A new era for employers
Employment law expert at Coodes Solicitors, Philip Sayers, discusses the implications of the new era for employers and shares his tips for business owners to keep in mind moving forward.
Following the Covid-19 crisis, businesses are now looking to the future and, from an employment law perspective, the landscape is now quite different. Employers are faced with a full range of challenging considerations including redundancies, employees returning to work safely, managing those working from home, as well as the furlough scheme and changes in legislation.
These are my key considerations for employers navigating the future of work.
Since the start of lockdown, many businesses have had to ask staff to work from home, increase remote working and introduce new processes in order to survive. Roles may have changed and there could now be an opportunity to examine and re-structure the business.
My number one tip to employers is to communicate with your employees. People are fearful of change and will have concerns over job security. Engaging with your employees as early as possible will help maintain productivity and provide a better emotional journey.
If you are in a position where it’s possible that redundancies have to be made, I would always recommend employers speak with a lawyer first, before taking any further steps, to ensure the correct legal process is followed. This includes understanding whether you have to enter into a collective redundancy process and to manage consultations with employees.
A redundancy situation will be a stressful time, particularly for businesses suffering financially, therefore making sure you have the right advice and support is vital. The Government has also announced that furloughed workers who are made redundant will generally be eligible for notice pay and redundancy pay based on their normal rate.
Returning to the workplace
From 1 August 2020 employers can ask employees working from home to return to the workplace, provided reasonable steps have been taken to ensure premises’ are Covid-19 secure. A risk assessment must be carried out and published for staff to see. Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act states that employees can refuse to return to the workplace where they have a reasonable belief there is ‘serious and imminent danger’ to health and safety. Therefore, in-depth consideration of the risk assessment process is important. Any refusals to return to the workplace must be properly considered with the benefit of legal advice.
The Government has published guidance for a range of different sectors which sets out how businesses can operate in a safe way to minimise the spread of Covid-19.
The furlough scheme
As changes to the furlough scheme continue, employers have to think about whether to bring staff back permanently or use the ‘flexible furlough’ scheme – where staff can return on a pro-rata basis. There is an increasing cost of keeping people on furlough as employers now need to pay National Insurance contributions, pension contributions, and from the start of September, 10% of salaries up to a cap. This increases to 20% from the start of October until the scheme closes completely on 31 October.
Working from home
Home working is looking to be the biggest change that will survive post-pandemic. Many employees may wish to continue to work from home, whether on a full-time or part-time basis, enjoying the ability to better balance home and work life as well as the reduction in overheads for employers.
My advice is to firstly review whether your employee is able to continue working from home safely. Although employers were unable to carry out a full risk assessment of homes at the time of lockdown, steps can now be taken to ensure employees can continue to work from home safely including the provision of safe equipment, keeping in touch regularly and monitoring their working hours to ensure they accord with the Working Time Regulations 1998.
My number one tip here is to check you have all the right policies in place to cover employees working from home – including how you deal with flexible working requests. Any employee with over 26 weeks’ service can raise a flexible working request and there is a mandatory process for employers to follow. There needs to be an outcome, including any appeal stage, within three months of the request. Nobody has the right to flexible working but all workers have the right to have their request properly considered. Employers should be aware that turning down flexible working requests from those with child-caring responsibilities can potentially give rise to claims for indirect sex discrimination.
Homeworking also comes with an increased risk of GDPR breaches and data theft, given that many employees will have been using their own devices. Having robust IT and data protection policies is vital to ensure your business is protected.
At Coodes, we are currently offering a no-commitment consultation service to support employers through this time of change – find out more here.