Your guide to tackling COVID staffing shortages

Alan Price – Chief Operations Officer

January 12 2022

Currently, around 1 million people are self-isolating with COVID-19.

And with typical winter sicknesses still at large, there’s a high chance you’re struggling with staff shortages. From plugging the gaps in your workforce to handling sick pay, here’s how to tackle COVID-related absences…

Can your employee work from home?

Around 1 in 3 cases of COVID-19 are asymptomatic.

But even if your employee is symptom-free, they still need to isolate for at least seven days. In this instance, staff can work from home if they’re feeling up to it.

If your employee feels well enough to work remotely, make sure they have all the kit they need. This might involve dropping off equipment at their address or providing remote access.

Remember, make it clear that staff should take sick leave if they’re unwell. Otherwise, staff could think they’re under pressure to work – which could result in a grievance on their return. 

Redeploy isolating staff to a different role

Remote work isn’t always possible for everyone.

If your employee can’t carry out their usual duties from home, consider redeploying them. For example, if your worker usually works on the shop floor, see if they can take on remote-friendly work instead – like admin or social media marketing.

This might mean two employees temporarily swap their duties. Not only will this help limit disruption, but it means your staff boost their skills for any future staffing issues. Plus, it means your employee can still receive full pay.

You don’t need to move staff to a similar role. However, it’s best to avoid giving staff complex work without training them – otherwise, they could feel stressed or make costly errors.

Split the workload between remaining staff

While your COVID-positive staff recover or work from home, you might need your remaining employees to adjust their workload.

To meet demand and stay productive, you could ask staff to:

  • Work longer hours – if this means staff work over 48 hours a week, make sure they’ve opted out of the 48-hour legal limit.
  • Reprioritise their tasks – ask staff to push back their non-essential or lowest priority work. This frees up their time to take on important tasks for their absent co-workers.
  • Stick to the essentials – ask employees to deliver a stripped-back service. For example, if you work in a restaurant, you could limit your menu.

Offer overtime incentives if you can

Asking your remaining staff to work overtime can help you meet demand. 

However, it’s not always the most tempting prospect for staff. And if you haven’t included compulsory overtime in their contract, employees can refuse extra hours. 

So, to get staff onboard, consider offering paid overtime or time off in lieu (TOIL). While paid overtime is an obvious perk, TOIL appeals to staff who want to boost their holiday entitlement. This means staff can use their extra leave once you have a full team again – and you won’t need to take the financial hit, either.

Don’t forget to keep an eye on wages. If staff earn the National Minimum Wage, any overtime could mean their wage dips below the legal requirement.

Use a temporary staff agency 

If you can’t manage with a reduced team, you could hire temporary staff through an agency.

As the agency sorts out staff pay and paperwork, this saves you time and effort. You won’t need to pay the temporary worker directly – you pay the agency instead – so you won’t need to worry about adding anyone to your payroll.

Along with having statutory rights from day one, like minimum wage entitlement, agency workers gain extra rights after they’ve worked for you for 12 weeks. That includes:

  • Receiving the same pay as your permanent staff who do the same role.
  • Receiving the same holiday entitlement as your permanent staff.

While it’s likely you’ll only need cover for a few days, it may be something to consider if your employee has long COVID.

Follow your normal procedure for sickness

When staff have COVID-19, treat absences like a normal sickness. So, if you can’t find tasks for your employee to do from home – or they need time off to recover – you’ll need to:

  • Check staff receive the right pay – workers who test positive for COVID-19 are entitled to statutory sick pay from day one of their isolation period. You can claim this back using the Coronavirus SSP Rebate Scheme (for a maximum of two weeks).
  • Conduct a return to work interview – make sure your employee is fit to tackle work once they return. If staff still have lingering side effects, see if you can adjust their workload or provide extra support.
  • Update staff when they return – reduce stress by providing a run-down of anything workers may have missed while absent.

Remember, COVID-19 isn’t a mild illness for everyone – and your employee might not feel well enough to return after their isolation period.

If that’s the case, you’ll need to follow your policy for handling long-term absence. You can learn more in our dedicated blog to managing staff with long COVID. 

Boost morale in the workplace

If lots of staff are isolating, your remaining workers will feel the pressure. Especially if they’re facing a non-stop shift with limited support…

Whether your staff are working for longer or squeezing in extra tasks, make sure you support their wellbeing. However you do this is up to you – but good ideas include:

  • Making sure employees take regular breaks.
  • Taking your team out for social events.
  • Regularly checking in with staff to ask how you can support them.

Plus, giving staff access to an Employee Assistance Programme means they can enjoy confidential wellbeing support. 

Facing COVID-related absences?

If you’re struggling with absences, call us now on 0800 028 2420. Our HR consultants will help you find ways to plug gaps in your workforce, limit disruption, and boost morale.

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