4 Important Post Lockdown Questions

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back to work

It’s been a long road with many a winding turn as they say, however many businesses that have faced complete lockdown since 23rd March, particularly our friends in the hospitality, beauty and retail sectors are (hopefully) beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel and are preparing for re-opening from 4th July.

Whilst many employees have remained loyal, hardworking and shown great understanding and flexibility during the pandemic, a recent UK wide survey reporting that up to a third of employees are reporting ‘lockdown lethargy’ (Survey conducted by Actus).

Here at Avensure we support businesses across all sectors and it’s clear that whether employers are preparing to use flexible furlough or they are re-opening for the first time since March, employers are already starting to see their fair share of challenges.

Let’s take a look at some frequently asked questions that are currently being put to our experts:

  • I run a bar and I have had to change the layout of the premises (move away from bar service and so on) all to ensure that government guidance is adhered to. In addition, there are going to be some additional cleaning tasks. One employee is saying that this is not ‘in his job description’ and is refusing. Where do I stand?

It’s inevitable that changes such as those you refer to will have to be made, if you don’t adhere to the guidance on public health you will not be able to open and this places the future survival of your business at risk.

You should of course ensure that everyone coming back to work is properly trained and fully aware of their obligations. It is also important to ensure that where cleaning tasks are concerned, the use of any chemicals etc., are properly risk assessed.

However, the good news for you is that it is not just the employer who has a duty to ensure they are working safely. If your employee comes to work and refuses to engage with the new safe working practices- without a very good reason, this places them, their colleagues and your clientele at risk and in doing so this may well fall under an allegation of gross misconduct in your staff handbook.

Our previous article talks about gross misconduct, but every case is different, don’t go it alone- take prompt advice from our experts.

  • I have decided not to re-open the office as our business can continue to run with the current working from home arrangements. However, I will want to get everyone back to the office at some point but I have heard that if home working continues for long periods my employees will be able to claim that homeworking is now a contractual entitlement. Is that the case?

No. The current government guidance is still that if you can work from home you should do so. The best thing to do here is to keep your employees updated. Keep reminding them (this can be done by a company wide email) that the current arrangements regarding home working will remain in place for the present time but you hope to re-open the office at some point. By keeping them informed in this way, not only does it alleviate confusion it also keeps the focus on the fact homeworking is temporary.

  • Most of my staff have been working from home and working very well. However, I am finding that some are really slacking- I can’t even get hold of them some of them most of the time. How can I manage this?

Whether working at home or in the office, your staff are on your paid time and as such they are expected to work as diligently as they would in the office. In the same way that they would not be expected to simply go AWOL for long periods in the office, that doesn’t mean they are able to do so whilst working at home.

The key thing to do here is to make sure that everyone knows the usual arrangements for authorised breaks and/or lunch periods remain in place and if they require time off for any reason it is to be authorised in the same way.

If you used to hold regular team meetings, try to keep this up via platforms such as Skype or Zoom and try to make the same time to check in with staff as you would in the office environment.

If you find that an employee is not answering their phone, not completing set tasks and so on. You are advised to investigate this with the employee and unless they can give a very good reason as to their whereabouts or poor work output/standards- this time will need to be made up, it may be deducted and they may also face formal disciplinary action.

Remember– just because we are in lockdown, this doesn’t mean you are not bound by your own procedures when managing conduct issues. Our experts can guide you through managing any disciplinary situations.

  • How can I keep my employees motivated when I have had to reduce their working hours and they have taken a financial hit due to being furloughed?

This is something that we can all quickly forget. We talked in our last article about ’furlough shaming’ but we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that many employees have taken a financial hit.

The same is true of employers of course and stress levels are very high across the board but continuing to show appreciation for good work never goes amiss.

Also, if you are able to be additionally flexible with staff by taking advantage of the flexible furlough arrangements to ease them back to work then do so. This may be especially helpful if there are a lot of workplace changes for them to adjust to.

Likewise, if an employee is worried about travel on public transport, can you offer a start/finish time which reduces their risk of travelling during very busy periods? Can you offer any financial support with travel costs?

Consider your employee wellbeing by making sure they take their breaks and reminding them of their right to annual leave they have accrued.

Also, if you don’t have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) in place, now is the time to look into this. These programmes can provide advice for employees on a whole host of issues from providing financial advice to access to counselling support. Contact our experts if you are interested in more details on this very worthwhile service.

If you do have an EAP in place, when was the last time you circulated the details to your staff? Now would be a great time to redistribute this.

And finally…. we recognise that these continue to be very uncertain and challenging times. However, we are here to provide bespoke advice to you to help you weather the storm and remember– there is no such thing as a silly question.

NEXT WEEK- a lot of businesses are faced with having to make permanent changes such as compulsory redundancies- therefore next week’s article will focus on this subject.

Your employees have a right to take annual leave but when it is taken is subject to the employer’s authorisation and in line with the needs of the business.