Sending staff home


We all want and need to do our bit to limit the spread of the Coronavirus and keep vulnerable people safe.  But as the situation changes daily and we have no idea how long this will continue, businesses are not only dealing with the need to reduce staff numbers on site, in order to restrict the spread, many are also trying to cope with a sudden loss of business as social distancing and self-isolation becomes the new norm.

So, how should employers prepare?  

First of all, establishing who can work from home is essential. There are some roles that can’t be done anywhere else other than the place of work, for example retail or manufacturing. Those employers will need to decide if processes can be implemented to ensure staff can continue to work safely or not. If working from home is not possible, an employer will need to determine how they wish to proceed – after all, if an employee is ready, willing and able to work, then they expect to work and more importantly be paid.  If businesses are otherwise forced to shut, can they afford to send staff home on full pay?

For those employers who can implement home working, there are certain factors to be considered including the following:

  • Do employment contracts include a mobility clause allowing home working (i.e. can the employer require the employee to work at a different location than the normal place of work) or does that need to be achieved by consent?  It is hard to imagine employees refusing to consent to homeworking but some might, and without the necessary flexibility in the employment contract, difficulties may arise.
  • Do staff have access to all equipment needed to do their job?
  • What additional expenses will staff incur from home – for example, broadband usage, heat, lighting and telecoms?  Will those extra expenses be offset by the removal of commuting expenses or will the employer need to put plans in place to cover them?
  • Putting in place robust processes to monitor productivity of home workers to ensure the business continues to function effectively.
  • Considerations around additional support to help staff transition from office to home working.  How will business communicate with their staff to ensure their wellbeing?  What steps need to be taken to maintain the cultural aspects of the business that have taken years to build?

With the expectation that sustained efforts will be needed to deal with the pandemic, companies should prepare for a situation that allows for remote working on an ongoing basis for the foreseeable months ahead.  It has never been more important to communicate with your teams and all employers will be relying upon the loyalty and commitment of their people like never before.  We are all very much in this crisis together and working with, and engaged teams in, the various solutions business will need to implement to get through the crisis, will be critical.

There is however, no denying that the level of uncertainty about the duration of disruption to daily lives creates its own set of problems for businesses, particularly those who cannot easily adapt to a homeworking model.  While some businesses may have the luxury of keeping payroll unchanged in the short term, as the situation continues many will have to make difficult decisions to ensure survival of the business.  The government has already announced a range of measures which are available to businesses to assist with the crisis but there is not yet sufficient clarity around how those measures are to be delivered.  There is immediate help with statutory sick pay but that is unlikely to be sufficient given the scale of the crisis.  The current rules around laying people off or implementing short time working can be clunky for certain employers to implement.  We wonder if we will see in the coming days, emergency legislation to make that process easier?  If so, and combined with the wage protection measures very recently announced by the government, the longer term prospects for many business and ultimately jobs, may be better protected.

Ultimately, businesses that plan ahead will undoubtedly be in the best position to deal with the uncertainty to come and protect and retain its staff. In these very difficult and uncertain times, we are here to help and are committed to assisting our local communities where possible.  If you would like to talk about any of the issues highlighted in this article, either formally or informally, please do contact Mogers Drewett on 01225 750000 or  Employment Partner Sean McDonough directly on 07809 772301.

Mogers Drewett

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