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

April 28

How to exit from furlough….what is your strategy?

1. Return to business as usual

Bringing employees back to work on their previous terms and conditions will be the easiest but most expensive option and will most likely be used by employers who anticipate that they can revert to ‘business as usual’ in the short term.

How do you do this?

Give your employees a minimum of 48 hours’ notice to return to work, although notice in mid-June, assuming the government does not extend the furlough scheme further, will be sensible.

2. Reduce payroll costs without making redundancies

Extending the furlough leave scheme without the benefit of the government grant, on the same or revised terms, is possible provided employees continue to agree. It is also possible, with consent, to furlough new employees or rotate employees to ensure that elements of the workforce do not become deskilled.

How do you do this?

Provided employees agree to an extended furlough period, a new or extended furlough agreement will be required. If an extended furlough scheme is presented as a formal alternative to redundancy, a formal redundancy consultation will be required.

Where an employee has a contractual lay off without pay provision in their contract, this could also be used. The employer should consult with employees first and give reasonable notice of any lay off. Be mindful of the fact that employees who have been laid off for four or more consecutive weeks, or six weeks in any 13-week period, are able to claim a statutory redundancy payment in certain circumstances.

3. End furlough and bring employees back to work on reduced hours and pay

Employers wish to retain trained employees and avoid the costs involved of making redundancies where:

• business has resumed but a full-time commitment is not required
• a return to business as usual is likely in the medium to long term
• furlough resulted in a reduced number of employees being kept in work but now the available work needs to be spread more evenly across all staff.

How do you do this?

Where furloughed employees are returning to a workplace where employees have already agreed a pay-cut in exchange for reduced hours, they may anticipate that this is what will be expected of them and be willing to agree to a change.

If not, a reduction in hours and pay is a change to terms and conditions and requires employees’ agreement. It is important to gain individual consent in writing from each employee using a variation of contract letter.

Where an employer has a contractual right to impose short-time working, this could be used. The employer should consult with employees first and give reasonable notice to avoid being in breach of contract. The statutory lay-off provisions mentioned above also entitle employees who have been kept on short time for four or more consecutive weeks or six weeks in any 13-week period to resign and claim a statutory redundancy payment in certain circumstances.

4. Offer unpaid (or part-paid) leave or sabbaticals

Where an organisation wants to retain all their employees but needs to buy some time to allow the business to return to normal trading conditions, this may provide a solution.

How do you do this?

The employer will inform all staff that it will consider applications for sabbaticals and reserve the right to decline requests if, for example, an employee is in a business critical role.

Where a sabbatical is agreed, its terms and the employee’s consent to them should be recorded in writing.

5. Make redundancies

In the absence of any extension to the furlough scheme there are likely to be many organisations who will have no option but to make redundancies.

Starting redundancy consultation during the furlough period

The guidance from HMRC on furlough provides that ‘your employer can still make you redundant while you’re on furlough or afterwards”. There is no specific guidance to state that collective or individual redundancy consultation can be carried out during furlough, but it is widely considered that either form of consultation can be commenced during furlough leave.

Assuming collective consultation can be undertaken during the furlough period, this is likely to be used by employers who:

• know they need to make redundancies, but could reduce that number by using the furlough scheme to absorb part of the cost of consultation
• want to push for other changes as an alternative to redundancies (see above) but need to be able to act quickly if employees do not agree.

How do you do this?

Collective consultation is required where an employer proposes to dismiss 20 or more employees “at one establishment” in a 90-day period. If fewer than 20 redundancies are anticipated, only individual consultation is required.

Consultation must start “in good time” to allow the relevant discussions to take place and a minimum period before the first of the dismissals takes effect. The minimum periods are:

• 30 days, where between 20 and 99 employees are to be dismissed
• 45 days, where 100 or more employees are to be dismissed.

There is no confirmation that the current situation will mean that these minimum consultation periods can be dispensed with, but it may be possible in some cases. It is important the employer can demonstrate it has engaged in collective consultation so far as it can do in the circumstances.

Given the current circumstances, where there may be large numbers of employees furloughed and so not attending work, the consultation process will be more challenging and so the impact on timelines will need to be borne in mind and zoom (or equivalent) consultation meetings will need to be held.

It is important to dot all the ‘i’s as getting the collective consultation requirements wrong can expose the employer to significant financial liabilities, including a “protective award” of up to 90 days’ pay per affected employee.

Individual consultation is required at the end of collective consultation. The ordinary redundancy principles apply during this time. In order to avoid a successful claim for unfair dismissal arising out of a redundancy situation, there must be:

• a genuine redundancy situation (most likely to be satisfied in these circumstances)
• adequate warning and consultation of affected employees
• a fair “pooling” and selection process
• consideration of alternative employment
• a fair procedure.

An employee must have two years’ service in order to claim unfair dismissal, although no period of service is needed if they assert, for example, that their selection was discriminatory.

Employees who leave at the end of such a process will be entitled to notice, statutory redundancy pay and whatever enhanced redundancy pay the employer may provide.

Starting redundancy consultation at the end of furlough

This is likely to be used because:

1. it transpires that either sort of consultation during the furlough period is not allowed, or
2. where the employer does not formulate its proposals until after the end of the furlough period.

How do you do this?

The details of the consultation process and periods are as set out above. If this approach is followed and assuming consultation starts on 1 July 2020, dismissals could not take effect until 1 August or 16 August at the earliest (depending on the number of employees involved). For redundancies of less than 20 employees, the dismissal could take effect as early as mid-July.

Please contact nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk or on +44(0)7917878384 if you need any assistance at all or simply just require more detail than is set out here…

April 20

Update on furlough….and the detail on how to claim….

As you are probably aware, the government has confirmed that it is extending the period that employees can be furloughed to 30 June 2020. The chancellor has also stated that this period could be extended further.

A further amendment to the scheme has been to extend the eligibility date from 28 February 2020 to 19 March 2020. This means that employers can claim for furloughed employees that were employed and on their PAYE payroll on or before 19 March 2020 – this means the employee must have been notified to HMRC through an RTI submission notifying payment in respect of that employee on or before 19 March 2020.

Please also remember that the HMRC portal goes live today, 20 April 2020.

To claim you will need:

• your employer PAYE reference number
• the number of employees being furloughed
• National Insurance Numbers for the furloughed employees
• Names of the furloughed employees
• Payroll/employee number for the furloughed employees (optional)
• your Self Assessment Unique Taxpayer Reference or Corporation Tax Unique Taxpayer Reference or Company Registration Number
• the claim period (start and end date)
• amount claimed (per the minimum length of furloughing of 3 consecutive weeks)
• your bank account number and sort code
• your contact name
• your phone number

You will need to calculate the amount you are claiming. HMRC will retain the right to retrospectively audit all aspects of your claim.

If you have fewer than 100 furloughed staff you will be asked to enter details of each employee you are claiming for directly into the system – this will include their name, National Insurance number, claim period and claim amount, and payroll/employee number (optional).

If you have 100 or more furloughed staff, you will be asked to upload a file with the information rather than input it directly into the system. The file should include the following information for each furloughed employee: name, National Insurance number, claim period and claim amount, payroll/employee number (optional).

Email: nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk
Telephone: +44(0)7917 878384

April 17

Furlough, annual leave….and how it all fits together!

One of the ongoing concerns for employers during the COVID-19 crisis is that if and when we return to ‘normal’ in the latter half of the year there is the potential for employees to perhaps have a whole year’s holiday to take in the final six months of 2020 when employers are, quite rightly, keen to try and rebuild their businesses.

To assist, I will hopefully answer some of the FAQs that I am regularly asked:

Does holiday accrue during furlough leave?

Yes – during furlough leave “employees still have the same rights at work” which includes the accrual of holidays. There is an argument for saying that only the statutory minimum holidays will accrue, rather than any enhanced contractual holiday, but I believe goodwill may be lost and there are bigger battles to fight!

Can employees take holiday whilst on furlough leave?

Yes – if an employee is furloughed they can still request and take their holiday in the usual way. Taking holiday does not break the continuity of furlough leave.

Can employers request that employees take holiday during furlough leave?

Yes – provided the employer gives twice the notice for the holiday it wants the employee to take – for example, if an employer wants an employee to take a week’s holiday during furlough they would need to give that employee two weeks’ notice.

It is worth remembering that, whilst it is reasonable for employers to request staff take some annual leave during furlough, the purpose of holiday is for the employee to enjoy rest and leisure – at this time, for many, this is simply not possible. If employers try to ask that all an employee’s holiday is used during furlough leave, this could be an abuse of the employer’s powers.

Can employers refuse holiday requests for employees on furlough?

It depends on the employer and the business sector in which they are operating. Some may want their employees to take holiday to avoid it being “stored-up” to a time when they want their employees to be working. Others will not. It is important to be consistent and fair in how you apply your policies and rules.

What happens with bank holidays (there are four during the furlough scheme)?

If your contract of employment stipulates that bank holidays are part of the annual holiday entitlement, then employees should be paid at their ‘normal rate of pay,’ rather than the reduced furlough pay, for that bank holiday.

If staff, currently furloughed, usually work bank holidays, then employers need to decide whether either the employee takes that day as holiday and is paid their normal pay or they take the time off at a later date.

Can employees cancel pre-booked holiday?

That is for the employer to decide. If an employee can no longer enjoy their holiday because they are at home, looking after/schooling children then perhaps allowing holiday to be taken at a later date or carried over would be recommended. However, an employer may want to ensure that pre-booked holiday is taken at this time to avoid the issues outlined already of a significant amount of holiday accumulating for many staff who may struggle to take it all during 2020 – albeit see below for revised carryover provision – and so insist that the holiday is still taken.

Can the employer cancel an employee’s pre-booked holiday?

Yes – an employer must give staff at least the same number of days’ notice as the original holiday request. As any sort of travel is banned at the moment, the employee may appreciate being able to take the holiday at another point in time.

What are employees paid if they take holiday during furlough?

Employees who take holiday during furlough leave are paid their ‘normal’ pre-furlough leave pay for the annual leave taken. This is a neat way of ensuring that holiday is not stored up and staff get a boost to their furloughed income (if their employer is only paying 80% of salaries). However, it does of course presume that the employer has the cashflow to manage this.

New rules on carryover?

If the employee is prevented from taking holiday because of coronavirus, they are now allowed to carry over 20 days for 2 holiday years after the end of their current holiday year. It is still reasonable, and advisable, to request some holiday is taken during furlough leave because a carryover of 20 days is going to be potentially difficult for the employer to manage as they try to rebuild their business. However, it is reassuring to know that the law has been relaxed for 2 years post COVID-19.

What about other holiday in excess of 20 days that has not been taken?

Some contracts of employment will allow for carryover. However, if not, it is down to the employer to decide whether to allow additional holiday to be carried over or not. Either way it is important that the employer is consistent in its approach and fair to all staff.

For further advice please email: nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk or telephone: +44(0)7917 878384

April 16

How to boost employee morale whilst remote working due to COVID-19….

COVID-19 has imposed a new culture of remote working and with this comes the risk of declining productivity, morale and overall team performance. Here are some top tips to boost employee morale and wellbeing during this difficult time:

1. Keep employees informed

Regular contact with staff is essential throughout this period of uncertainty. Email communications should be clear and concise focusing on important pieces of information that will keep employees up to date. Regular team check-in meetings via zoom, or similar, should be implemented. Encourage team WhatsApp groups to be set-up to allow employees quickly keep in touch.

2. Promote work-life balance

It is important to acknowledge that employees may find it difficult to adjust to remote working and that they may find themselves more distracted than normal with additional home responsibilities.

Encourage employees to establish a new working routine, which should incorporate regular small breaks during the working day. If employees are used to a daily commute suggest that they use this time to get some exercise before starting their working day. Ensure that employees know that they are not expected to work additional hours and that they should switch-off once their working day is over.

3. Ask for feedback

While employees may not be physically present in the office, they may still have opinions over how the business is operating and how it could be improved. Asking for feedback also helps employees know that their thoughts are valued and when any issues are addressed as a result of feedback.

4. Introduce employee recognition and rewards

Employers should ensure that they recognise and reward individuals or teams who are making significant contributions, show extra effort or deliver beyond expectations. This can boost employee morale and reassure employees that their work is valued. Employers may consider introducing a weekly email, which can be circulated to employees highlighting these achievements.

5. Be flexible and empathetic

Where possible, employers should consider allowing employees to vary their working hours to suit their new arrangements. For some employees being able to work before their children are awake or after they have been put to bed will be enormously beneficial. Employees’ productivity levels when they are free from distraction will also benefit employers. Employers could also consider introducing set core hours that all employees must be available at but allow employees to work their additional hours at other times convenient for them.

6. Team wellness check-ins

Set a weekly virtual team meeting to discuss not only work-related topics but also do a check-in to see how team members are doing. This is an excellent way for team leaders and team members to show their support for one another and to offer up tips that they find helpful in staying healthy. This is a good time to share fact-based videos and news from authority sites for discussion. Sorting through myths and keeping heads calm is important when dealing with low morale during this time.

7. Virtual coffee or perks

Schedule a virtual coffee get-together on a regular basis. Set up a zoom meeting, ask your team to grab their favourite drink and come prepared to share something funny or exciting – non-work related.

These aren’t the only ways to boost your virtual team’s morale during COVID-19 and beyond. The key is first recognising that your teams are likely to suffer decreased morale and then making the decision to do something about it. Trying to ensure they remain connected and productive is key for all parties.

email: nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk
Telephone: +44(0)7917 878384

March 24

What is ‘furlough’ leave….the pros and the cons….?

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was established by the government on 20 March 2020 and will be administered by HMRC.

The scheme will make available grants to those employers who elect to furlough, rather than lay off, employees who are without work during the current crisis.

What we know so far:

• All businesses are eligible, of any size and in any sector, to apply to use the scheme.
• The scheme involves “furloughing” designated employees who would otherwise have been “laid off” during this crisis.
• Any employee can be furloughed provided they are on PAYE and earn more than £118 per week.
• Zero hours workers who fulfil the same criteria may also be furloughed – the pay will be calculated taking an average over 52 weeks.
• This means that staff will be kept on the payroll instead of making them redundant or putting them on unpaid leave.
• HMRC will reimburse 80% of furloughed employees’ gross ‘wage costs’, up to a cap of £2,500 per month per employee.
• ‘Wage costs’ are expected to include wages, pension contributions and employer national insurance contributions.
• The employer can top-up the 80% HMRC payment but does not have to do so – it is recommended employers are consistent across all of their staff.
• Employers who have already made redundancies are encouraged to take back anyone they had dismissed and put them on furlough instead.
• The employer needs to pay their furloughed staff and then be reimbursed by HMRC.
• Employees cannot do any work for an employer that has furloughed them.
• There is nothing preventing employees from going to work part-time hours for another employer to top up their pay.
• The scheme will be backdated to 1 March 2020 and run for three months from that date. It will be extended if necessary.
• Employers need to decide on the employees and workers that you want to furlough and then submit the information to HMRC via a new portal which is due to be in place by the end of April 2020.
• Consent to the new arrangement needs to be obtained from all employees and workers in the correct format.
• The employer is likely to need to maintain benefits for furloughed staff, unless it agrees something different with them.
• Holiday is likely to continue to accrue during the time that staff are furloughed.

Less positive aspects of the scheme:

• It does not help where employees had agreed to reduce their hours, or to a pay cut but where they are still required to work. There is currently no option to do a mixture of reduced hours and furlough leave.
• It may create resentment between employees:
o Some will be at work getting either full or reduced pay
o Others will be on furlough leave getting paid at least 80% to do nothing
o Those off sick may only get SSP which at around £95 per week is likely to be less than 80% of full pay.
• There will be an incentive for employees not to notify their employer if they become sick or need to self-isolate during furlough leave because of these adverse pay consequences.
• Likewise, the employer will also be better off as they can only reclaim 14 days of SSP as opposed to indefinite furlough leave.
• The employees concerned will remain on the employer’s payroll and will continue to accrue holiday and service.

Next steps:

The scheme is clearly welcome news for the many businesses now struggling to cope with the Coronavirus crisis. Nonetheless, a careful approach is required when determined whether to furlough, or not to furlough….

For any advice, email nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk or call +44(0)7917878384

March 20

How to safely change employment terms in the face of COVID-19….

Realistically, an employee isn’t going to complain about a pay rise or more flexible working arrangements – but what happens when proposals are less favourable? How do employers safely impose employment terms?

In the current coronavirus crisis, employers are having to make tough decisions and make the following sorts of changes to contractual terms:

1. Unpaid holiday/sabbatical for a chunk of time – say a month…or two….
2. Pay cut – employees work a full working week for less pay
3. Reduced working hours – reduce to a four, three or two-day week – less work for less money
4. Job shares – employees in a similar job share the job thus both working only half a week
5. Redeployment to other parts of the business in response to workflow requirements
6. No bonus or salary review
7. No overtime even if usually guaranteed

It’s important to understand the rules surrounding contractual changes in order to avoid legal pitfalls………..

Can I impose whatever terms I want, so long as the employee agrees?

No – the law establishes certain minimum duties and obligations that all employers must abide by. For instance, you cannot agree with an employee that you will pay them below the applicable National Minimum Wage. The law will override any agreed terms that do not fulfil statutory duties.

Do I need to consult the employee before implementing a change?

Yes, receiving express agreement from the employee is the safest way to vary a contract, as imposing new terms unilaterally may constitute a breach of contract.

If you want to make the changes you should:
• meet with the employee to explain your case for making the proposed change
• allow the employee time to consider the proposal and to put forward viable alternatives.

It’s likely that engaging the employee in the discussion and allowing them to express their views will make them more receptive to the change.

Do I need to get the employee’s consent in writing to the changes?

Yes, where it has been agreed to vary an employee’s contract and the change relates to a significant term in the contract, as detailed above, the changes should be recorded in a variation of contract letter which must be countersigned by each employee affected within one month of the change taking effect. Once signed this letter is then appended to the contract of employment and put into the employee’s HR file.

If you change terms and conditions that are not included in the contract, you must inform your employees of where they can access information about the change, for example in your Employee Handbook or on your intranet.

The employee is refusing to accept the change. What can I do?

Talk to them and give them time to consider and respond to your proposal. Explain again the reasons for the changes.

If, after lengthy consultation and negotiation, you’re unable to reach agreement, you can serve the individual employee notice that you will terminate their existing contract and offer a new contract with the new employment terms and conditions. If this is the route you decide to take, you must give the correct notice period to help avoid wrongful dismissal claims – although be mindful that claims can still be brought and advice should be sought to navigate safely through this process.

What happens if an employee brings a case for unfair dismissal?

In order to defend unfair dismissal claims, employers must be able to show that they had a fair reason to dismiss and followed a fair procedure (which is where consulting with the employee will come into play).

In unfair dismissal cases relating to changes to contractual terms and conditions, the outcome will often come down to the employer’s ability to demonstrate, with evidence, that they had a sound business reason for the dismissal – the reason given mustn’t be trivial but also doesn’t need to be as extreme as to be the determining factor in your business going under.

For any assistance, do email mailto:nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk or call +44(0)7917878384

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