How to prepare for life after lockdown

According to new government guidance for businesses in England, people that cannot work from home are encouraged to go into work—assuming your business is open of course.

Which means you’re probably thinking about bringing staff back into the workplace. Read on to find out how…

Step 1: Plan for a safe return

Before bringing anyone back into work, it’s important to make sure your business is ‘COVID-19 secure’. And that may mean making changes to your operations, including: 

  • Deep cleaning your workplace
  • Implementing two-meter distancing for employees
  • Limiting visitors and contractors to your sites/buildings
  • Using contactless payment methods, such as contactless card terminals

It’s important to think carefully about how you’re going to reduce the risk to your employees and protect their safety. 

For more information on managing your health & safety as lockdown eases, download our ‘Guide to getting back to work’.

And, of course, Peninsula clients can also use their 24/7 helpline for advice on how to carry out a return to work risk assessment. 

Step 2: Decide which staff to bring back

When you have a plan to make your workplace COVID-19 secure, you can start to think about who comes back to work and when.

For example, staff that are shielding or who class as vulnerable may need to continue working from home for as long as possible. Meanwhile, other staff who can work from home effectively should continue to do so.

Finally, some people may prefer to work from home, even if they need to come into the workplace to do their jobs. This is a different matter, which we’ll touch on shortly.

Once you’ve decided who to bring back, send employees letters to recall them. Then, conduct a ‘return to work conversation’ to address any concerns and make sure they’re fit to work.

Tell your staff about the steps you’ve taken to make your workplace safe. This will help to ease any anxiety and demonstrate that you’re following government guidelines.

Finally, write rules for how you’ll handle work-from-home or flexible working requests from people that don’t want to come back in. And prepare yourself for difficult conversations with staff…

Remember, this is a complicated and rapidly changing area of employment law, so please contact your Peninsula advice team for help when bringing people back into the workplace.  

Step 3: Consider extending staff furlough

The Chancellor has announced an extension to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme until October 2020, although there will be changes from August.

At the time of writing, we’re still waiting for confirmation on how the scheme will work, which is expected by the end of May.

However, we do know that some grants for furloughed employees will stay available—although the scheme may become a little more complicated.

The good news is, this gives you time to reshape your HR policies and staff contracts to achieve more flexibility in your workforce when lockdown lifts.

Step 4: Amend staff contracts if you need to

Like many business owners, you may find that your business takes time to recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

For some businesses, like British Airways, the impact of COVID-19 has been so great that they’ve already planned major job cuts.

But while redundancies may be the only option in some cases, there are ways to reduce costs and keep your employees.

These include reducing working hours, asking staff to job share, or even putting people on unpaid lay-off. 

Remember, whether you can do any of these depends on the terms and conditions in your employees’ contracts.

If you don’t have the right T&Cs, then you’ll need to change your employees’ contracts. And you should always seek the consent of your employees first.

Contract negotiations are complicated, so please do seek expert HR advice before making any decisions.

Step 5: Prepare for tough choices

Even if you do everything possible to retain your staff, it’s still sensible to plan for if the worst happens and you need to make redundancies.   

Remember, there are different routes you can take to reduce the size of your workforce. For instance, you don’t technically have to go through a redundancy process with staff who’ve worked with you for less than two years.

That may seem like an easy way to reduce staff levels, but it’s not an approach we would recommend.

Firstly, it doesn’t account for your employees’ skill sets or the value they bring to your business. And secondly, it puts you at risk of claims of discrimination.

So, while a formal redundancy process takes longer, it’s important to help protect you against tribunal claims.

Plan now to succeed later

Planning now while there’s still time will help you protect staff, keep your business profitable, and come back from the COVID-19 crisis stronger than ever.

For expert advice on bringing your staff back from work contact your Peninsula advice team.

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