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A level of certainty within the workplace can help to reduce stress, increase employee compliance and avoid disputes. So how can employers address the unpredictability that continues to arise, as a result of Covid-19? Jayne Nevins, senior solicitor for ESP Law, spoke to Legal Practice Management magazine about this very topic.

There are many steps a leader can take in order to make their teams feel safe, motivated and productive. From a policies point of view, it is vital that employers firstly issue – and regularly update – their health and safety guidelines.

Due to the nature of the crisis, most rules consist of piecemeal memos that have been issued sporadically since March 2020. However, the policy should include factors such as mask wearing – and exemptions and the potential breach of the law for non-compliance – social distancing, handwashing, one-way systems, workplace bubbles and how to report any concerns.

Data protection should also be addressed in terms of what other colleagues should be told if an employee has been in contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus, or has contracted Covid-19 themselves.

Additionally, consideration should be given to a temporary change to sickness policies so organisations can deal with employees who are not sick but are self-isolating because of close contact, advice from test and trace, having to quarantine post-holiday, and breach of the law when attending work – if infected.

The policy should include details concerning employees’ entitlement to Statutory Sick Pay, Company Sick Pay or other payments too. If they are not authorised to access such payments, the policy should explain the alternatives – including unpaid leave or taking annual leave. Finally, managers must detail the evidence that is required in the event of colleagues informing them that they are self-isolating or quarantined.

Preparing the workforce for a ‘new normal’

With home working the likely new way of operating, relevant policies have to be updated. Some businesses may consider this to be a permanent change and even for those where the intention is to return to the office, it is likely that employees will make requests for full or part-time home working.

As a result, organisations should amend their policies to cover both temporary and permanent options. These guidelines must include health and safety risk assessments, how to expense items – including what will be paid for by the company – care of supplied office equipment, hours of work and flexible working solutions, and data protection.

In addition, leaders are advised to take this time to revise their organisation’s disciplinary, grievance and performance management procedures so that they include home working – and how that might look in terms of conducting video conferencing calls and supporting employees in these circumstances.

Finally, the current climate presents an opportunity for employers to consider their existing contracts. Could they have been more comprehensive, for example? And in planning for the future, what new contractual provisions will be in place? Considerations must be made to factors such as a right to lay off employees, short-time working options, changing hours or altering their place of work.

Overall, it is recommended that leaders seek legal advice before attempting to change employment contracts. This is because there would need to be consultation with the employees – before such a change is made – and there is the risk of employment tribunal claims, if it is not handled correctly.

 


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Author: Jayne Nevins

Senior Solicitor, ESP Law Ltd

Jayne has 20 years experience in all areas of employment law. She initially trained as a barrister and cross qualified to become a solicitor 16 years ago. She has specialist experience within the field of healthcare and the hospitality sector. However, for many years she has advised commercial clients in a huge variety of business sectors and so has an in-depth understanding of their needs. Jayne has litigated many complex cases and prior to joining ESP was also an advocate in the employment tribunal.

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