The road to recovery – HR’s long Covid considerations

19 Jul 21 by Charlotte Ashton
Covid recovery

As the coronavirus pandemic continues and the country moves into a period of relaxed restrictions, there are long-lasting effects of Covid – both for victims suffering from long-term symptoms, and also businesses trying to cope with the changing economic climate.

With that in mind, our senior solicitor Charlotte Ashton explores the long-term effects that HR colleagues will be getting to grips with…

Back to business

As more of the economy opens up, HR business partners will be looking at how to handle the return to work for many of their employees. Several businesses have been relying on the furlough scheme to weather the storm but are finding that it is not going to be possible to bring all staff back to work.

In other cases, organisations who have adapted their way of working may be looking at restructures to shape its future. HR colleagues need to be aware that collective consultation requirements will be triggered if 20 or more redundancies are considered within a period of 90 days. In addition, they should also be ensuring that employers understand the processes to go through and that any dismissals are fair.

Where businesses are able to avoid these actions, they may instead be considering changes to terms and conditions which will also require a consultation process to make sure  any changes are properly implemented.

In both cases, careful advance planning with HR input will be key to avoiding expensive claims.

Vaccines

With a big push on getting the adult population fully vaccinated – and the forthcoming law requiring care home staff to get the vaccine – organisations may also be considering whether they should or could require their employees to be vaccinated. Such a policy would bring with it risks of discrimination claims and therefore managers must fully consider the business reasons behind making vaccinations mandatory for staff. HR professionals can help managers consider all potential risks and the arguments for and against requiring employees to be vaccinated.

The issue is polarising and could cause fall out amongst the workforce, so employers should proceed with caution and ensure there is full consultation and discussion with employees before implementing a vaccine policy.

Hybrid working

Many businesses have found that employees have benefitted from substantial financial savings and improvements on wellbeing since working from home. Now that the government has advised a gradual return to the workplace, employers might be considering how they can operate a hybrid working policy.

The views of all employees should be carefully considered prior to implementing any policy. This document will also need to be correctly drafted to ensure the business is able to call on staff to attend the office as and when needed. HR managers must look at whether there are contractual issues which need to be covered off to ensure that any changes are done correctly – and don't store up problems later on.

Performance management

Unfortunately, some employers may have experienced performance issues with staff working from home and such employees may be reluctant to come back to the office. HR professionals can assist businesses in ensuring individual expectations are clear and that there are effective processes in place to monitor performance where employees are either working remotely or hybrid working.

The long-lasting effect of the pandemic should not be ignored when tackling performance issues as many employees will have experienced a lengthy period of uncertainty and may have had personal and family struggles during the past 15 months.

Health absences

Employers are finding that some staff members who contracted Covid are suffering ongoing effects and finding it difficult to come back to work. HR managers should be careful to ensure that these employees are supported, and assistance given where possible to help them return to work. This may be a lengthy process given that not much is known about the long-term prognosis of those individuals with long Covid.

It may be that such employees are covered by the Equality Act which would mean employers are under a duty to make reasonable adjustments. Due to long Covid being a new and varied condition, it is likely that the medical information may be limited – particularly in terms of recovery time.

Training and development

Throughout the pandemic, businesses have had to adapt and, in some cases, change their business model or output so that they could continue to weather the Covid storm. This is likely to give rise to the need for training and development within businesses so that all employees can be upscaled and fit within the new business model.

HR professionals can work with businesses to ensure there are clear learning and development policies so that employees can have access to opportunities to advance within a business.

Despite the so-called ‘freedom day’ upon us, there is a long road out of the pandemic with HR professionals needing to draw on all aspects of their expertise to ensure they can assist organisations in navigating an uncertain future.

 


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Post by Charlotte Ashton

Senior solicitor, ESP Law Ltd

Charlotte has over 10 years’ experience in all aspects of employment law. She trained in-house with a large UK company, covering 45,000 employees, and moved to private practice on qualification. Charlotte enjoys helping growing companies understand their legal obligations and has given training and presentations to start up entrepreneurs, and business students, at a local University. Charlotte also specialises in business immigration law for the UK and has helped employers obtain sponsor licences in order to recruit from outside the UK.