Employers have had to think on their feet and evolve quickly to ensure they are treating employees fairly, and within the confines of the law in extremely difficult circumstances.
And, with the potential of more upheaval on the horizon, what are the big bumps in the road that HR professionals are going to have to handle over the next few months? Our senior solicitor, Charlotte Ashton, delves into the detail…
Recently, it was announced that once the furlough scheme ends as planned, on 31st October, a new Job Support Scheme will commence from 1st November 2020.
It is inevitable that more pressure will be placed on employers by the continuing shifting landscape caused by the global crisis. Local lockdowns are taking effect across the UK, with employees also struggling to deal with school closures, self-isolation measures, and post-holiday quarantines.
Some businesses will again suffer a greater impact from changing rules – particularly those in the hospitality sector – and, at the time of writing this blog, stricter measures have been introduced and another national lockdown has not been firmly ruled out.
HR teams need to be vigilant about the potential for further disruption to their organisations, and the disappointing prospect of making more redundancies.
Given that many businesses have had to roll-out redundancies over the last few months – and with the end of the furlough scheme fast approaching – collective consultation obligations may be triggered in circumstances where this has not previously been planned for.
Where 20 or more employees are proposed to be dismissed as redundant at one establishment within a 90-day period, the requirement to collectively consult is triggered. When planning new redundancies, HR teams should be vigilant as to the number of redundancy dismissals which have already taken place. The unsuspecting employer could get caught out by additional redundancies within a 90-day period that had not been previously forecast.
Collective consultation places additional obligations on the employers and therefore should be carefully managed. Advice should also be taken to ensure there is no scope for additional risk in these circumstances.
This may have been pushed off the front pages and out of some people’s minds over the past six months, however, the end of the transition period is fast approaching. Whereas it had been expected that many employers would be looking to January 2021 – and the impact that Brexit would have on their business – COVID-19 has taken precedence, and employers might not have factored in the time to consider the impact of an EU exit.
HR teams should be alert to the fact that from 1st January 2021, it will no longer be straightforward to employ EU nationals. Individuals not settled in the UK will fall under a new points-based immigration system and employers – who have previously struggled to recruit in the UK – may need a Sponsor Licence to recruit migrant workers.
At the moment, there has been no increase in applications for these licences which indicates many employers are simply waiting to see what happens. However, employers should be aware that if they do plan to recruit from outside the UK in future, this will be a requirement and could add time onto their plans.
Therefore, it may be sensible to make the application now rather than see it be held up in a backlog later on. It is important to take advice before applying so that employers understand the obligations of becoming a Tier 2 Sponsor Licence holder and know the best way to make such an application.
Whilst, at present, employees have been likely to be more concerned with keeping their jobs and returning to work safely following lockdown, there will undoubtedly be issues further down the line. Employees may feel that they have either been treated unfairly – as to the terms of their return to work – or that their employer implemented the furlough scheme incorrectly and, as such, has breached the law.
Employers could currently be unaware of claims headed their way due to a backlog in some employment tribunal centres caused by issues during lockdown. This means that HR professionals may find themselves overwhelmed in the coming months by the volume of claims, and also by the fact that many will be based on issues which haven't been tried in employment tribunals before, such as furlough.
In conclusion, HR teams are going to have a busy and eventful time ahead, navigating the complexities of the new employment issues created by the COVID-19 crisis, as well as the impact of the ensuing recession that is coupled with Brexit.
It’s our mission to advise and develop the employment law capability of HR professionals wherever we can, helping HR teams make a real commercial difference to their organisations. That way, you spend less time solving operational issues and more time actioning projects that drive far-reaching change in your company.
Call 0333 006 2929 or email firstname.lastname@example.org today to discover exactly how we can help you.