With social, economic and cultural norms changing at an unprecedented level, it is essential for employers to support their employees through the process – from mental health to creating a safe working environment, employers have a responsibility to protect their workforce.
Government guidance to help Brits get back to work
Government guidance on working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19)
Acas - Coronavirus (COVID 19): Advice for employers and employees
Our checklist below provides the employment considerations which will enable you to assess and control the risk of COVID-19 as lockdown measures are eased:
- Information: In line with government guidance, provide "clear, consistent and regular communication" to the wider workforce and representatives where appropriate. Reassure and set out a clear plan. Monitor and understand any unforeseen impacts of the changing working environment. Print off and display the appropriate "COVID-19 secure" notice to demonstrate that the guidance has been followed. Ensure those with responsibility (such as line managers) are fully informed on the protocol. Seek confirmation from the workforce that they have understood the new rules and will abide by them.
- Listen: Understandably employees will have concerns - whether returning to the workplace or continuing to work remotely. Create an easy mechanism to ensure the workforce has a voice which is listened to. For example through helplines, staff forums, concern forums or a centrally monitored email box. Be as flexible as possible. Implement ideas that are suggested and utilise all forms of media in communicating with more dispersed and technically linked businesses.
• Financial support: Consider employer support or advice with referral to consultants/specialists for those employees facing future hardship. Ensure that you have details of external support that can be accessed in particular for those with challenging personal circumstances, for example those with a disability and those requiring Access to Work.
• Mental health and well-being: The impact of the pandemic on mental health and well-being cannot be underestimated. Employers must be mindful of the mental health risks associated with the level of change. Employers should consider the following:
- Contact: Keeping in touch is critical, whether through virtual meetings or otherwise. Messages of support and providing a sense of community is key.
- Structure: Employees have had to adapt to a sudden change in their working environment and a further period of change is inevitable. It will be important for employers to provide structure and co-ordination of work, setting clear, achievable objectives but making employees aware that there is highly likely to be further change and to expect and embrace that as a means of ensuring the stability of the organisation.
- Support: Consider physical and mental well-being support for those employees who have been considerably affected by the pandemic, either in house or by means of helplines etc. Be understanding in relation to fears about not working at home, job losses and caring for others.
• Audit: Know your workforce. From questionnaires to business wide surveys, ensure you know who in your business needs what assistance. Audit business processes to ensure you are in the best possible position to plan ahead. Create a clear image, know what is working well and what measures you will want to keep once restrictions ease.
• Carers/shielding: What measures are being put in place to assist those caring for people, from young children to caring for the vulnerable? Who in your workforce is shielding? Who lives with someone who is shielding? Are they able to work from home in their current role or in an alternative role? Consider possible discrimination issues.
• Equality: Ensure you are mindful of the particular needs of different groups of workers or individuals. The government guidance highlights that it is breaking the law to discriminate against anyone because they have a protected characteristic and the particular responsibilities towards disabled workers and those who are new or expectant mothers.
• External communication: Communicate with stakeholders/clients/customers to assure them that you are able to continue to operate safely during the pandemic. Set out any specific measures to offer reassurance. Ensure the "COVID-19 secure" notice is displayed appropriately to demonstrate compliance with the government guidance.
• Further lockdowns: Organisations are having to adapt at an unprecedented rate. It is important to look to the next stage and consider possible further lockdowns. Consider what measures can be put in place to help facilitate the next phase. Look ahead as much as possible and prepare your workforce for change.
• Homeworking: As well as reviewing your homeworking policy - risk assessments, mental health support and data protection all need addressing. Employers will also need to consider what equipment will need to be purchased for remote workers; including laptops, monitors, stationery and other home office items.
• Insurance: Check your employee insurance to ensure employees are adequately protected in the current climate and with the new ways of working especially if they are working from home on a more permanent basis.
• Reorganisation/restructure: Is there a reduction in work? Do employers need to consider reorganisation/restructuring of the business? Is any downturn temporary or permanent?
• Re-training/re-skilling: The workplace may look like a different place. Can employees be re-trained/skilled to work in different areas? Can they access them?
• Risk assessments: Employers have a duty of care for their workforce. The guidance set out above under "Key resources" provides essential detail on workplace COVID-19 risk assessments and sets out a very clear objective "that all employers carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment". Employers should update risk assessments for the workforce as a whole in line with the government guidance, especially where they were undertaken in haste due to the lockdown. Whilst it's likely that early shortcomings in risk assessments will be accepted, where there has been sufficient time and ability to revise assessments, they should be updated. In particular, consider vulnerable employees and any extra protection they may require to be brought back to work. Consult with health and safety, trade union and employee representatives where applicable. Publish the results of the risk assessment in accordance with the guidance.
• Training: From online training sessions to virtual team meetings, ensure the workforce are clear on measures taken and what is expected from them. Keep clear records of training undertaken. Develop communication and training materials for your workforce prior to them returning to the workplace, especially around new procedures for arrival at work.
• Travel: Employers will wish to implement travel restrictions during the current climate. Ensure this is communicated appropriately to the workforce and a red flag system is in place for any travel booked. The guidance highlights the need to minimise non-essential travel, minimise the number of people travelling together and provides advice on cleaning vehicles between shifts. Employees are likely to be concerned with regard to commuting to and from work, employers should listen to those concerns and be as flexible as possible when addressing any issues raised. For example, staggered start times may be appropriate to reduce the risk. Travel abroad has been severely curtailed and is likely to remain that way for some time but employers should consider the longer term potential of that and how that will be actioned.
Reviewing contracts, policies and procedures
• Annual leave: Consider management of annual leave to promote business efficacy. Make use of notice/counter-notice provisions to help ensure annual leave is taken at the optimum time for the organisation. Bear in mind the new provisions on carry-over of leave.
• Bonus/commission schemes: Employers will need to consider the impact of COVID-19 on any bonus/commission arrangements.
• Contracts of employment: New working arrangements are inevitable. Consider whether the changes necessitate a change to the contract of employment, for example implementing temporary staggered start times. Employers may wish to consider implementing lay-off/short-time working clauses where possible.
• Induction/supervision: In businesses which are predominantly operating remotely, employers will need to plan inductions and supervision appropriately, making use of virtual meetings and any technology available to ensure there is no detrimental impact on quality.
• Policies and procedures:
- Disciplinary and grievance procedures: Consider possible amendments to address social distancing breaches or other reckless COVID-19 behaviour. Government guidance has been very specific over measures which must be taken, employers will need to ensure steps are taken to enforce the new safety advice. Employers may see a rise in disciplinaries and grievances relating to COVID-19 and the change in working practices.
- Health and safety: Update policies and procedures to ensure the new measures are clearly spelled out. What steps are being taken to protect the workforce? What part do employees need to play? From enhanced personal hygiene to social distancing in the workplace, employees should be clear on what is expected from them and what they can expect. Although the recent government guidance does not address temperature checks (the guidance is constantly being updated), some employers may consider this to be a sensible measure. If temperature checks are carried out, employers will need to be mindful of the issue of consent and data processing within the context of data protection law. Testing should also be carried out consistently across the workforce to help mitigate any discrimination claims.
- Homeworking policy: Review your homeworking policy to ensure it is fit for purpose in the new climate.
- Sickness absence: Consider whether any amendments need to be made to sickness absence policies, including requirements to self-report COVID-19 symptoms and to self-isolate.
• Visas and immigration: Employers will need to consider: delayed visa extension applications; sponsor migrant reporting obligations; and how to address difficulties that may arise in satisfying Home Office requirements for permanent settlement as a result of COVID-19, such as extended absence from UK, reduced salary whilst on furlough leave, and failure by innovators to create jobs etc.
If you would like any further information with regard to the issues raised in this checklist please contact your usual DWF contact or another member of the Employment Team.
If you would like to understand what your business needs to consider from a health & safety perspective please view our health & safety checklist >
If you would like to understand what your business needs to consider from a data protection perspective please view our data protection checklist >
Webinar recording: Managing your workplace post-lockdown
As the UK prepares for a "new normal" and the relaxation of lockdown restrictions, our data protection, employment and regulatory experts guide you through how to get back to business safely. View the recording >