As the UK gradually emerges from COVID-19 lockdown measures, and employees begin the transition back to their workplace, advo puts forward some of the key issues employers could face in summer 2021.
1. Managing the return to work
COVID secure measures and expectations of behaviour and conduct must be made clear.
At present, the guidance to work from home where possible is still in place. If you are in a position where employees cannot work from home, it is important to speak to each employee to understand their situation and how they are feeling about a return to work, whilst being mindful about staff anxieties at this time. As an employer you need to be ready to support those who have concerns about the return to work.
When organisations start to bring employees back to the workplace, it will be important to ensure COVID secure measures are followed, and employees know exactly what is expected of them; for example on use of masks, COVID-19 testing ,social distancing and steps to take if they receive a positive COVID-19 test or are alerted by track and trace.
2. Risk assessments
In addition to following government advice, employers should also carry out their own risk assessments, to take reasonable steps to minimise any risk to employees where possible.
Employers should only ask employees to return to work once they have taken the necessary steps to protect their health and safety. It is an employer’s legal duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other people who might be affected by their business. Employers must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this.
As an employer, you have a duty to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of your employees.
Encouraging employees to be vaccinated to protect themselves against Coronavirus is likely to be a reasonable step, to reduce the risk to employees’ health. As the vaccination effort gathers pace, employers will need to strike the right tone when encouraging staff to get vaccinated. Consider offering paid time off to attend vaccination appointment and publicising the benefits to improve take up of the vaccine when offered through the NHS. There may be valid reasons why employees are unable or reluctant to get the vaccine so open and honest conversations are encouraged but employers should not apply pressure to employees to get vaccinated.
No jab, no job policy
You may have seen some recent new stories of employers stating they may not offer jobs to those who are unvaccinated or may dismiss employees if they refuse to be vaccinated. Mandatory vaccination can be seen as an intrusion on an employee’s body. There is also the risk of discrimination if an employee refuses to get vaccinated the basis of disability, or religious or philosophical belief. Employers cannot forcibly vaccinate employees or potential employees, unless they work in a sector where a legal requirement is introduced, as it being proposed for those working in care homes. If you choose to take this stance, unless your company is in a field whereby the government have deemed vaccinations against covid-19 compulsory (i.e., care homes), you could be on very shaky legal ground.
If you are considering a policy of this type, we would urge you to seek third party independent advice before taking any further steps.
5. Dress codes
In the summer, it is often prudent for employers to relax their dress code, especially during high temperatures.
However, employers should still ensure that health and safety and hygiene processes are followed, and PPE is worn where required.
It could be beneficial for employers to review their dress code policy now, to reflect the standards of appearance regarding remote meetings, particularly during periods of hot weather and to remind employees of what the expected dress code is.
It is important to speak to employees who are not abiding by the dress code in a timely manner so they are aware of what they should be wearing. If an employee then breaks the dress code again then this may need to be dealt with more formally.
6. Workplace temperature
The Workplace Regulations 1992 state that the temperature in a workplace must be “reasonable”, but they do not specify a maximum temperature. The nature of the work being undertaken (i.e. whether it requires exertion), will play a part in helping an organisation to decide if the temperature is reasonable.
In addition to the COVID secure measures in place to reduce risks of virus transmission, employers will need to consider their legal obligation to ensure any enclosed areas of the workplace are supplied with fresh air or ventilation, particularly in warm weather.
It is worth bearing in mind that what might, in normal circumstances, be an acceptable temperature, could be very uncomfortable if your workplace COVID-19 policy requires employees to wear masks or other PPE.
7. Closure of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS)
The CJRS is scheduled to come to a close at the end of September 2021, and employers utilising the scheme need to be aware of the changes coming throughout the summer.
Employees that have been on, or remain on, furlough, are likely to have questions about how and when they can take their annual leave, which continues to accrue whilst on furlough. Employers should also be speaking to employees prior to their return to understand each employee’s circumstances and how they are feeling about their return. This allows the employer to address any concerns before a return to the work place. Training may be required for employees to re-familiarise themselves with their roles, the office, standards expected of them etc after a potentially long period of furlough.
Key dates for the CJRS:
Until 30 June: Employers continue to claim 80% of workers pay
From 1 July until 31 July: Employers begin to contribute 10% of workers’ pay, the government pays 70%
1 August to 30 September: Employer contributions increase to 20% of workers’ pay. The government pays 60%.
From 1 October: Furlough scheme is expected to close.
It is important that employers consider if there may be a need to consider redundancies ahead of time to ensure employers obligations are met.
With the announcement that the easing of lockdown restrictions has been delayed, these dates or contribution levels could change. Follow https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wages-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme for the latest updates.
advo are here and able to help with all of the above issues, should you require any HR advice or further guidance. Contact us today to start a conversation.