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Beyond HR: Lockdown and Furlough: A Guide to Returning to Work

Member News 15th May 2020

As the Government prepares to outline its plans to get businesses back to work we have prepared a guide to help you plan the practicalities around a return to work.

This guide will provide points to consider in the following key areas:

• Managing a safe return to work,

• Cost reduction options

Managing a safe return to work It is important that employers remember their duty of care to employees and communicate, on a regular basis, the control measures that they have put in place to ensure employees safety. It is particularly important to do this before employees return to work.

The considerations around a safe return to work can be largely grouped into the following categories: Social Distancing, Good Hygiene Practices, PPE and Training.

Social Distancing For all employers, the requirement for social distancing, should be at the forefront of their minds when considering a return to work.  You will need to ensure that individuals remain 2m apart from their colleagues both at their workstations, while in rest areas and while travelling around your premises. Consider how you will carry out essential face to face interactions such as meetings, interviews and training.

Some potential solutions to these scenarios may be:

• Separating workstations and marking 2m spaces between each • Marking out designated walkways with clear direction of travel  • Continuation of homeworking for some employees, • Use of video conferencing and replacing face to face training with webinars • Staggered working hours and break times • Rotation of employee groups on and off furlough (ensuring that furloughed employees are on furlough for a minimum of 3 consecutive weeks, up to 30 June 2020)

Good Hygiene Practices This largely falls into parts: workplace cleanliness and employee hygiene. Things to consider include:

• If your business has been closed for a period of time it may be prudent to carry out a deep clean.  This may also provide reassurance to employees returning to the workplace.

• Communicate / remind your employees about the need for regular and effective handwashing.  Ensure that communication posters are installed around hand washing stations. • Ensure that there are adequate supplies of soap and hand sanitiser across your business. • Require employees to clean their phones/keyboards etc with anti-viral cleaner at the beginning and end of each shift.

PPE
In addition to the normal Personal Protective Equipment you provide employees to do their jobs safely you may need to consider additional PPE.  Employers should update workplace risk assessments to consider appropriate controls need to control the spread of coronavirus.  These risk assessments should clarify what additional PPE maybe required.  Additional PPE may include:

• Nitrile gloves • Face coverings/face visors • Hand sanitiser • Aprons • Disposable overalls.

Training
While all of the above measures are vitally essential to allowing a safe return to work they are also useless if employees are not trained on them.  It is important that employees know:

• What the social distancing measures are, how to comply with them and the consequences of not complying with them • How to wash their hands properly and other good hygiene practices. • How to use any additional PPE they have been provided with. • What procedure they should follow should they become ill inside or outside of work. • Depending on how long they have been off work you may also need to refresh them on existing safe working practices.

In addition, as some employees may have mental health concerns relating to this crisis, if you have an Employee Assistance Programme you may want to remind employee of how they can get in contact with the appropriate helplines.

 Cost reduction Options
For most employers, payroll will often be the largest cost to their business and it is possible that when the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme comes to an end your business may not need to all its employees, either in the short term or the long term. In this section we look at some measures you might need to consider.

Short Time Working
In circumstances where your business has work for all its employees but on a reduced basis you may want to consider short time working.  If your contracts of employment contain a contractual clause on short time working, you should be able to implement it reasonably quickly.  However, we would always recommend that you communicate fully with your workforce and provide as much notice as possible.

If you do not have the contractual right to implement short time working, you will be required to consult with your employees to try and reach agreement regarding this amendment to their contracts. You may find that the timing of such a consultation will be important as employees are unlikely to agree to this change while the Job Retention Scheme is continuing.  Once this scheme ends employees may be more willing to agree as failure to do so may lead to redundancies.

It is possible to impose a change to your contracts of employment but this is a timeconsuming and high risk option.

Temporary Lay-off  If you do not have enough work for some of your workforce, you could ask some employees to stay at home on a temporary lay-off. As with short time working you may or may not need to consult with staff depending on whether you have the contractual right to place employees on lay-off.

If you do have the right to implement a lay-off or employees agree, after consultation, to be temporarily laid off you need to remember:

• Employees will be entitled to Statutory Guarantee Pay for 5 days in a 12 week lay off period. • If a lay-off exceeds 4 weeks (or 6 weeks in a 13 week period) an employee can consider themselves to be redundant and claim statutory redundancy pay from you.

Redundancies If you feel that the above short term measures won’t be sufficient you may need to consider making some employees redundant. Normally, redundancies occur when: 1. A Company has ceased or intends to cease to carry on the business for purposes of which the employee is or was employed or, 2. A Company has ceased or intends to cease to carry on that business in the place where the employee is or was so employed or, 3. The requirement of that business for employees to carry out work of a particular kind has ceased or diminished or is expected to cease or diminish or, 4. The requirements of that business for employees to carry out work of a particular kind, in the place where the employee is or was so employed, have ceased or diminished or are expected to cease or diminish.

Before embarking on a redundancy exercise it is important to consider what measures you could put in place to minimise the numbers of redundancies you need to make. These might include: • Restricting recruitment and promotions • Redeploying staff to alternative or vacant roles • Limiting / stopping the use of temporary employees or agency workers • Considering voluntary redundancies

If redundancy becomes likely, it is vital that an employer carries out meaningful consultation with the affected employees as soon as possible.  Depending on the number of redundancies planned you may need to ensure compliance with the legal obligations around collective consultation.

 Conclusion

We hope this brief guide has given you some ideas to help you get back to work and sustain your business for the longer term.  If you need any assistance or want to ask more about anything in this guide please feel free to register for a free advice call from a member of our team.

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