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Covid-19: Post-lockdown for employers

7th May 2020

Covid-19: Post-lockdown for employers

Post-lockdown challenges for employers

As we enter week six of lockdown, employers and employees have now adapted to what appears to be the ‘new normal’. However, this week’s hot topic in the news focuses on preparing our workplaces for the end of lockdown.

We take a look at some of the key challenges employers will face as we await the Prime Minister’s announcement on Sunday 10 May 2020 and move gradually towards the latest version of the new normal post-lockdown.

1 Ending furlough leave

Recent figures suggest that more than 6 million workers are currently on furlough leave under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (“the Scheme”). If the Government announces a relaxation of current lockdown measures, employers will likely require some or all of their furloughed employees to return to work.

One option for employers is to rotate their employees on furlough leave, provided the employees satisfy the requirement of a minimum of 3 weeks on furlough leave in any given furlough leave period to qualify for reimbursement under the Scheme.

2 Returning to the workplace

The draft guidance for employers appears to place the onus on employers to ensure that their workplace is safe. Each workplace will come with its own unique challenges but this may include:

  • Staggering staff arrival and departure times
  • Staggering break times to limit crowding in communal areas
  • Introducing split teams where half the team is in the workplace while the other half work at home.
  • Placing hand sanitiser and hand washing facilities at key points
  • Introducing one-way systems in corridors
  • Limiting the number of individuals in small spaces, such as lifts

3 Dealing with concerns from employees

While some employees will be keen to return to work, others may have concerns about the impact this will have on the health of their family and/or their caring responsibilities. Many employees may be dealing with their own personal difficulties in light of the current circumstances including grief, loneliness and anxiety.

Employers should offer support to employees and ensure they listen to any concerns they may have about returning to work. Employers should be aware of the possibility of discrimination issues arising from the concerns of employees.

4 Redundancies

With the Scheme currently due to end on 30 June 2020, employers may be left without funding for employees previously furloughed and forced into making difficult decisions regarding the future of their business and their workforce. Even where business looks positive, employers may have found more efficient ways of dealing with work leading to a reduction in the workforce required.

The key point for employers to remember with redundancies is employers are required to start consultation at the point they are proposing redundancies. Therefore, if employers do not believe it is viable for employees to return from a period of furlough leave on 30 June 2020, the current end date of the Scheme, steps need to be taken by employers sooner rather than later.

This is of particular importance for employers proposing 20 or more redundancies in one establishment within 90 days as the collective consultation duty applies. This requires consultation to take place for at least 30 days, or 45 days for redundancies of 100 or more. Failure to comply with the required information and consultation can lead to claims of unfair dismissal.

5 Future Flexibility

It is fair to say that a new way of working has been established for most, if not all, employers since lockdown was announced on 23 March 2020. Employees have had to adapt to remote working and overcome challenges which were simply unimaginable at the start of the year.

As we emerge from lockdown it will be interesting to see whether the shift towards flexible working and an increased understanding of employees’ personal lives will continue. With employees having a glimpse into a new way of working over the past few months, there is likely to be an increased pressure on employers to adopt more flexibility in their employment practices. High levels of staff turnover may be expected at businesses where flexible working is not embraced.

With this in mind, now is the best time to ensure staff handbooks, policies and procedures are reviewed and updated to reflect how you see the new normal for employees at your business.

If you would like to discuss any of the challenges outlined in this article in more detail please contact Emma Williams on 01384 327 226 or email emma.williams@higgsandsons.co.uk

If you have any other general queries or concerns that you feel we can assist with, please email supportingyou@higgsandsons.co.uk and somebody will get back to you as a matter of urgency.

 

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