HR for Employers
Covid-19 is a new strain of coronavirus that has not been seen in humans before. It has become a pandemic affecting countries all over the world and as employers we have a duty of care to our employees to make the workplace as safe as possible. Whenever possible, the Government advises working from home. This is not always practical so if you have to keep your workplace open then the following measures should be taken:-
- Provide washing facilities of soap and hot water for staff to regularly use.
- If there is no access to water and soap, provide hand sanitiser.
- Face masks are not necessary unless the employee is a care giver and has contact with those who are most vulnerable or who have symptoms.
- Ensure the guidelines around personal hygiene safety are written down and easily available for all to read – email regularly, display posters and leaflets.
- Ensure all employees know the guidelines around self-isolation if someone in their household is displaying symptoms or they get symptoms themselves.
- All employees should know who to contact if they are unable to come in.
- Keep the workplace clean by wiping down all surfaces that employees come into contact with including handles, light and power switches, keyboards and desks. Do these daily and if you have no cleaner put a rota in place to keep the cleaning programme going.
- Ensure managers are clear on processes such as sick reporting and sick pay. Managers should be asking people to be at home if they are displaying any symptoms.
- Be aware of who is more likely to be vulnerable including those who are over 70, those who are pregnant, have a low immune system or have long term conditions. These are not the group that the government have advised to shield (see question for shielding) but they are individuals that you should be paying special attention to. Complete a risk assessment for those individuals as necessary.
The government have shut certain businesses and venues, all other businesses have not been required to shut and should continue if they can. Employers should make provision to facilitate their employees working from home wherever possible. This includes the provision of IT or equipment necessary for their job. It is recognised that some employees cannot work from home and in these cases the guidance around social distancing should be followed, including working 2 metres apart and washing hands on a regular basis.
- Consider if employees can work from home. Take a look at our question about looking after staff whilst home working for more details.
- Limit face to face contact and use webinars or video conferencing facilities as an alternative
- If you have customers, consider if you can use any self-serve facilities
- Space workers in line with the social distancing guidelines of 2 metres wherever possible
- You can ask employees to do overtime in the cases of staff absenteeism. It is important that employees do not work any more than 48 hours a week average (unless they specifically opt out), have 11 hours uninterrupted rest in a 24 hour period and 1 full day off a week. Employees are only obliged to accept overtime if their contract specifies it, in all other circumstances they are entitled to refuse it.
- Consider different shift patterns. Someone may want to spread out their hours over a week or consolidate them into a couple of days. Another employee might want to work in the evenings when it is easier for them to do so.
- You can allocate holiday leave as long as you inform staff at least twice as many days before the enforced holiday. i.e. if you are asking someone to take one week of leave at a specific time, you must inform them at least two weeks in advance.
- You can also cancel leave but you should give a notice period of the same amount of time as the requested leave. i.e. an employee with a week of leave has to be informed that it is cancelled at least a week before the leave was due to start.
- If an employee is unable to take all of their leave due to coronavirus, a new temporary law allows them to carry over up to 4 weeks for the following 2 leave years.
You have a duty of your care to your employees and therefore should be regularly checking on their wellbeing as well as ensuring that your work carries on as best it can.
- Find out what your employees need to make working from home as comfortable as possible.
- Offer flexible working, particularly if they also have caring duties for children or other family members
- Think about what their day-to-day job involves in terms of what could be easily done from home and what needs some adaptations. You may find some tasks are not suitable at all.
- Assess health and safety needs whilst working at home. Does your employee have any particular needs? Do they have the correct equipment?
- Ensure that systems are in place to properly adhere to data protections laws and any other security measure required.
- Consider mental wellbeing. You employees are more likely to be anxious and concerned at this time as well as needing to adapt to working at home. Encourage them to have regular breaks, exercise and do things that they enjoy wherever possible. Check in with them regularly to offer support and guidance.
- Agree working hours and expectations with your employees and ensure they are aware of any new methods of management and confirm arrangements in writing.
You may find an employee checklist helpful. staff-survey-preparing-for-homeworking-flexible-working_tcm18-73114.xlsx
- Effective communication is key to managing employees who work at home. Keep in touch via the phone or video conferencing. There are many platforms available including Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Jitsi.
- Review the methods of communication regularly. Is it working? Can ideas and feedback be given freely? Consider alternative methods where larger teams are on calls and not every employee is able to have their say.
- Be clear about how you will measure performance. Set targets and deadlines realistically, being aware that this is a time for stress for many people and employees are getting used to new ways of working.
- Trust may be difficult for managers when you are used to overseeing work in a face to face setting. Set clear expectations at the outset and reinforce them. If performance isn’t at expected levels investigate why and put support in place. Follow normal performance management processes if performance continues to be an issue.
- Develop a homeworking policy Features-of-a-homeworking-policy.doc
Those displaying the symptoms of Covid-19 (primarily a high temperature and new, continuous cough) should self-isolate for 7 days from the day the symptoms first started. Anyone else living in their household should self-isolate for 14 days from the day the symptoms in the affected individual first started.
From the 13th March, the Government has advised that those returning from affected countries no longer need to self-isolate unless they are displaying symptoms.
Shielding protects those who have very specific underlying health conditions that make them extremely vulnerable to serious illness from Covid-19 if they contract it. Individuals in this category will have received a letter from the NHS advising them to halt all face-to-face contact and remain within their homes for 12 weeks from the day they received the letter. This is strong advice and it is up to the individual if they want to follow it.
If your employee is self-isolating or shielding but well enough to work then you could consider what reasonable adjustments you can make to enable them to work from home. This could include altering their tasks, agreeing a different work pattern or providing equipment. Make these changes in writing for clarity. If it is not possible for them to do any tasks at home, agree on regular contact so that they don’t feel isolated from the workplace. Discuss the best methods of contact and when is the best time.
In the first instance determine if your employees can still work from home. This may be true if they have mild symptoms of Covid-19 or if others in their household display symptoms. Consider reasonable adjustments as outlined in the previous question.
Those who are unable to work due to self-isolating because of symptoms of Covid-19 or others in their household displaying symptoms are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from day 1 if they meet the normal guidelines for claiming SSP. See https://www.gov.uk/statutory-sick-pay/eligibility for more details. This includes new starters, those on zero hour contracts and agency workers. Fit notes are not required for Covid-19 as they have been replaced with an isolation note, available here https://111.nhs.uk/isolation-note/
Those who are shielding for 12 weeks and unable to work from home may be considered for the job retention scheme (furlough) which enables the employer to claim and pay 80% of the employees’ salary. This should be done by agreement. See “What is the Furlough or Job Retention scheme?” question for more details of the scheme.
Many employees will have children at home as all schools are closed and they can’t get childcare due to social distancing guidelines. In the first instance agree what reasonable adjustments can be made such as changing their hours or tasks to fit around their home life. If this is not possible, all employees have the right to unpaid leave for dependants and this would be appropriate unless your organisation’s policy states that you will give paid leave. You could also consider them for the job retention scheme (furlough).
It is a time of fear and stress for many people and your employees may be scared to come to work in case they catch the virus. You could consider reasonable adjustments to enable home working as outlined in our working from home question. If this is not possible, reassure your employees that you are doing everything in your power to make the workplace as safe as possible. If the employee is still reluctant, you could agree that annual leave or even unpaid leave is taken. Disciplinary measures should only be undertaken if all supportive alternatives have been exhausted first.
It is worth remembering that employers can still be liable for discrimination if their employees treat others in a discriminatory way i.e. refusing to come to work or be near someone who is Chinese as they believe they are more likely to pass on the virus.
It is important to talk openly about mental health within the workplace. Some of your employees may disclose a mental health problem for the first time as this pandemic may trigger worsening symptoms or a recurrence of a problem that has previously been under control. It’s important that you keep an eye on all your employees to enable them to work as productively as possible and have good mental wellbeing at this time of national emergency.
- Give good information from reliable sources. There are many rumours flying around and it’s important to keep these in check by calmly presenting facts and where they can get more information for themselves. You may like to check https://fullfact.org/ which dispels common myths and theories making the rounds.
- Advise people to avoid spending too much time watching the news or following the crisis on social media. Regular updates at specific times is better for mental wellbeing.
- Give people time and opportunity to talk. It may be that normal managers are not the right people to do this but rather a champion within the workplace who is calm, friendly, non-judgemental and good at listening.
- Keep up regular 1-2-1's and if a mental health issue emerges take the matter seriously. Consider what support you can give as an employer and signpost them to other sources of help.
- Encourage staff to take regular breaks and maintain physical exercise.
- Communicate regularly with the workforce, offering support and adjusting targets and deadlines where necessary. Be aware of workloads and stress.
Your employee is entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if they have planned leave and are unwell from the symptoms of Covid-19. They can then take the leave at a later date or carry over up to 4 weeks paid leave in the next two years.
This scheme came into force on 1st March 2020 and is open to all employers, including charities, for at least three months. It takes the form of a grant for 80% of an employees’ wages up to £2,500 plus Employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment pension contributions on that wage. This grant starts from the day you place an employee on furlough and can be backdated to 1st March 2020. You can find government guidance on how to claim for your employee’s wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme HERE.
Do I need to pay the additional 20% of their normal salary?
No, even if the 80% means that their income falls below the National Minimum Wage or the National Living Wage. You may choose to do this as an organisation but consider how long can you can continue to do that, review it regularly and make changes accordingly.
Can my employee work or volunteer whilst on Furlough?
An employee cannot work whilst on Furlough. However an employee can volunteer whilst on furlough but cannot generate any revenue providing service for your organisation.
If work comes in, can I ask my employee to return to work?
You must furlough an employee for three weeks in order to claim the grant. If after this time you find you have work that they are able to do, then you bring them back to work and furlough again at a later date.
Is there a template letter I can use to put my employees on Furlough?
You can use this template but remember to tailor it to your organisation. Letter-confirming-an-agreement-to-temporary-furlough.doc