November 3

The rise of the freelancer during the pandemic….how to safely engage them….

The coronavirus pandemic has forced SME leaders to rethink their workforce as the reality is that many will be unable to retain or rehire furloughed staff – further they may have made many redundancies and are considering more, despite the reprieve that the further extension of the furlough scheme has provided.

Many of these businesses have turned to freelancers to assist in this challenging period as they look to survive and pivot in this new world….

….similarly, employees on furlough with the permission to work ‘elsewhere’, or who have been made redundant in a market place with few jobs, are having to think creatively about they way they are engaged going forward…

For employers, the argument for utilising freelancers is irresistible given the current situation – they are used to:

• remote working,
• collaborating within teams,
• hitting deadlines,
• they work hard to both retain custom and boost their all-important reputation.

It’s the agility of freelancers that is now most attractive and this trend looks to continue.

THE PROS OF HIRING A FREELANCER

Here are some of the main benefits of hiring a freelancer:

• Experienced experts/specialists in their field
• No obligation to offer holiday/sick pay
• Paid only for the time that they work
• Independent and committed they require little management
• They insure themselves.

THE CONS OF HIRING A FREELANCER

Here are the cons of hiring a freelancer:

• Focus on the job they are hired to do, rather than assist on various tasks
• Experienced freelancers may be expensive
• You are still responsible for their health and safety if working on your premises
• Work on multiple jobs, for many clients so may not always be available
• Remote working so requiring a degree of trust.

LEGALITIES TO BE AWARE OF

As with hiring an employee, there are certain legalities that you need to be aware of when you are hiring a freelancer:

Confidential Information

If the freelancer is exposed to confidential information about your business, then you need to make sure that somewhere in the contract it is made clear that this information is confidential and there will be repercussions if they use or reveal that information.

Intellectual property

When an employee works for you, their work and creation will belong to the business. However, this is different for freelancers. If you want the right of ownership of the intellectual property, this needs to be agreed on and be specified in the contract.

Health and Safety

Most freelancers will work on a remote basis which means that you will not be responsible for their health and safety. However, if they are working on your premises, you will be responsible if they are harmed due to failure to have a safe working environment.

Contract

A contract is the most important document when it comes to working relationships. The contract should include all the details of the working relationship between you and the freelancer, and it should be WRITTEN….although a verbal contract can be easy, it’s harder to use as evidence if there is an issue or dispute.

Contact nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk or call +44 (0)7917878384 for an up to date freelancer agreement.

October 27

Newsflash! The Job Support Scheme has been tweaked to be more inviting….!

The Job Support Scheme – which comes into effect on 1 November 2020 – when first announced, saw employers paying a third of their employees’ wages for hours not worked and required employees to be working at least a third of their normal hours.

All change!!!

A new scheme was announced yesterday which reduced the employer contribution to those unworked hours to just 5% and reduces the minimum hours requirement on employees to 20%, so those working just one day a week will be eligible.

The ENHANCED Part-time Job Support Scheme key facts

• Begins 1 November 2020 and runs for six months and replaces the furlough scheme
• Employees must work 20% of their hours (down from an originally stated one-third) to qualify
• Staff must have been on an employer’s payroll on 23 September 2020 to qualify for the scheme (redundancies since this date may be able to be reinstated)
• Staff will receive a 27% pay cut
• Government will pay 62% of unworked hours, capped at £1,541.75 per month
• Employer will pay just 5% of unworked hours – down from 33%
• All SMEs are eligible for the scheme
• Larger businesses must demonstrate a slump in turnover
• Firms on scheme cannot make staff redundant
• Cash grants of up to £2,100 a month are available for businesses in Tier 2 areas – mostly targeting hospitality and leisure firms
• These are available retrospectively for firms in areas already subject to tighter Tier 2 restrictions

Businesses that have not used the furlough scheme can also access the new scheme, but not all companies will be able to apply because larger companies can still only access the scheme if their turnover has fallen significantly as a result of the pandemic.

Companies must pay the full wage for hours worked. It will then have to contribute a small top up for hours not worked alongside the Government in order to receive the subsidy.

Any queries please email nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk or call +44 7917878384

October 19

When did you last check in on the wellbeing of your staff….?

There is plenty of research that shows a happy workforce increases performance and productivity in a business. Employees who feel physically and emotionally healthy are more likely to be engaged, productive and committed to their jobs.

They will also be more able to cope with the disruption and stress a new routine may bring.

COVID has resulted in a huge rise in home working and a related increasing reliance on technology – both of which can have a potential impact on the health and wellbeing of our workforce.

Adapting to homeworking

It can be difficult for employees to adapt to a new work style if they are used to a high level of interaction with their team every day. If a typical working day involves a bustling office atmosphere, calling clients or attending meetings, the new working from home policy can take its toll on employee’s mental health and wellbeing as this drastic change can cause a feeling of isolation.

Safeguarding your employee’s mental health and emotional wellbeing does not have to be on overwhelming task, even a quick phone call can go a long way.

Keep in contact

• Daily, every other day or weekly phone calls or even video calls are key.
• They will enable you to continually assess workflow, set new tasks and check on your employee’s wellbeing.
• They open up the opportunity to discuss topics that aren’t work-related – catching up on plans for the weekend, asking after their family…..you would usually have these types of conversations in passing, over lunch or in brief meetings so it’s important to maintain this level of socialising where you can.

Promote a healthy work-life balance

Overwork is more of a threat to an organisation than underwork when staff are working from home.

There are fewer colleagues to take you for a coffee or pull you over for an opportune chat. Video calls take up so much of the day that subsequent actions and written work are being done in the evenings. The inbox buzzes from dawn till dusk – with early starters and late finishers emailing around the clock.

As an employer you need to balance keeping productivity up alongside encouraging people to keep taking breaks. When working from home it can be very easy to feel tempted to stay at your laptop throughout your lunch or extend the end of the day by a few hours.

Some ideas:

• Encourage staff to work only their contracted hours and not stretch their working day into home life
• Ban online meetings between 12 and 1, to encourage a proper lunch break.
• Make 1:1s a walking phone call outside, to encourage exercise and a screen break.
• Encourage staff to put their work equipment out of sight when its home time which will make a big difference in marking the end of the working day.
• Share links to free apps such as Nike Training Club or Daily Workouts Fitness Trainer

Schedule regular team meetings

Ensure team meetings and catch-ups scheduled in your diary are not bumped out, they are an important way to connect with your staff.

They will:
• Ensure the consistency of the normal working week
• Replicate the ‘buzz’ of the normal work environment, helping people connect and socialise.
• Enable virtual lunches to be established where employees can eat with each other over a video call

Collaborative tools and platforms

There are plenty of tools that allow employees to interact with one another. Employees can often feel like they are on an island so by having the ability to surround themselves with colleagues through these inherently social collaboration forums, can boost productivity and morale.

Note though the phenomenon of ‘zoom fatigue’! Video calls are found to be a more draining way to meet with colleagues as our brains need to work harder to process information and work out visual cues that we rely on in analogue exchanges.

• Appreciating that conference calling can be difficult for those who are the less forthright in a team will help managers to facilitate online meetings.
• Cap the number of attendees when appropriate.
• Employees who feel they are spending an excessive amount of time in virtual meetings need to be encouraged to have the confidence to ask to step out when required.
• All virtual meeting attendees should turn off all other digital distractions such as phone and inbox to help them be truly present and get the most out of the time on the call.

Provide mental health training and resources

It is important that your employees know that you support them so by communicating this to them can really benefit their wellbeing. Employee Assistance Programmes are a resource that employers can sign up to giving employees unlimited access to phone support from qualified counsellors so they can discuss anything they need to.

Running a ‘wellbeing’ day or week or month is always well received. You may consider the following to get staff motivated and engaged:

• Virtual lunch with a Deliveroo allowance
• Virtual yoga or meditation sessions
• Virtual mindfulness
• Virtual session on health and nutrition
• Virtual bingo or quiz
• Random act of kindness – posted each month

Call to action!

• GoodHR can provide you with a staff wellbeing checklist for your managers and heads of department.
• GoodHR can provide you with a mental health and wellbeing audit – and even conduct it on your behalf, gathering the information and feeding it back to you.

Do get in touch by email to nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk or call 07917 878384

October 8

The new Job Support Scheme….some of your questions answered….!

The Job Support Scheme (JSS) will provide ongoing wage support for people in work, provided that the employer meets certain access conditions, the employee is working at least 33% of their usual hours, and the employer also provides additional wage support. It will start on 1 November and continue until the end of April 2021. The furlough scheme will come to an end on 31 October 2020 as planned.

Is the scheme open to all employers?

The JSS is open to all employers with eligible employees, a UK bank account and a UK PAYE scheme.

Do we need to prove that our trading conditions have been impacted?

Not if you are an SME. If you are a large employer, however, you will need to demonstrate that your turnover is lower as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

What if some parts of our business have been impacted but not others?

If you are an SME, you won’t need to pass any financial impact test and you can access the JSS even if the pandemic has only had an impact on a small part of your business.

What’s the definition of an SME for these purposes?

This has not been announced yet. If it is based on the definition in the Companies Act 2006, it will mean (broadly) that a company would be defined as an SME if it meets at least two of the following requirements:
• annual turnover of £36 million or below
• balance sheet total of £18 million or below
• 250 or fewer employees

Which employees can we put on the scheme?

To be eligible for the JSS, employees must have been on your PAYE payroll on or before 23 September 2020. This means a Real Time Information (RTI) submission notifying payment to that employee to HMRC must have been made on or before 23 September 2020.
The employee must work at least 33% of their usual hours.

What if there’s just no work at all for some employees?

The minimum hours requirement is a key component of the JSS. If you don’t have enough work to provide even a third of an employee’s usual hours, you will not be able to put them into the scheme.

We don’t think we can guarantee 33% of usual hours every week – can we still use the JSS?

Employees will be able to cycle on and off the scheme and do not need to be working the same pattern each month – although each short-time working arrangement must cover a minimum period of seven days.
This suggests that you may be able to move employees out of the JSS for periods in which they are not working 33% of their usual hours (although you would need to agree with your employees what will happen in those periods).

If we put employees into the scheme, do we need to promise that we won’t make them redundant for six months?

No, there is no ban on making redundancies for the whole six months of the scheme – but employees cannot be made redundant or put on notice of redundancy during the period within which their employer is claiming the grant for that employee. The employee would have to be moved out of the JSS and any claim for grant stopped if you needed to make them redundant before the scheme closed.

Can we claim the £1,000 job retention bonus while also claiming under the JSS?

Yes. You can claim your £1,000 bonus for bringing a furloughed employee back to work in addition to claiming ongoing support for that employee under the JSS. To qualify for the bonus, the employee would need to remain continuously employed through to the end of January 2021 and earn an average of £520 per month over that period.

Who pays what under the scheme?

The idea is that employees working at least 33% of their usual hours can have their pay topped up.

The unworked time is essentially split into three. The employer pays for a third of the unworked time, the government also pays for a third of the unworked time (up to a cap of £697.92) and the final third is unpaid.

What about National Insurance Contributions and employer pension contributions?

The grant will not cover Class 1 Employer NICS or pension contributions, although these contributions will remain payable by the employer.

It seems most likely that employers will need to pay these contributions in respect of both the government top-up and the employer top-up, as well as in respect of pay for hours actually worked.

Can we agree a different working pattern each week?

Yes, employees do not have to be working the same pattern each month, but each short-time working arrangement must cover a minimum period of seven days. This suggests that you can claim for a different amount of unworked hours each week, subject to the employee working at least 33% of their usual hours.

What if the employee takes holiday?

It is unclear at the moment as to whether holidays will “count” towards the 33% minimum working hours or if they will be treated as unworked hours. Employers may need to top up holiday pay in some cases to ensure that employees are receiving the correct statutory entitlement.

What if the employee is sick or under official instruction to self-isolate?

The employee would be entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) in these circumstances, but it is not clear how time off sick will be treated under the JSS.

What agreements do we need in place?

Employers must agree the new short-time working arrangements with their staff, make any changes to the employment contract by agreement, and notify the employee in writing. This agreement must be made available to HMRC on request.

Get in touch with GOODHR if you want a template letter to reflect the new short-time working arrangements under the Job Support Scheme.

Either call on: +44(0)7917 878384 or email nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk

September 30

How will the new job support scheme work….?

The new Job Support Scheme, which will require employers to give staff a minimum of 33% of their usual hours, with the government covering some of the wages for the remaining hours not worked, will start on 1 November 2020…the day after the existing Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme comes to an end….

• Under the scheme, the government will subsidise the pay of employees who are working fewer than normal hours due to lower demand

• It will apply to staff who can work at least a third of their usual hours

• Employers will pay staff their usual rate for the hours they do work

• For the hours that employees cannot work, the government and the employer will each cover one third of the lost pay

• The government’s contribution will be capped at £697.92 per month

• All small and medium sized businesses will be eligible for the scheme

• Larger businesses will be eligible if their turnover has fallen during the crisis

• It will be open to employers across the UK even if they have not previously used the furlough scheme

• The scheme will run for six months starting on 1 November 2020

• The employee cannot be on notice of redundancy

• To qualify an employee must be on an employer’s payroll on or before 23 September 2020

In a nutshell:

Organisations will pay staff their full rate for the hours they do work – which must be at least 33% of their contracted hours to qualify for the support – with the government covering part of their wages for the hours there is no work for them.

So, for someone on £2,000 per month, if they work 50% of their hours they would receive £1,000 of normal pay from their employer, plus a further £333 from their employer and £333 from the government. The latter two payments make up the grant which has to be capped at £697.92 per month.

Do I use the scheme?

Employers have a decision to make now:

• Is the work there for staff to do, even on one-third hours?
• And is it economically viable to pay the employer’s share of the unworked hours on top?

Only when employers have done the sums will they know whether significant redundancies can be avoided.

Looking ahead:

Under this scheme, employers will be supported to offer staff shorter working hours in “viable jobs”, rather than make employees redundant.

There is no doubt that interaction with the £1000 Job Retention Bonus means that there is now a big incentive for organisations to retain workers part time to qualify for the bonus in January 2021. The end of January 2021 will become the all-important time to assess, once again, whether an organisation will have to start making any, or more, redundancies.

Employers must agree the new short-time working arrangements with employees and confirm them in writing. For any queries or assistance please get in touch: nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk or +44(0)7917 878384

July 7

Flexible furlough….what employers will pay and top tips to navigate the new scheme….

What employers will pay under the new scheme

June and July:

• Employers are not required to pay anything.
The government will pay 80% of wages up to a cap of £2,500 as well as Employer National Insurance and pension contributions.

August:

Employers are required to pay:
• Employer National Insurance
• Pension contributions
The government will continue paying 80% of wages capped at £2,500.

September:

Employers are required to pay:
• Employer National Insurance
• Pension contributions
• 10% of wages to make up the 80% total to a cap of £2,500
The government will pay 70% of wages up to a cap of £2,187.50.

October:

Employers are required to pay:
• Employer National Insurance
• Pension contributions for furloughed employees
• 20% of wages to make up the 80% total to a cap of £2,500
The government will pay 60% of wages up to a cap of £1,875.

Top tips to navigate through the new flexible furlough scheme

1. Who is eligible to be furloughed under the new scheme?

Only employees who have been furloughed for at least three weeks on or before 30 June under the old scheme can be furloughed after 1 July. The only exceptions to this are where parents return to work after taking maternity, shared parental leave, adoption, paternity or parental bereavement leave.

2. Duration of furlough

From 1 July, you’ll be able to bring back previously furloughed employees for any amount of time and on any pattern of work and claim a grant for the hours not worked.

The last date anyone could be furloughed for the first time was 10 June. If you furloughed any employee on that date, you’ll be able to move them onto the new scheme immediately from 1 July.

However, it is now clear that if you re-furlough someone after 10 June, you will have to wait the full three weeks before you can move them onto the new scheme, regardless of whether this ends after 1 July.

3. Limits on numbers of people you can furlough from 1 July

The numbers of employees you can furlough in any period starting from 1 July can’t exceed the maximum numbers of employees you claimed for under the old scheme – although you don’t include returning parents in this calculation.

This may create some difficulties for employers who have already put in place rotating furlough patterns. For example, if you have divided your 200-strong workforce into two groups of 100 each and rotate them on three-weekly furlough, you won’t be able to put all 200 workers on flexible furlough so that everyone works half a week.

4. Claim periods

You must submit any claims under the old scheme by 31 July. After 1 July, you can’t submit claims that cross calendar months. This means that if you have staff whose furlough spans June and July, you’ll need to submit separate claims for June and July – even if they have been furloughed continuously.

5. Working out pay under the new scheme

If you don’t intend to ask staff to return to work, your pay calculations won’t change, although your contribution will increase from 1 August 2020.

However, if your staff do return to work part-time you’ll need to work out how many hours each employee usually works and off set this from the number or hours they have been furloughed.

You will need to decide if your employee has fixed or variable hours. If their pay depends on the number of hours they’ve worked, or they are not contracted to work a fixed number of hours, use the variable calculation. The government has provided some examples of how to do this.

6. Keeping records

You’ll need to keep a copy of all records for six years including:
• the amount claimed and claim period for each employee
• the claim reference number
• your calculations
• for employees who are flexibly furloughed, their usual hours including any calculations and the actual number of hours they have worked.

7. Written agreement

The guidance states that you need a “new written agreement” to confirm the new furlough arrangement. GoodHR can assist with a flexible furlough agreement…..

For any queries or assistance please get in touch nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk or +44(0)7917 878384

June 19

Amends to your employment contract for your home workers….and ensuring you have the right systems in place for a remote workforce…

As the coronavirus pandemic persists, employees are getting used to working from home and many are noticing benefits including avoiding stressful, time-consuming commutes; saving money on travel and food; managing work more efficiently; fewer interruptions; and seeing their children more often.

After the pandemic passes, it is expected there will be a cultural shift towards working from home as a norm and many employees will want to do this, at the very least for part of the week. Equally many employers, having seen the benefits of their staff remote working, are deciding to give notice on their offices and get their heads around running teams of remote workers.

As an employer, you need to make sure that you have the right systems in place to properly support employees who work from home.

Contracts for employees who work from home

Where an employee’s ‘place of work’ is changing to their home address some changes are required to their contract. A new contract may not be necessary but may be simpler if the contract is due for a refresh. If the contract is relatively new and fit for purpose then the new clauses may be added in using a variation of contract letter which the employee needs to agree to and countersign to confirm their agreement.

The new clauses, relevant to homeworking, may include the following:

• where the employee will be based.
• hours of work and the requirement to take breaks.
• that both employer and employee have the right to terminate the homeworking arrangement at any time.
• reimbursement of expenses and/or contribution towards utility costs.
• that the company will supply and insure the necessary equipment. The equipment remains the company’s property and is not to be used for private purposes.
• that the company will supply and pay for a telephone and internet connection for business use.
• that the employee must comply with relevant health and safety and security guidelines. The company will pay any costs involved.
• confidential information and data protection.
• that there is no change to other employment terms and conditions such as pay, hours of work, holiday entitlement and pension contributions.

The home office

A good home office should meet minimum requirements:

• a suitable workspace and a reasonable working environment.
• secure premises and a lockable cupboard or desk.
• compliance with health and safety regulations, including suitable desk and chair and display screen equipment assessment.
• a business telephone line and broadband access.
• a computer with internet and email access, office software and access to a printer. Access to a secure virtual private network (VPN) can allow your staff to connect to your company network from home.
• adequate insurance. Home contents insurance normally excludes business equipment but most employers’ insurance policies cover any place of business.

Health and safety in the home

Normal office health and safety requirements apply equally to employees who work from home.

An initial risk assessment must be carried out, although this can be done by the employee. Employers need to give homeworkers simple, specific health and safety advice and record what has been done.

Areas to consider are:

• the seating and layout of the employee’s computer workstation.
• electrical equipment – has it been tested and certified?
• extension leads and cables for telephones, computers and printers – there should be no trailing leads.
• adequate lighting levels, ventilation and room temperature.

Planning permission is not normally required

Permission is unlikely to be required if all the following are true:

• only one room is used for homeworking;
• only those who live in the house work there;
• the work does not lead to a substantial volume of visitors, nuisance to neighbours or extra car parking.

Tax and business rates are not usually a problem

Homeworkers can ensure the room used has a secondary purpose (eg as a guest bedroom) to avoid paying:

• business rates;
• capital gains tax on the sale of the property.

Using technology for employees who work from home

It is safer for employees who work from home to save their work directly onto the employer’s system, rather than their own equipment. This reduces the risk of a data security breach and limits the employer’s exposure to the provisions of the General Data Protection Regulations.

You can create a secure virtual private network (VPN):

• this enables employees who work from home to connect to your existing computer network online, from any computer with internet access.
• it gives them access to relevant files and systems on the company network, and to resources on the company intranet.
• a fast broadband connection makes it easy to exchange information
• the major cost, for an existing network, is the connection fee.

Understand the pitfalls

• there is a danger of people gaining unauthorised access to your systems. Your computers should be protected with passwords, firewalls and anti-virus software. All data and files should be saved to your intranet where it can be backed up and protected.
• faster technology costs more money.
• homeworkers may need training.
• employees may not use the technology productively.
• employees may fail to back-up information stored on home PCs and laptops.

If you need any help at all with revising your employment contract, or drafting a variation of contract letter, please do get in touch nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk or +44(0)7917878384

June 9

Top tips for managing a remote workforce….

The COVID-19 crisis has driven a revolution in home working. Research demonstrates that flexibility in working hours reduces employee work stress and improves mental and physical stability – which in turn creates greater effectiveness and efficiency, determination and coordination. Further, when there are options to work remotely this tends to result in significant improvements in morale, productivity and engagement.

Some businesses may be wary of remote working, perhaps due to the feeling that they can no longer control or measure the number of hours their employees are working. However, a radical change has already taken place and businesses that mobilise now to embrace this new way of working will find themselves ahead of the curve in terms of resilience and productivity as remote working becomes the new norm.

New way of working

The temptation for managers is to apply the same techniques used when leading a team based in the office. However, managers can no longer directly oversee to ensure work is being done or rely on personal interaction to pick up on problems or gauge how much support or advice a worker may need. They have to learn to adapt their natural communication style, understand how to ‘read between the lines’ from afar and learn how to engage and inspire trust in the team.

There are a multitude of skills required to lead a flexible workforce effectively, with trust forming the foundation, as follows:

1. Agree ways of working. Make sure every team member is clear about how you will work together remotely, how you keep each other updated, and how frequently.

2. Show the big picture but prepare to flex. Remind your team about the big picture and how their work fits into it. Review short-term goals regularly and adjust as needed. If some members can’t carry out all their usual work, consider other skills they can lend to others to meet team goals.

3. Set expectations and trust your team. Be clear about mutual expectations and trust your team to get on without micromanaging. Focus on results rather than activity. Inspire trust by assigning individuals with certain tasks and responsibilities as well as through regular contact to lend encouragement, support and guidance.

4. Make sure team members have the support and equipment they need. This includes any coaching they might need to use online systems or work remotely. Keep your calendar visible and maintain a virtual open door.

5. Have a daily virtual huddle. This is essential for keeping connected as a team, to check in on each other’s well-being and keep workflow on track. It needn’t be long, but regularity is key.

6. Keep the rhythm of regular one-to-ones and team meetings. This maintains a sense of structure and continuity for all.

7. Share information and encourage your team to do the same. Without physical ‘water-cooler conversations’, opportunities to pick up information in passing are more limited. Share appropriate updates or learnings from other meetings and projects and invite your team to do the same.

8. Tailor your feedback and communications. People can be more sensitive if they are feeling isolated or anxious, so take this into account when talking or writing. Communicate regularly, not just when things go wrong, whether it is information, praise or criticism.

9. Listen closely and read between the lines. Not being in the same room means you don’t have extra information from body language or tone to get the sense of what people are thinking or feeling, particularly in more difficult conversations. Home in on what’s not being said and ask questions to clarify your interpretation.

10. Help foster relationships and well-being. Make time for social conversations. This increases rapport and eases communication between people who may not meet often. It also reduces feelings of isolation.

11. Supervise appropriately. Whilst some managers make the mistake of supervising too closely, some slip into the “they will ring me if they need me” mentality. Conversations tend to be only when there is a problem rather than opportunities to share the ideas and experiences needed to build a highly engaged team. This lack of interaction will leave workers de-motivated, under-appreciated and under-developed.

12. Keep an eye on working hours. There is the risk of individuals overcompensating by spending more time working to prove their contribution to the business. Many flexible workers with the ability to work remotely admit to struggling to switch off from work, checking messages in the evenings and weekends and neglecting work life balance, which just leads to an exhausted, unproductive team.

Trust is key

Finland, which leads the world in flexible working, will say that the key reason flexible working is so successful is a deep rooted culture of trust. Trust is the most important factor in implementing flexible working successfully because, in the workplace, this trust translates to an expectation that staff working remotely or at different times of the day won’t end up slacking.

Many employers who have had remote working thrust upon them as a result of the COVID 19 crisis, and who have feared that their staff will not work efficiently and effectively away from the office, have been pleasantly surprised!

If you can foster a culture of trust, your remote team will thrive.

Building trust, communicating effectively and being able to read a situation remotely are not skills that can be developed overnight. Managers should:

• conduct a regular skills audit on themselves and their team to identify areas of improvement;
• request regular feedback from the team on any areas they recommend changing or doing differently.

For any help at all please contact nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk or on +44(0)7917878384

May 19

Is an employee’s refusal to return to work from furlough leave grounds for disciplinary action?

Employees are being urged to remain working from home for as long as possible. However, where jobs cannot be performed from home employees are allowed to attend work and an employer whose business is reopening may need them to return to the workplace.

How to deal with employees’ concerns:

• Some employees may be unable to come to work if they are ‘shielding’. The advice to employers is to leave them on furlough leave.

• Some employees may not be shielding but are otherwise considered vulnerable (or living with someone considered vulnerable) and are also advised to remain at home. Again employers should leave them on furlough.

• Some employees may be concerned about how they can safely get to work and about their safety in the workplace. As an employer you have a duty of care to protect the health and safety of all staff and so you should listen to concerns and take the necessary steps to protect everyone:

o Carry out a risk assessment and discuss with the employee the measures you have already put in place:

 enforce the 2-metre social distancing rule, put tape on the floor in well-used areas, for instance around a reception area and space out desks accordingly
 ensure they have relevant protective clothing
 make sure there are hand washing facilities and that employees are encouraged to regularly wash their hands
 stagger shifts to limit contact with others
 stagger lunch breaks so people are not congregating in the lunch area
 ensure people are not making cups of tea for their team like they would have done previously
 encourage people to challenge behaviour that doesn’t comply with social distancing
 regularly remind staff of their obligations as things can quickly become relaxed.

o Ask if they think anything further should be provided to make them feel comfortable about coming to work and make sure they are aware of the following:

 The employee assistance programme which is open for them to contact at any time
 The regular communication that has been structured between line manager and employee to ensure concerns are addressed in the moment.

Potential claims if employees are forced to return to work:

It is important to note that genuine concerns should be accommodated where possible. Forcing employees to come to work against their will, in these unprecedented circumstances, can lead to claims on the following basis:

• Employees are protected from detriment or dismissal where they refuse to attend work in circumstances of danger which they reasonably believe to be serious and imminent.
• Employees who refuse to attend work raising safety concerns relating to coronavirus might qualify for protection from detriment and dismissal as a whistleblower.

Of course, the more that employers do to ensure they are doing all that they can to implement risk assessments, maintain proper social distancing and provide PPE where necessary, the less chance the employee can reasonably refuse to come to work and have a successful potential claim.

Using holiday or unpaid leave:

If the employee still does not want to return to work, you could ask them to take holiday or a period of unpaid leave – this does need to be agreed by both parties and looked at on a case by case position.

The last resort:

If there is refusal to take holiday or unpaid leave and the employee, despite clear communication as to very thorough and careful healthy and safety precautions, is still refusing to return to work then disciplinary action may be considered although only in extreme cases and caution will be required!

If employees are happy to return from furlough:

Returning staff from furlough is inevitably going cause more issues for an employer than the initial furloughing of staff in late March. Therefore, an employer will need to:

• Be clear about what staffing needs it requires, both initially and longer term.
• Be prepared to discuss and justify such proposals in advance of contacting affected employees.
• Get in touch with your staff and confirm when you want them to come back to work, giving them reasonable notice.
• Document and discuss any difficulties raised by individual employees, such as those identified above and consider and find workable solutions.
• Confirm verbally and in writing to those who have been selected and have agreed to return.

Important to remember, the government guidance is that everyone should work from home and only go into the workplace if their job absolutely cannot be done from home.

For any help at all please contact nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk or on +44(0)7917878384

May 5

Getting employees back to work post lockdown….

How you manage a return to work will depend on the degree of closure during the pandemic, but there will be some common themes:

There will be a requirement for some form of social distancing for some time to come. You will need to review your workplace and consider the following:

1. can staff maintain a 2m physical distance between each other?
2. how will you manage meetings, interviews and other interactions?
3. how will you manage communal areas: kitchens, canteens, toilets?

Some solutions may be as follows:

• all staff who can work from home will be expected to carry on doing so for a period of time as lockdown restrictions will be lifted gradually.
• phased return by groups of employees or by teams should be considered.
• trial a move to a smaller set of core hours so you can manage meetings and interactions while still offering flexibility for employees.
• stagger working hours so not all staff are in at the same time
• use technology to enhance the working-from-home experience
• manage the flow of people to avoid congregations
• revise seating plans
• limit time spent in conference rooms

As certain teams or parts of the business return to work detailed risk management will be necessary to safeguard health and minimise the risk of infection:

1. work in close collaboration with your health and safety teams wherever possible.
2. communicate to staff on a regular basis the practical measures you are taking to help reassure them that their health, well-being and safety is your top priority.
3. make sure employees are clear about what procedure they should follow if they begin to feel unwell, both in the workplace and at home.

Key protection and hygiene measures will continue to apply to minimise the spread of infection:

1. remind staff about regular and effective handwashing
2. continue to provide hand sanitiser
3. carry out a deep-clean before you reopen the workplace
4. ensure all phones/keyboards etc are wiped daily with anti-viral cleaner.
5. depending on your working environment you may need to consider providing additional PPE, including gloves and masks – if so training/briefing staff on their correct usage will be important.

Perceptions of safety are as important as the actual level of safety being provided in making sure staff feel comfortable returning to work:

1. adjust sickness policies to ensure rapid responses where required
2. clear communication around the H&S measures you are putting in place and why you are doing so is important
3. consult with staff to understand their concerns in returning to the workplace
4. a phased return to work ensures employees get to hear from their peers who have already been into work about the H&S measures in practice
5. prepare for the potential shut down of the office if an employee tests positive – a rapid exit plan is required in advance of bringing staff back to work

Staff who travel to clients or visit other company premises may also need additional equipment or briefing:

Remote meeting facilities and video-conferencing should be encouraged wherever possible to minimise the need for staff to travel and/or use public transport.


The risks to people’s health from this pandemic are psychological as well as physical as a result of the following and all need to be treated sensitively:

1. anxiety about the ongoing health crisis and fear of infection, as well social isolation due to the lockdown.
2. challenging domestic situations, such as juggling childcare or caring for a vulnerable relative, as well as financial worries if a partner has lost their income.
3. they may have been dealing with illness, or bereavement
4. they may have concerns over travelling to work on public transport.

It will be important to have a re-induction process for returning staff. Every manager should have a 1:1 with every employee with the focus on:

1. health, safety and wellbeing – be sensitive to concerns, give them time to air them and ask questions
2. inform them of any changes to services or procedures
3. inform them of changes to their duties or tasks
4. check they are comfortable coming to work, listen to concerns, be flexible where possible
5. allow continued home working or a phased return to work if domestic situations make travelling to work challenging

It is important that employees feel they are returning to an inclusive workplace. Managers need to be sensitive to underlying tensions that may have resulted from an unequal impact across the workforce and feel confident about tackling them:

1. different employees or individuals will have been affected in diverse ways depending on their job role or individual circumstances
2. some may have been furloughed on 80% or 100% of pay
3. others may have continued to work and may have had increased workloads

Post lockdown, when the time comes for companies to start bringing employees back into the workplace, businesses will come under intense scrutiny regarding how they manage the wellbeing of their staff. Employers will therefore have to carefully consider their reintroduction strategies.

For any help at all please contact mailto:nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk?subject=back%20to%20work%20post%20lockdown or on +44(0)7917878384

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