Surviving a local lockdown

Kate Palmer - HR Advice and Consultancy Director

August 28 2020

The Coronavirus Act 2020 grants the government emergency powers to tackle COVID-19.

Under new rules, ministers can impose an instant local lockdown, and even close individual workplaces, where there’s a high risk of infection.

But another business slump is the last outcome employers like you need.

So how can you plan to get through a local lockdown? And what steps should you take to prevent a workplace outbreak, and protect it from closure?

Let’s find out…

What happens in a local lockdown?

It’s hard to say because it depends on the size of the outbreak in your area. But we can get an idea of the rules by looking at lockdowns that parts of the UK have already faced.

So far, governors have enforced varying restrictions on areas like Greater Manchester and Aberdeen. But to prepare your business for the worst, it’s best to learn from Leicester, which has suffered the strictest rules up until now:

  • All non-essential shops reclosed.
  • Pubs, restaurants, hairdressers, gyms and leisure centres stayed shut.
  • Non-essential travel in the area was banned.
  • People had to stay at home as much as they could, with staff working remotely if possible.

With such stern laws looming at any moment, now’s the time to start planning in case you face further business disruption.

Here’s how you can prepare your workplace.

1. Build a continuity plan

A local lockdown will be similar to the national one we faced in the spring, just on a smaller scale.

So, you need to look back at what did and didn’t work for you during that time to find a better way forward.

Did your team struggle to stay productive if they worked from home? Do you need to monitor their output more closely? Will they need mental health support to deal with any extra stress? There’s a lot to consider.

It might be worth asking staff for ideas too, as they’ve already faced a long stretch of lockdown working and can vouch for ways of improving it. They can also warn you of any potential new issues, like needing time off to take food to a vulnerable relative.

Once you’ve come up with your new plan, make sure you test and tweak it to see how it responds to a lockdown. Only then will you be ready for the real event. 

2. Strengthen health & safety measures

Ministers might let some types of businesses stay open during a local lockdown.

But, as we’ve seen in Greater Manchester, this could mean the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) starts to carry out unannounced workplace spot checks.

And any business found to be breaching ‘COVID-secure’ rules may face strict enforcement action.

The government has offered some guidance on how to meet safety rules during a local lockdown. But there are online tools that make this process far easier.

Use smart software like BrightSafe to build HSE-standard risk assessments from scratch, or download a sample template to quickly create your own.

Then, add tasks to help you manage control measures and cut out COVID-19 risks at work.

3. Manage staff costs

If a local lockdown affects your income, there are ways to cut your staff costs:

  • You might be able to re-furlough your staff (until 31st October). But only if they’ve been furloughed for at least three weeks before 30th June as the scheme is closed to new claimants, or they fall into one of the categories that was exempt from the cut off e.g. employees on maternity leave.
  • You could cut staff wages or working hours if you have a specific term that allows you to do so in their contracts, or you get them to agree to the changes.
  • You could also make layoffs, where you don’t give your staff any work or pay except for statutory guarantee pay where eligible. Again, you need a clause in their contracts to allow layoff without pay. If you don’t have this clause, your staff will need to agree to a change to their contracts.
  • When there’s no other option, you could reduce the size of your workforce. You’ll need to follow a fair process and write a firm business case to make redundancies, otherwise you could face costly unfair dismissal claims.

Learn more about how to safely cut staff costs in Peninsula’s free guide.

4. Get expert HR and health & safety support

With no set rules on local lockdowns, you’ll only learn how one affects you once it begins.

So, if you face another closure, call Peninsula for expert advice on how to help your business survive the lockdown—and bounce back stronger than ever.

Peninsula clients can instantly speak to an HR and health & safety specialist whenever they need advice.

But even if you’re not a client, you can still claim a free advice session today. Call 0800 028 2420 now or click here to book your expert consultation.

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