2021 has kicked off with a lockdown in England which has created many issues for employers to deal with straight away!
Questions coming to us, any relate to you?
- What if my employees want to work in the office but they can reasonably work from home?
The government guidance state that;
“you may only leave your home for work if you cannot reasonably work from home. Employers and employees should discuss their working arrangements, and employers should take every possible step to facilitate their employees working from home, including providing suitable IT and equipment to enable remote working.”
We would advise that you open communication and find out what the reasons are for wanting to remain in the office. We are seeing that those employees who may live alone prefer to be in the office for their own mental health. This will inevitably impact productivity and performance. Each circumstance is different so find out what their concern is.
There could be an argument however, that coming in to work for mental health reasons could fall under (in the government guidance) leaving home “to avoid illness” of indeed that for that reason they can’t “reasonably” work from home. However, it isn’t exactly clear and employers will need to make a judgement on the potential risks.
- What if my employees can’t reasonably work from home and they refuse to come in to work?
Like the above in terms of firstly, speak with the employees and listen to their concerns. If they can’t reasonably work from home set out why, giving specific reasons as this will help the employees understand the company’s perspective. Reiterate what the company has done in relation to keeping COVID secure and reissue any information if required. Employers should explore all options before flatly saying no.
- An employee with childcare issues has asked to be furloughed- what do I do?
Employers are not obligated to furlough those employees who have childcare issues, but you may do so if you wish. Employers will need to be mindful that although 80% of employees salary will be covered (up to max of £2,500) this does not take into account the NICs and pension contributions. Also, if the work is still needing to be carried out, who will take these tasks on? Existing employees or will you employ a temp? All have their own additional costs to a business.
You may want to allow those employees to take annual leave or unpaid leave. However, there could be possible discrimination issues if you do not consider furlough, as those who are more likely to be affected are female.
It is important for employers to consider each situation and work together to find a solution.
- Who are eligible to be furloughed? What about new starters?
Currently you can put the employee on furlough as long as they were employed by you on or before 30 October 2020. Obviously, this excludes a number of employees who have started new employment after this date.
- What do we do about those who need to shield?
Those who are classed as Clinically Extremely Vulnerable are advised to shield and not come into the work place. They will be provided with a letter to confirm this. If possible, see if they can work from home. Those employees may be eligible for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), Employment Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit. This is a difficult and stressful position for those employees and handling this with care will be important to managing this situation.
- What key tips are there in handling this new lockdown?
Communication is key and don’t be afraid to say you don’t know the answer. Being transparent and handling expectations are very important. If you haven’t been doing during the pandemic make sure each employee is contacted on a 1:1 basis to see how they are and what their concerns are. Employees’ mental health has taken a hammering these past 10 months and employers should try and do what they can to support them. Everyone is dealing with a different aspect of the pandemic and therefore each person will be impacted differently and will have different views on what should happen.
The furlough scheme is still in place and if you haven’t furloughed previously get in touch to get your flexible furlough agreement!
With rumours of further restrictions coming in we would encourage you to follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter to see how any changes could affect your business. However, we understand the ever changing guidance and legislation can be confusing and therefore would advise for more tailored advice to get in touch with our Employment Law Solicitors or HR Consultants!