Untangling the transition back to work – considerations for SMEs

by | 1st July 2020 | COVID19, HR Fundamentals

Navigating employment requirements is tricky at the best of times. Having to get to grips with completely new concepts like furlough whilst being in crisis management mode has been especially challenging for small employers who don’t have capacity to spare.

Hopefully most employers who have been benefiting from the furlough scheme have now managed to navigate the documentation and agreements needed and the claims process for reclaiming the grant.

Now we enter a potential new phase with some employers being able to reopen or ramp up their businesses, or at least start planning for this.

There is guidance available from the government on how to work safely during the corona virus pandemic (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19) and this is broken down by type of business. This guidance includes information such as risk assessments, safety measures and how to manage visitors, customers, and contractors. No doubt the guidance will continue to be added to over the coming days. Guidance is definitively clear however that anyone who CAN work from home should continue to do so.

But there are other considerations too.

In preparing for reopening, ramping up or just keeping on top of things while the pandemic is with us, it is a good idea for employers to comprehensively think about their options, the best courses of action and even planning for uncertain eventualities.

In addition to the government guidance, think about this list of considerations and how you might need to plan for or handle these:

·      Remaining vigilant for symptoms among employees – you may wish (as part of your risk assessment) to have all employees complete and sign a form at the start of each shift which confirms there are free from all specific symptoms of Corona Virus (as well as other members of their households).

·      If your risk assessment shows that it would significantly minimise risk to have different shift patterns for staff or staggered working times, or even a redistribution of work tasks, then you will need to think about how you can legally implement such changes as a temporary variations to contracts with the agreement of staff.  

·      Think about the best training and support you should give your staff. Carefully and clearly set out any new safety procedures to protect staff, reporting procedures and your expectations. Also think about how you might manage if staff fail to observe these measures. Under what circumstances might you invoke a disciplinary process?  

·      How should you handle staff who become unwell (either while at work or before reporting to work), make sure you are familiar with the NHS guidance on this topic.

·      If you have staff returning from a period of furlough, how will you notify them of their expected return date, and how can you support them to reintegrate into the operation quickly and seamlessly? You may choose to have 1:1 return to work meetings to bring people up to date with changes and the impact of the pandemic on the business.

·      If you have staff who you wish to return to work but who have ongoing dependent caring needs (e.g. due to the continued closure of schools), how will you handle this fairly and appropriately? Consider if greater flexibility in working hours is an option. Reduced hours, unpaid leave, holiday or other solutions might work or the staff member may put forward their own alternative ideas. You’ll need to agree on any changes that may impact their terms and conditions (even temporary changes). If nothing seems workable familiarise yourself with the parameters of reasonable expectations from you as their employer.

·      If you have staff who are not shielding but who do not want to travel and attend work – how will you handle this and are you familiar with what you can reasonably expect?  

·      If you have your work team split between those working on site and those working from home, how will you effectively and inclusively continue to communicate with everyone? What additional support needs would each group need?

·      As people work from home for prolonged periods of time, do you have measures in place to support these staff and are you confident you might pick up on any stress related issues given that you are working at more of a distance than usual? How might you offer more support for potential Mental Health impacts? A simple but well thought out Mental Health policy can mean you are well prepared for identifying and dealing with any issues which arise.

·      How might you ask your staff to manage their annual leave for the remainder of the year to prevent an unhelpful build up of leave? There are provisions in place for the carry forward of statutory annual leave if this cannot be taken during the year due to COVID. However, depending on your annual leave policies or contracts, it might be possible to require your staff to take leave as prescribed by you to ensure a suitable and business manageable spread.

·      While it is a devastating possibility to consider, you should think about how you might approach compassionate / bereavement leave for any staff member who may be bereaved as a result of the pandemic.

This a quite a list, and while some answers may be quick to answer or be less relevant for some, there is clearly much to think about and plan for.

If your business needs any support in these or any other areas of HR, do get in touch with us at Perfect Vision HR.