Unlocking the Lockdown!
The return to work is arguably more complicated than going into lockdown, so it’s crucial that you carefully prepare and communicate your plan to your employees. How will you prepare for your employee’s safe return to work? Have you considered the health and safety implications?
Following the latest guidance from the Government, we must now consider whether it’s time for our furloughed staff to return to work. This is good news for the UK, it feels like we might be able to kick start the economy and perhaps begin to visualise some sort of normality.
Who can actually return to work and what plans are in place to ensure a safe working environment? Remember, employers have a duty of care to identify and manage the risks at work and you will be required to undertake a risk assessment to meet the HSE obligations.
The following sectors are included in the Govt. return to work guidance: –
Construction and other outdoor work • Factories, plants and warehouses • Labs and research facilities • Offices and contact centres • Other people’s homes • Restaurants offering takeaway or delivery • Shops and branches • Vehicles
Details of the Govt. guidance can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19
How will you communicate your return to work plan with your employees? It is important to discuss this with each individual by phone or video link, or write to them explaining what is expected of them, how you will manage social distancing, what washing facilities are in place and whether it is appropriate to provide PPE.
There will be employees who are understandably anxious about returning. Covid-19 is still very much with us and this will cause psychological concerns for some, so please don’t forget to assess the mental, as well as the physical impact this may have.
Consult with employees; discuss details of your plan and prepare FAQ’s which may dispel any fears they might have and of course, invite feedback.
What are you going to do if an employee refuses to return to work? If you have work available, the environment is safe and you are adhering to social distancing guidelines, then you should insist they return. If the employee is still reluctant and they have genuine concerns, then consider offering flexible working practices such as staggered shifts, unpaid leave or you could ask them to take their accrued holiday.
If the employee still refuses to return to work, then you may have to consider disciplinary action. It is always preferable to find a solution through negotiation and mediation but if this doesn’t work then you may not have a choice. In these circumstances, follow a formal process and record your findings. You may be at risk if an employee believes they are being discriminated against. We’re yet to see how this will unfold in the Tribunal courts, so explore all options thoroughly before taking action. Always consider whether the situation is covered by the Employment Rights Act 1996, The Equality Act 2010 and The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
Please remember, if your employees are able to work from home, then they should continue to do so. I think this has become the ‘new normal’ and for some of us, the pandemic has changed the way we work forever.
However, for those who are not permitted to work and cannot work from home, then the Furlough period has now been extended until the end of October. The current scheme is in place until July 31, which means that furloughed staff will continue to receive 80% of their current salary, up to £2,500 but they must not work for their employer during this time.
Look out for some changes to the scheme! From 1 August to October 31, the terms for the CJRS will be different. Workers will continue to receive 80% of their salary but employers will be asked to share the burden of paying salaries with the Government, although we don’t actually know what that means yet. It seems that employees will be able to work part-time whilst on furlough, as part of a gradual phased return to work but we must await further details at the end of May.
There are many companies who will make the difficult decision to commence a programme of redundancies. They may need to close down their premises as it is no longer financially viable to continue, or it may be necessary to review the organisational structure in order to build a sustainable business for the future.
The current Govt. guidance stipulates that it is possible to make redundancies during furlough, however this comes with a caveat. This guidance is continually evolving, so you must ensure that the redundancy is genuine and that you have explored all other options first.
I have no doubt that questions will be asked if a person is made redundant, when they could have continued to receive pay on the furlough scheme, so tread carefully. The rules surrounding redundancy have not changed, you will still have to justify your selection criteria and follow a fair consultation process.
We will survive this crisis, so keep going, be resilient and stay safe.