Navigating the different HR challenges that have arisen during the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted some gaps in how organisations manage the ebb and flow of people as they return to work or leave the business. We asked Jane Fryatt of Face2Face HR to guide us through some of the HR pitfalls that businesses are currently facing.

New ways of working require solid HR backup

We’ve all learnt a lot over the past few months – about ourselves, our team and our clients or customers. We’ve got a new vocabulary – furlough, covidiot, doomscrolling and finally we’re starting to feel comfortable with not shaking hands due to social distancing.

This has been a really challenging time for businesses and hopefully many of you have realised that HR support and your employment contract are more than just a tick box exercise.

So what are the things we’ve learnt from an HR perspective during coronavirus?

  1. Proactively manage leave balances

There has been quite a bit of confusion about how holiday should be handled when your team members are on furlough or homeworking and unable to travel. As a consequence, some members of your team may well have requested to cancel holiday and have been reluctant to book any, particularly if they’re on furlough leave. It’s likely that you’re facing the prospect of employees returning to work with almost all of their 2020 leave to take.

Here are a few pointers:

  • You can give notice to staff to take their leave to ensure there is not a bottleneck of leave right at the end of the year. The notice period has to be at least twice the length of the leave (e.g. 2 weeks’ notice for 1 week of leave). If you don’t want to be this prescriptive about when your team take their leave, you could request that they take a certain percentage of their annual leave by a certain date.
  • Homeworkers are likely to be working longer hours and more intensively than those who have returned to the office, so leave should be encouraged for their wellbeing.
  • You must pay annual leave at 100% of normal salary. This includes bank holidays for furloughed workers, so if you haven’t topped up for bank holidays, you need to add the additional 20% into their pay. Alternatively they can be accrued.
  • If you’re making redundancies, or you have a resignation, you can require staff to take their outstanding leave during their notice. If they’re on furlough leave this has the added benefit that the furlough grant will cover a proportion of the cost.
  1. Be aware of new risks from new ways of working

One of the main government requirements is to carry out a risk assessment prior to returning to the workplace, you can access examples here.

The main priority is to communicate with your teams about what you’re doing to protect them, and listen to any concerns which they may have. If you’re considering disciplinary action because an employee is refusing to return to work on the grounds of safety, do make sure you take professional advice.

If you have individuals who are going to be working from home for the foreseeable future it’s important you ensure that they are working safely:

  • Carry out a risk assessment of their home workspace, providing a checklist such as this one.
  • Consider publishing a short homeworking policy to communicate health and safety responsibilities, the importance of taking regular breaks and how you will keep in touch with them.
  • Consider data security implications of ongoing homeworking. What kind of data will your team be handling at home? How will they access it and how will it be transferred? The ICO has some great guidance on this.
  1. Be transparent about the situation facing your business

If you have to make permanent changes to the way you work due to coronavirus, it’s worth being as open and honest with your team as you can be. In usual circumstances, sensitive topics such as redundancy planning are almost always done behind closed doors. However, right now things aren’t that usual and if you have put some team members on the furlough scheme you have probably already told them that things are likely to look different upon their return, or that their job may be at risk of redundancy. I’ve had clients who’ve recently been able to implement significant changes without any compulsory redundancies by engaging staff at an early stage.

Before making changes to an individual’s terms and conditions of employment you must carry out formal consultation. Consultation means giving employees information about the situation, the proposed changes, and giving them meaningful opportunity to comment, raise concerns, make suggestions, and for these to be considered and responded to. This can be done on a group basis or through individual one to one meetings.

  1. Review your employment contracts

Many businesses have realised over the past few months that what’s in their employment contracts is pretty important and protects their business.

We’re all familiar with the term ‘furlough leave’ although most employment contracts don’t include a lay off clause, this wasn’t too much of a problem given the circumstances most people were reasonably happy to be put onto furlough. However, with the prospect of further ‘lockdowns’ after the furlough scheme has closed, you might want to consider including a lay off and short-time working clause.

The other clauses which have been helpful over the past few weeks are: the right to make deductions from pay, the right to vary hours of work and location, the right to place an employee on gardening leave, the right to require the employee to take outstanding leave during their notice period and post termination restrictions such as a confidentiality clause and appropriate restrictive covenants to deter any poaching of your clients or employees. If you don’t have these clauses in your contract, then it’s worth getting it updated.

About face2faceHR: We work exclusively with small businesses to help them get the best from their people and deal effectively with HR issues when they arise. We offer a free consultation to all small businesses, you can book here or contact Jane on jane.fryatt@face2faceHR.com

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