New coronavirus restrictions: How can employers prepare?

With the recent announcement regarding tighter restrictions and local lockdowns, businesses are needing to focus again on remote working. Although it’s less of a hasty crisis response this time around, there are still challenges and whether you or your employees fall within tier 1, 2 or 3, we are clearly a long way away from ‘being out of the woods’ which begs the question –  how can employers prepare?

We can all agree that we’re living in a time of uncertainty. Only recently, employees were being encouraged to return to the office to boost the economy as businesses made their workplaces Covid secure, and now the guidance says that workers should ‘work from home if they can’. This also comes at a time when employers are still accessing financial support under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and will be currently assessing the impact of the replacement scheme – the Job Support Scheme (JSS) and the extended rules which will apply to locked-down businesses – which will run from 1st November 2020. For more detailed advice on the Job Support Scheme, read our recent blog.

Interestingly, through talking to our clients from across the country, those with offices in the North have had a stronger office presence during the summer months after the national lockdown, than in the South where the added risk of public transport usage has resulted in many clients maintaining work from home arrangements.  As a result, employers in the North are now having to make more of a transition to remote working again. 

We have been holding Q&A sessions with our Client Club about the challenges they face as employers, we thought it would be useful to share some of the topics of discussion.

Covid secure

  • Some employees may feel confused by the recent announcements and guidelines. To reduce the risk of your employees contracting the virus, training on how to be Covid aware should be encouraged.
  • Are you asking your teams to download and use the Test and Trace app?
  • Is the business encouraging its staff to socially distance, wear face masks unless exempt, abide by the ‘rule of six’ and the 10pm curfew?
  • Do you know whether your employees live in tier 1, 2 or 3 area? Do some of them fall within tier 3 even if the location of the business does not and how, if at all, will this impact their travel arrangements and/or ability to carry out their role?

 

Self-isolation

  • An employee has tested positive
    • Is the business in regular contact with them?
    • Does the employee understand they are obliged to self-isolate?
    • Do managers know they mustn’t allow employees to attend the workplace if they know that they should be self-isolating? For more information on the new self-isolation obligations that came into force on 28 September, click here.
    • What plans are in place to contact colleagues or other business contacts who may have been in close contact with them?
  • An employee has to self-isolate because they’ve been contacted by Test and Trace
    • Do they have any symptoms? If so, is the business encouraging them to get tested?
    • If they are well enough, are they expected to work remotely and, if so, are they set up so they can?
  • Someone in an employee’s household has been told to self-isolate e.g. an employee’s child has been sent home from school
    • Are you requiring your employee to also self-isolate or work from home? To do so goes beyond the government requirements, but you may believe that this is a reasonable precaution to protect your workforce.

 

Holidays and quarantine

With October half term approaching, many of us may be considering taking a trip whether that’s abroad or elsewhere in the UK.

  • Where does the company stand on employees holidaying in areas classed as tier 2 or 3 in the UK?
  • Do your employees know which countries are now on the quarantine list?
  • Do you have guidelines in place that specify the company’s expectations of an employee if they have to quarantine on return? Are they required to take additional holiday or unpaid leave if they can’t effectively work from home?

 

Payment of employees when self-isolating

Employees may be worried about what they will be paid if they have to self-isolate.  It is up to employers to decide whether they pay more than statutory sick pay (SSP). Our recommendation for employers is to facilitate working from home if possible, or alternatively consider paying their staff as normal if they have to self–isolate. It encourages people to stay at home when they should and therefore helping to control the virus, and also makes them feel appreciated and valued.

Some businesses fear their employees may take this for granted and use self-isolation as an excuse. Consider setting out guidelines that clarify the circumstances in which you will pay employees for periods of self-isolation and whether this exceeds SSP.

 

Developing and implementing a coherent Covid policy that sets out clear guidelines on what a company expects of its employees during this time will undoubtedly help to eliminate confusion. Open and honest communication between employers and their teams is critical. Each policy is specific to an organisation and how it wants to best protect its team and the productivity of the business.

We’re supporting many clients to reach decisions around their Covid policy. Get in touch to discuss how we can help.