HR for care providers: what are the biggest challenges right now?

  • HR Policies Documentation
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

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It’s been a turbulent year for care providers.

From Brexit laws to COVID guidance, the rules on working with staff and patients changed significantly. At a rapid pace.

For managers in the care sector, it meant a raft of new procedures. A mountain of extra paperwork. A long list of staff concerns. And a much bigger workload as a result…

Read on to discover the most-pressing challenges in the industry right now.

1) Vaccine uptake

With care workers at the helm of the COVID-19 pandemic, all eyes have been on vaccine uptake.

SAGE advised that at least 80 percent of all care home staff should be vaccinated against COVID-19. But with 76 out of 149 local authorities in England not meeting this figure, it’s clear there’s an issue with uptake… 

Which is why the government is currently consulting on making the vaccination a requirement for care home staff in England – if the home has one or more residents aged 65 or over. If this law goes ahead, care providers can no longer hire unvaccinated staff unless they’re medically exempt.

And that leads to a long list of concerns:

  • Staff retention – how can employers prevent workers from quitting over vaccines?
  • Employee documentation – what should care providers include in employees’ contracts?
  • Legal disputes – how can care providers protect themselves from discrimination or dismissal claims?
  • Vaccine uptake – how can care providers boost vaccine uptake to protect patients and staff?
  • Workplace safety – how will employers protect employees who can’t take the vaccine for medical reasons?

Even if the COVID-19 vaccine doesn’t become mandatory, care providers might still consider requiring new hires to be vaccinated. And while that protects patients and staff, it also introduces more HR issues:

  • Discrimination concerns – how can employers avoid claims when applicants refuse the vaccine on medical or religious grounds?
  • Hiring policies – how will the employer carry out the recruitment process and check whether new staff have been vaccinated?

Managing vaccines in the care industry is a tricky balancing act. While the safety of staff and patients is always the main priority, there’s also the risk of legal disputes and employee retention to consider.

2) Updating policies and procedures

Thanks to post-Brexit rules and COVID-secure guidance, care workers face a mountain of new legislation. And that means they need to update existing policies or create guidance from scratch.

Currently, policies that may require updating include:

  • COVID-19 workplace testing policy
  • COVID-19 vaccine policy
  • Risk assessment policy
  • Lone working policy
  • Hybrid working policy

In the current landscape, updating policies is no quick task. Because without dedicated HR support, care managers need to constantly decode difficult legislation and follow fast-changing updates.

And the necessary paperwork takes up valuable resources within care homes. During a tough year for care staff, it’s never been more important to invest in mental wellbeing support – but with an ever-growing list of policies to update, there’s not always the time.

3) Low occupancy in care homes

Due to the devastating spread of COVID-19 last year, death rates within care homes were the highest on record. Many families decided to withdraw or keep relatives away from care homes – meaning death rates were eight times higher than new admissions.

As a result, care managers are now dealing with overstaffed homes. This presents a wide range of HR issues:

  • Laying off staff
  • Managing reduced hours
  • Relying on the flexible furlough scheme
  • Considering redundancy as the furlough deadline approaches

With tough decisions ahead, care managers should seek employment law advice to do right by their staff and protect their organisation. 

4) Moving staff to different sites

If a care home has limited residents, managers might consider moving their staff to a busier site.

But in order to do this, managers need to add a mobility clause to their employees’ contract of employment. This allows care providers to move staff to different locations set out in the clause – within reason.

If moving to a different site involves a difficult journey or affects the employee’s personal matters (like their child’s education), staff could argue that the request isn’t reasonable.

With extra paperwork and the risk of disputes, adding a mobility clause isn’t always simple. Employers need to consider how convenient any new locations are, and whether this could lead to resignations or poor morale.

5) Statement of main terms from day one of employment

Last spring, the laws on issuing a statement of main terms (SMT) changed.

Before 6th April 2020, employers had two months to provide new staff with the conditions of their employment. But now, employers need to provide this by day one. Plus, any workers are now entitled to receive a SMT – not just employees.

With extra paperwork for care staff – and less time to get it ready – it’s another burden on a sector that’s already under strain.

And as part of the government’s Good Work Plan, an SMT should now also include:

  • The probationary period
  • Paid leave entitlement
  • Benefits and remuneration
  • Training and entitlement
  • The length of notice periods
  • The length of any fixed-term or temporary work
  • The days of the week the worker is required to work – including whether this could vary, and on what terms.

These additions pose fresh challenges to the care industry. Setting out weekly work schedules upfront could create problems for managers – as this could make it harder to request overtime or adjust rotas around unexpected events.

6) Changes to holiday pay calculations for zero hour workers

For zero hour staff, calculating holiday pay is never simple. And since the Good Work Plan update last spring, holiday pay could now be more expensive for care providers.

That’s because employers now need to calculate holiday pay based on the average pay earned over the previous year – instead of three months.

And due to COVID-19, care staff on zero-hour contracts worked a substantial amount during the first half of last year. So, for care providers, this could be a costly update.

While this can help provide a fairer wage for workers, it also means care managers need to:

  • Manage the extra cost – can the business afford the extra wages?
  • Deal with a lengthier payroll process – instead of looking at three months’ of hours, managers now need to record a year.

7) Resignations without notice

After a demanding year, care workers may consider a change in career or early retirement.

And with many care workers on zero hour contracts, staff don’t always have a notice period. This means care managers are often left to replace their staff with little to zero warning. 

Without a notice period, employers need to start the recruitment process as soon as possible. If not, a lack of staff could seriously impact patients’ quality of care.

8) Changes to rules for hiring agency workers

The government banned Swedish derogation (or “pay between assignments”) contracts last year.

As a result, more agency staff are now entitled to pay parity after 12 weeks of work. This means agency workers should receive the same basic pay and working conditions as employees on permanent contracts. 

And this means there’s more to do to manage agency staff. Because employers now need to:

  • Provide agency staff with a key facts document outlining their pay rights
  • Update relevant hiring policies and adjust payroll
  • Make sure all staff enjoy the same working conditions

Hiring agency staff has been common practice for many care providers. But with a potentially higher cost and more administrative work involved, this could soon shift.

9) Mental wellbeing of staff

The past year has been incredibly tough for care workers. That goes without saying.

With care homes bearing the brunt of COVID-19, staff faced tough measures and devastating loss. And the mental burden won’t just disappear now lockdown is easing.

With lingering effects of fatigue and burnout, care providers could have a mental health crisis on their hands. And without taking steps to support their staff, this could lead to:

  • Poor staff retention
  • High turnover
  • Low productivity
  • Reduced attendance

To prevent this, care providers need to provide their managers with mental health training. This helps managers spot the signs of poor mental health and take the right steps to support their team – like directing them to an Employee Assistance Programme.

10) Hiring after Brexit

Before Brexit, 104,000 care workers in the UK were EU nationals.

But with stricter rules on recruiting staff overseas, there’s now more hoops to jump through in order to hire EU staff.

Since care workers are considered ‘low skilled’, they’re not given preferential access to the UK job market. A ‘skilled’ job is worth 20 points in the new immigration points-based system – but since care workers don’t tick this box, it’s harder to reach the minimum 70 points.

In addition to this, employers need to apply for a sponsor license before hiring any staff from outside the UK.

With yet more paperwork and tricky legislation to follow, it’s another issue that could cost care providers their time, resources, and staff.

We look after your HR, so you can take care of business

You want your staff to focus on providing excellent care. But with tough time constraints and complex HR concerns, they can’t always afford to focus on what matters most.  

That’s where Peninsula can help.

Whether we’re updating employee contracts or supporting managers through staff disputes, we free up time and reduce risk. Our award-winning consultants can:

  • Update your policies and employee documentation
  • Provide 24/7 HR and employment law advice
  • Support you through risk assessments
  • Offer tribunal and legal support
  • Give your staff access to an EAP & wellbeing support

And with access to our time-saving HR software, your team can spend less time managing day-to-day staff issues – and more time ensuring patients receive the care they deserve.

It’s why some of the largest care providers in the UK trust us to take care of their HR and health & safety. To enjoy round-the-clock support, get in touch with us on 0800 028 2420 today.


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