As May kicks off with the cautious announcement from the government that we are past the first coronavirus peak, many businesses are starting to think about the practicalities of returning to work.

If your business is considering how you might get staff to back to their workplace with the limitations of social distancing, here are some practical steps which might be useful:

  • Give your employees as much notice as possible and reassure them you are taking every precaution to keep them safe
  • Hold ‘return to work’ meetings to check in with them but also to set new objectives to help support any changes in your business
  • Deep clean of your premises before re-opening, followed by regular and thorough anti-viral cleaning
  • Short-time working/reduced working hours to reduce contact
  • Consider only opening to the public for core hours and using signage, hand sanitizer stations, clear barriers and card payments only to reduce contact with customers
  • Staggering shifts / ‘cohorting’ (i.e. keeping small teams together to reduce contact with others)
  • If home-working has been successful so far, consider extending this while social distancing continues

However, if it’s likely that your business may not be in the position to return to work for some time, you might be weighing up some tough decisions. There is uncertainty for employers using the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) to furlough staff, since it is currently due to finish at the end of June, although of course it may be extended further. At this point, no-one really knows, so it is worth planning ahead and reviewing all options:

  • If the CJRS ends, you could consider furloughing staff further – but at your business’ cost
  • If your business is one of the few with ‘lay-off’ clauses in your employment contracts, you can lay staff off with notice (which means they are still employed by you, but only receive guarantee payments from you of up to £145 per month). However, you should be aware that an unpaid lay-off exceeding 4 weeks in length entitles an employee to consider themselves redundant and claim a redundancy payment from you, so this is only a short-term solution. You should seek advice even if you do have such a clause.
  • Redundancies – if your business cannot trade or your workload has reduced significantly, you may have to consider making staff redundant. If this is the case, it’s important to ensure you follow the correct legal process with consultations, fair selections, notice and statutory (or enhanced contractual) redundancy payments. If you are planning to make 20 or more people redundant (but less than 100) you must start collective consultation 30 days before giving notice of the first redundancy. If you wanted to time this for the CJRS ending on 30 June, you would need to start consultation no later than 31 May 2020.

There are other groups of employees to consider as well who may not be able to return to work even after restrictions are lifted: those who are shielding/self-isolating or who may have sadly suffered a bereavement. Think about whether employees shielding can continue to work from home, or what the alternatives would be, for example continuing furlough. With people who have suffered a loss, there is no statutory right to bereavement leave (except for the new 2 weeks’ parental bereavement leave which came into effect in April), however, try and be as flexible and sympathetic as possible.

Everyone has been impacted differently by the coronavirus pandemic, many people have been juggling childcare, dealing with anxiety and unwanted change. Employers will need to bear in mind the challenges employees have had to their wellbeing and mental health. If you do not offer an Employee Assistance Programme, you can point employees who are struggling to organisations like Mind or share the advice from Carers UK and Carers Trust for those with caring responsibilities.

Finally, a note on those employees who have carried on working and supported your business through this difficult time. Bear in mind that they may be feeling stressed, especially if they have had an increased workload while colleagues have been off work at 80% pay. Think about how you can ensure they feel valued and appreciated.

The Business Garage team is fully operational, however, our office is currently closed and we are working from home. If you have any queries or need business support you can trust, please contact: [email protected]