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Unprecedented Times

Following the Government's announcement earlier this evening and the updated measures outlined in its bid to slow the spread of COVID-19, I have put together a short summary looking at the new measures from an HR and Employer perspective.

These are, without doubt, unprecedented times and, for the majority of the population, unlike anything we have ever seen before.

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If you haven't already done so, now is probably the time to consider a contingency plan for your business over the next few weeks or months.

I am advising all my clients who don't have up to date health data for their employees to now identify anyone who suffers from any of the underlying medical conditions that makes Coronavirus a bigger risk for them.  At the same time check dates of birth to find out if you have any over-70's within your workforce and ensure the mobile number, personal email address and next of kin details you have on record are still correct - you may need to contact an employee at home over the next few weeks.

Anyone who is identified as being in the vulnerable category should, from this weekend, self-isolate for 12 weeks and you should encourage them to do so.  Whether you choose to send someone in this category home if they come to work is a decision you may have to make but do bear in mind, if they come to work and you send them home, you should pay full pay for as long as they're off - obviously this has yet to be tested by an Employment Tribunal but shouldn't be overlooked.

Inevitably, your workforce is going to be depleted at least some of the time over the next few months and I encourage you to think about this now:-

  • What roles in your business could be worked from home?

  • Would you need any additional IT software or hardware to do this - Laptops (or can desktops be taken home).  If you don't already use online tools such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Monday.com, Trello - check them out to see if they could add value to a remote working team.

  • Nominate "Responsible Persons" in addition to existing managers and supervisors and ensure you have enough keyholders to be able to remain operational with a reduced workforce.

  • Stop employees undertaking work travel.

  • Look at how you could diversify your business in any way that will support the current UK crisis.

Many businesses won't be able to accommodate home working for all of their people so the next issues to consider are what you can do to facilitate being able to remain open and operational to some extent:-

  • Make your workplace as hygienic as possible by providing anti-bacterial soap, hand sanitiser, anti-bacterial surface wipes, paper disposable towels, latex gloves and shut communal areas such as canteens and encourage people to have breaks separately.

  • Look at how you can create a minimum space of 2 metres between workstations.

  • Can you introduce different shifts to split the workforce so that there is more likelihood, that if someone catches C-19, it won't spread through the entire workforce?

  • Can you operate flexi-time so employees can work around family and caring commitments if schools close for months, as is widely expected.

If you've done everything you can do within the constraints of your own business and the situation still can't be sustained, then you should consider some or all of the following:-

  • Ask employees to take annual leave (if you can afford to pay it if course). You can enforce holiday if necessary.

  • Ask employee's to take unpaid leave.

  • If it is viable, ask employees to reduce their hours, perhaps working 3 or 4 days a week rather than 5 days.

  • Ask employees who earn more than National Minimum Wage to take a temporary pay reduction - this shouldn't be forced on anyone but they might be prepared to have less money for a few weeks if it means they still have a job at the end.

  • If the worse comes to the worse, check your Employment Contracts for layoff and short time working clauses, as these will enable you to reduce hours or keep people off work at minimal cost to the business.

  • Your very last resort is likely to be redundancy, which is particularly straightforward if the employee has less than 2 years' service.

Please don't hesitate to reach out if you need any support or have any questions over the next few days and weeks and, most of all, try not to worry.

Be safe!