changing economic conditions and adapting to the new norm in terms of health and safety, you may also have a number of employees on a leave of absence.|
The Government is getting ready to announce plans to bring the UK out of lockdown and the Job Retention Scheme (Furlough) is officially set to start winding down. This seems like a good time for you as an employer to take stock of what you need to do within your business to take stock of adapting to the news norms.
1. Staffing strategy – We’ve all heard the old adage “If you fail to plan….!” Now is the time to look at what is likely to change in your market, where are the new opportunities and what will you need from your people to achieve them. A PESTLE analysis is a very useful document as a checklist to ensure that you don’t overlook something. I’ve sent out a coronavirus specific PESTLE template to retainer clients, if you need a copy, get in touch.
2. Health and Safety – There are lots of vague opinions floating around on what types of steps you might take to provide a safe environment but I’ve not seen a lot of clear practical guidance, other than from the likes of EU OSH and kitemark. It is definitely worth downloading a free workplace risk assessment from HSE if you don’t already have something in place and going through the risks that coronavirus poses for your business. You need something documented for a number of reasons: to comply with your legal obligations; to ensure that you don’t invalidate your insurance by failing to take reasonable steps and to use in discussions with your staff, who are likely to feel apprehensive. I am starting to get queries from people who have staff arguing about attitudes to social distancing (for example employees coming into work talking about meeting friends at the weekend and other people feeling angry about what they perceive to be an irresponsible attitude to coronavirus risk). By having clear risk assessments you can help to manage some of the inevitable fear that will exist amongst staff until people adapt to the idea of working in a world where coronavirus exists.Your insurance brokers and health & safety advisers have hopefully provided you with appropriate risk assessments. I have provided retainer clients with a coronavirus risk assessment to cover people, if you need a copy get in touch.
3. Furloughed staff – for those employees furloughed it is a good idea to keep in touch. If you have an ongoing need for furlough, maintaining the engagement of staff likely to return to the workplace is absolutely key right now both in terms of the wellbeing of those staff members (so that they are fit to return when the time comes) and commercially (you will be relying upon the discretionary effort and goodwill of your teams to come up with the creative solutions that you need in this new reality). A letter with an update on your business, how people can maintain contact (and ask questions) and some ideas on how to maintain health is a good idea. It goes without saying that I have produced a template!
4. Returning people to work – research shows that people will be anxious, some may refuse to return. You need to have a plan to manage people returning to work.You should write to employees explaining when they will return; why the time is right to return; what arrangements will be in place when they return (for example how you will manage any contact arrangements, meetings, annual leave requests, health and safety). I strongly advise that you adapt your existing return to work forms and ask line managers to sit down with employees individually to discuss working arrangements when they return to work: this will deal with any issues related to anxiety about work; any changes in working arrangements and any personal circumstances challenges (for example with commuting, living with a family member who is shielding etc). I’ve sent template documents to retainer clients by email but if you have not received them please get in touch.
5. Changing terms – if your PESTLE (see 1, above) shows you that you need to amend the way that your team works (for example your sales team moving to online platforms rather than visits, moving retail teams online or even changing to more remote working) you may need to get people trained up in different areas, review the way you manage pay any benefits (particularly for example with sales staff) and make changes to hours, job roles or even job location.
Remember, as with my initial advice on furlough many weeks ago, you want any changes agreed in writing. If you are making wide spread changes that will impact in excess of 20 employees you will have collective consultation obligations under TULCRA. You should not wait for the end of furlough to start consultation on changes or redundancies (discussed below), consultation should begin as soon as you are contemplating these actions. Where possible utilise online meeting platforms to hold discussions with employees (such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom etc). I understand from a number of clients that some unions are advising members not to attend virtual meetings and to insist upon face to face meetings, whether or not this is reasonable will depend upon the circumstances that exist within your particular organisation. If an employee refuses to attend a virtual meeting it might be that you consider other options such as allowing representations in writing if you are unable to make arrangements for a physical meeting. You should take advice in this situation. I have already sent an email with template documents to retainer clients, if you need advice please get in touch.
6. Re-structure and redundancy – all of the points made in respect of changes to terms and conditions apply to a redundancy situation (particularly around consultation). If you are going to make redundancies you need to be removing any unnecessary cost beforehand (including re-negotiating any contracts to reduce costs, removing contractors where possible and ensuring that your employee lists accurately reflect the names of people who are actually working for you). If you do need to re-structure and make redundancies your starting point must be to understand practically why they are necessary. Whilst it sounds obvious that coronavirus will lead to an economic contraction, will lead to reduced income, will lead to a need to manage the cost base…. all of those things won’t stop people from challenging redundancies as unfair and so you will save time and cost later if you are clear now on what your business needs going forward and why particular roles (not people) are no longer required, which takes us clearly back to your PESTLE. Be vary careful of discrimination when you begin your redundancy process… resist any temptation to make a role redundant because the person in that role is shielding, for example.
I have experienced clients coming to me after the event with redundancy situations where they had decided in advance of speaking to staff who would be made redundant and so the redundancy was unfair because there had not been meaningful consultation. This is one area where I would recommend that you take some advice. There is some limited advice on www.acas.org.uk which is likely to prove a useful free starting point. The Acas guidance on redundancy considers the practical neutral steps to be taken in a redundancy situation rather than how you can manage practical ramifications within your business, if the Acas guidance is not providing you with what you need please do get in touch. For retainer clients I have sent advice and template documents.
There is a lot to consider at the moment! I hope that my sharing of experience proves useful in helping you to get ahead of some of the people related challenges that you are facing. I would welcome any feedback and would love to hear about what is happening with your business, by sharing our experiences we can hopefully help our circle of contacts through these exceptional times.