COVID-19 FAQs for businesses managing staff (May/June)

coronavirus-FAQs-for-businessesAs coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread the UK, it has massively impacted businesses and the management of employees. We’ve been in business since 2002 so have a fair few clients we work with and we thought it would be helpful to share the typical questions we are now getting asked.

The following FAQs are designed to be both practical and commercial but are based on our understanding at this point in time, on the information published so far. The information is designed to give you a general indication of what is required of you, but should not be relied on as a substitute for advice. Should you need up-to-date specific advice on anything covered in this article, please contact us.

JRS – Job retention scheme

Q: What is the latest on the JRS?

A: This scheme was first announced on Friday 20th March. The scheme has been extended to 31st October 2020 but very shortly we will hear how it is changing for the final months of the scheme.  We are expecting options around part furlough/ work which currently isn’t possible and also employers having to pick up more of the cost of the furloughed worker.

Q: How would you recommend we communicate with individuals who are still furloughed?

A: We are hearing about too many incidents of employees saying they have been furloughed for months now and have had no communication with their employer.

If you value your staff, know that many of them will be anxious about their jobs and the state of the business they are expecting to return to. Many know that there will be redundancies and this will be worrying them. You therefore need to pick up the phone to them and have a catch up. Ask them how they are and let them know how business is doing and when you expect to be making any decisions about return from furlough or redundancies.

Some communication is always better than no communication.

And if you resort to texting, our view is that that is really only half a communication. Take the trouble to speak to them.

After furlough

Q: How do we manage those returning from Furlough Leave to ensure we incorporate them back into the business as quickly as possible?

A: Depending on the length of time they have been furloughed, you may want to consider:

  • A back to work one to one or team meeting – to update them on developments, news and changes. If doing this one to one, you may also need/want to use this opportunity to discuss their personal circumstances (e.g. childcare, health concerns and so on), how they are managing and support they need
  • Training/mentoring on new processes/procedures/any changes.
  • Regular catch ups/meetings to check how they are doing, progress and support.
  • Catch up on any missed performance reviews or at least say how you intend to operate until the next review period formally comes around. You might even consider a move away from fixed reviews onto agile performance management systems – plenty of tools available on the market to help you manage this
  • Training on workplace distancing and any H&S measures you have introduced (see below)
  • Wellbeing sessions they can join in (perhaps lunchtime webinars) perhaps hosted by an independent party to listen to any concerns they have about returning to work, regaining their confidence, dealing with fear, dealing with ongoing anxieties.
Q: What measure do we have to take to ensure we are following Government advice?

A: On 11th May a new set of COVID-19 guidelines were made available to UK employers.

The 5 key steps are:

  1. Work from home, if you can.
  2. Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment, in consultation with workers or trade unions.
  3. Maintain 2 metres social distancing, wherever possible.
  4. Where people cannot be 2 metres apart, manage transmission risk.
  5. Reinforce cleaning processes.
Q: How do we select people to come back to work off Furlough?

A: Careful consideration needs to be given to the method of selecting staff to go on or come off Furlough Leave in order to avoid claims of unfair treatment/discrimination. Unless of course your entire workforce is going on and coming off Furlough at the same time, or if there’s a clear distinction between roles that still have work to do, and roles that no longer have any work.

It’s entirely up to you the criteria that you use, but we have put together some suggestions for you:

  • Firstly you will need to prioritise staff who need to shield, or staff who are unable to work due to childcare responsibilities.
  • Some organisations are rotating staff on Furlough Leave so that everyone will be on Furlough Leave for a set period (e.g. 3 weeks), and then staff return based on the date their Leave started.

Alternatively you may look at criteria such as:

  • Experience ( be careful not to get into hot water with age discrimination – either direct, indirect)
  • Knowledge
  • Client contacts/relationships
  • Performance
  • Disciplinary
  • Absence ( be careful not to get into hot water with disability discrimination – either direct, indirect or associative discrimination)
Q: This whole situation has caused us to question various employee benefits including our company sick pay policy. Can we change it and send out an contract amendment to staff? Do we need to give notice?

A: You can’t just give notice to change your contract of employment. You need to enter into consultation with staff about your intended change and only after that has completed can you begin to amend your contract, ideally giving staff 12 weeks’ notice of the change.

However, if staff disagree with your intention, even after consultation, it will be very difficult to force any contract change through – it’s a complex and challenging process which we can support with if you feel this absolutely necessary.

Q. If we bring someone back from furlough but don’t have full time work for them can we put them onto short-time working, reducing for a short period their contracted hours and pay?

A: Short-time working is a contractual clause that, assuming you have the specific clause in your contracts of employment, allows you to implement reduced hours on reduced pay for a limited period of time – provided you consult first.

However, you will also have read about various companies implementing a process of reduced hours now, maintaining pay, but requiring increased hours later in the year. This is also an option that can be taken after a period of consulting staff however just be clear how you will make any readjustment if someone then leaves before the period of increased working.  No one likes a hidden surprise, on leaving especially if it involves their final pay check having unexpected deductions. Other potential areas of impact: maternity pay, pensions, bonuses, overtime thresholds … work through your planned changes before any implementation to ensure there are no surprises!

Be also very wary of putting some on reduced hours and pay whilst maintaining full levels for other people (eg because they are on furlough or working elsewhere in your business). You do not want your best staff walking out the door because they perceive you as treating others better than them.

Q: If I think someone working from home is actually only working a few hours then putting their feet up for the rest, can I deduct pay?

A: It’s important that you continue to maintain discipline during this difficult and uncertain period. If someone is not working as you would expect then manage them. You cannot though simply deduct pay unless someone has gone AWOL and you have investigated whether that was misconduct (i.e. deliberate and negligent) or just practical and for a sensible period of time (i.e. toilet or lunch break!). A failure to manage discipline at this time is just as bad as someone who is shirking!

Be careful not to manage staff on the basis of guilty until proved innocent when working from home because you have trust issues. Try to work on the basis of innocent, until there is evidence or suggestion of guilt! For advice on this please do get in touch!

Q: What is most critical at this time for HR to focus on?

A: The most critical things to focus on are:

  • What level of resources you need for the mid and long term. Its time to do the business planning and crunch the numbers and if necessary, begin the process of redundancies.
  • How you are going to get staff back in from furlough, timing of that, practicalities around communication, getting the workplace risk assessment finalised etc.
  • How you are going to re-induct staff into the business after they have been away for some time, remember that confidence begins to fall after just 4 weeks away from work.
  • Consider what mental wellbeing support you are going to put in place as there is plenty of research that suggests this is going to be a real problem for all of us and as well as wanting staff happy and healthy you don’t want stressed and anxious staff taking time off sick just when you are trying to get back to full speed.
Q: What if I have an Employee Who is refusing to go to work?

A: You will of course have some employees who may not want to go to work as they’re afraid of catching coronavirus. This could particularly be the case for those who are at higher risk. You should listen to any concerns staff may have and should take steps to protect everyone.

If an employee still does not want to go in, you may be able to offer them the opportunity to take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave however you do not have to offer this. As a last resort if an employee refuses to attend work (which is you giving them a reasonable instruction) without a valid reason, it could result in you undertaking disciplinary action against them.

Helping your employees and business stay safe

If you’ve got any concerns please do get in touch with us for fast and friendly support. We are also able to support with redundancy and other consultation exercises or even TUPE if you are taking this period of business upheaval to merge, acquire or sell! Please do get in touch or call us on 01425 479888.

If you aren’t a Jaluch client, no problem, we can offer pay-as-you-go (Ad-Hoc) advice or … for a monthly fee (from £150) we can provide unlimited telephone support, HR documentation (contracts etc.) and an annual HR audit.

Training for staff representatives being asked to get involved in lay offs or redundancies can be conducted using virtual classroom/web links. Please do get in touch.


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