Category Archives: coronavirus

THE CHANGING FACE OF WORK!

THE CHANGING FACE OF WORK!

For the last two decades the notion that innovations in industrial and manufacturing processes and a digitised professional services industry, would lead to a shorter working week and increased leisure time has been a common feature of work analysis in the United Kingdom.
The idea that we may all be required to work less or, at the very least,  differently has now been brought back into sharp focus by the current COVID-19 pandemic.  On 31 January, the UK saw the first reported case of viral infection and it can scarcely be believed that by 20 March, all restaurants, pubs, clubs, and indoor sport and leisure facilities were ordered to close.
On 23 March these measures were tightened further, with wide-ranging restrictions made on freedom of movement, enforceable in law. At the time of writing, it is inconceivable that there will be any relaxation of the current lockdown in the near future.

What does all of this mean for the world of work?

The arrival of COVID-19 took away control of the working environment and created an acute balancing act between economic survival and employee health & safety. The government’s introduction of the furlough scheme offers short term support for the current suspension of commercial activity but not a solution.
In the meantime, employers will be occupied with thoughts of business survival and once this is achieved some very real considerations as to what form the structure and dynamics of the workforce will take in a post COVID-19 era.

Will working from home become the new norm? Will there be a need to have offices and the cost of maintaining them?

If nothing else, COVID-19 has ignited a massive experiment in working life and is allowing businesses to test the various scenarios to see how well they would cope if the current enforced changes became a permanent reality in some form or another. Change of this magnitude will certainly require a cultural and psychological shift on both sides and great preparation will be required if it is to have any chance of success.
For most businesses, having an office is not merely a place to house its workforce, it is also seen as a symbol of success, serving as a magnet to attract custom and to recruit the brightest and the best. Some employers hold the view that true team working requires physical proximity which cannot be achieved through working remotely. It remains to be seen whether the experience and lessons learnt from imposed home working changes that view.

What about businesses with production processes that cannot be performed from home?

Will the push to drive down costs and recover commercial stability result in permanently reduced wages, reduced headcount, and increased outsourcing? These are only a few of the vexed questions employers will need to address during and post lockdown. The exploring and review of all scenarios begins now and employers are well advised to create, maintain and retain the figures and statistical information on which reliance can be based.
It should also be part of the current HR strategy for any employer with employees on furlough leave, to have an established method of global communication with them. COVID-19 has presented businesses with a sea of uncharted water to navigate and this will be the same for employees who are not only pre-occupied with staying safe but will also be concerned with what the future holds. Regular contact has an invaluable role to play in maintaining morale and motivation.

What is the position of the law in all of this?

The government has been keen to point out that the emergency measures introduced to tackle COVID-19 does not displace existing employment law. Even in these challenging times, employers that disregard existing law, do so at their own peril and at a time when they can ill afford to get it wrong.
It has come as no surprise that employers caught with the suddenness of the COVID-19 lockdown and the immediate impact on revenue have put employees into the furlough scheme with a 20 per cent reduction in pay. Employees faced with the prospect of losing jobs have agreed to this reduction with the mind-set that when they eventually emerge from furlough leave, wages will revert to their pre- furlough position. From an employer’s position much will depend on the terms of any agreement put in place to vary the existing contract at the time furlough leave began.
While it may be possible for employers to argue that any change was for a substantial reason justifying the change, maintaining that position in the absence of a proper consultation process may, post-lockdown, result in a demotivated workforce at precisely the time when full engagement is required. This, added to the cost and inconvenience of claims from employees will become a major and unwelcome distraction.
The acid test will be when the 80 per cent of government support is no longer available in the form of furlough leave, as to the level of redundancies that may take place in businesses as a result. At this point, processes will become vital if conflict is to be avoided. The spotlight will largely be on consultation obligations, individual and collective. The accuracy of information held in personnel files will also be of paramount importance in effecting risk-managed change.
It is a safe bet that the road to recovery will be long and challenging for both employers and employees. Returning to an optimised way of working will require enormous effort. Individuals may well be affected by bereavement, the uncertainty over the normal operation of schools will undoubtedly present challenges for employees with children. All factors which will need to be considered and managed when normal service is resumed.
For information and support please do not hesitate to contact Floyd Graham or a member of the Employment Law Team of FG Solicitors on 01604 871143 or visit our website for answers to frequently asked questions relating to COVID-19.

Human resources, business continuity and the coronavirus…What’s your “Plan B”?

Human resources, business continuity and the coronavirus…What’s your “Plan B”?

If your people are a business-critical resource, a coronavirus epidemic could be a real threat to business continuity. While the spread of the virus cannot currently be stopped, should the situation become severe in the UK a contingency plan could make the difference between staying in business or having nothing to return to once the crisis is over.

The information below covers some of the main considerations that will help you identify your people-related risks and plan to mitigate the effect those risks may have on your business. The focus should be on creating a “Plan B” If there is a coronavirus epidemic in the UK.

Employer obligations

Employees’ health and safety must be a priority, which should include:

  • Ensuring that risks are monitored on an ongoing basis; any recommendations must be communicated and implemented as quickly as possible.
  • Recognising that the risk of infection will also arise during a commute to work, a business trip or moving between sites. The duty of care may extend beyond the workplace and adjustments may need to be made to these arrangements.
  • Complying with official guidance. The government, the NHS, Public Health England, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are issuing information daily with the focus on curtailing the spread of the virus.
  • Being alert to employees who may be more vulnerable to becoming seriously ill i.e., those who have an impaired immune system, are pregnant or are older. Additional protection and flexibility may be needed in these cases.
  • Discouraging employees with coronavirus symptoms from attending work.

Employers are under a duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees and to provide a safe place and system of work.

Infection prevention and control

Practical considerations include:

  • Alerting staff to the symptoms and risks of the coronavirus.
  • Requiring sick employees to stay at home. Employers with a culture which discourages ill health absence may have to think again.
  • Knowing what to do if someone is taken ill at work with suspected coronavirus. Following the official guidance about curtailment and hygiene is important.
  • Reviewing overseas business travel before each trip to identify if travel is to an area classified as high-risk. Other considerations are whether travel insurance covers medical repatriation and the adequacy of local healthcare. Follow official advice to avoid putting employees at risk.
  • Discouraging attendance at large gatherings whether on business or social outings.
  • Introducing a return to work guideline to cover those who have travelled to at-risk areas for a holiday or business purposes.
  • Requiring visitors to complete health/travel questionnaires to understand if they have been in contact with a person infected with coronavirus or have recently returned from an at-risk area.
  • Encouraging good hygiene practices. Circulating information posters and bulletins is a good means of boosting compliance. Promoting regular handwashing with soap, the carrying and use of tissues and the use hand sanitising gel and antibacterial wipes is essential in limiting the spread of infection. Public Health England have published some useful posters which can be used.
  • Investing in additional cleaning to ensure shared spaces and hard services such as phones, door handles and IT equipment are regularly disinfected.

Clear guidance will play a significant role in minimising the spread of the virus. Employees also have a duty to ensure that they do not endanger themselves or the health and safety of others.

Absences en masse

Key considerations if employees cannot or should not come into work are:

  • Identifying key personnel and deciding how their absences would be managed.
  • Reviewing or considering remote working practices for staff.
  • Ensuring that adequate resources and controls are in place to support homeworking.

Not planning for people-related risks could have a detrimental effect on operational efficiency and difficult to address in the event of a pandemic.

Dynamic communications  

Any effective plan will rely upon:

  • Ensuring that there is a reliable and effective system for communicating with employees.
  • Maintaining up to date contact data for employees, which is accessible remotely.
  • Having individuals who are responsible for staff communications.
  • Keeping employees up to date with developments.
  • Implementing an emergency communication system and ensuring it is easily accessible and publicised.
  • Ensuring all relevant stakeholders are included in any communications relating to the workforce i.e., employee representatives and trade unions.

The plan should be monitored and adapted to reflect official guidance as it develops in response to the spread of the coronavirus.   

Review of HR policies and procedures

Key policies and procedures for review will include:

  • Remote and home working – Would your rules have the flexibility and controls in place to manage alternative working arrangements away from work?
  • Dependent care leave – Ensure that it is clear when employees can take time off to care for sick dependents. More time may be needed than usual to provide urgent care. Consider also what medical information is required before the employee is permitted to return to work.
  • Absence management – Review any requirement that an employee must return to work as soon as they feel well. Instead, should a returning employee be required to provide medical guidance that they are no longer infectious?
  • Sick pay – Review your current sick pay arrangements to understand what the maximum cost to the business could be in the event of an epidemic. Is it possible to mitigate these costs?

The aim of any review will be to understand if current practices are fit for purpose in the case of an epidemic. If practices need to be modified or suspended employees’ existing statutory and contractual rights need to be acknowledged when doing so. A failure to do so could potentially give rise to constructive unfair dismissal claims.

Prepare for disputes

Management needs to be prepared to deal with conflict which may include:

  • A refusal to work due to health concerns. Employees need to proceed with caution given the special protection employees have when they raise concerns about health and safety or in whistleblowing cases.
  • A refusal to go home where there is a health risk.
  • Excessive leave or doubts over the genuineness of the illness.
  • Where leave is unpaid.
  • Where practices are applied inconsistently. This could give rise to complaints of discrimination or that there has been a breach of trust and confidence. For example, where some employees are paid discretionary sick pay and others are excluded or employees are targeted due to their apparent ethnicity or race.

Any conflict should be managed fairly and in accordance with the appropriate procedure.

While the outbreak of the coronavirus may not have same impact it is currently having elsewhere in the world. UK businesses cannot afford to ignore or underestimate the risk if there is a severe outbreak. In most cases, crisis management can be costly and have limited effect. Whereas planning ahead will ensure that you are ready for anything.

If having a “Plan B” is you preferred option, let FG Solicitors help you to identify the specific risks your business faces and build a strategy to mitigate the impact.