Well, July has been fun here at HQ. We've got a shiny new look which I am obsessed with (in case you hadn't noticed) and I've got loads of HR stuff to update you on. So strap yourselves in.
Furlough & Redundancy
Firstly, let's talk about this new law we've just found out about that comes into play tomorrow (31 July).
From 31 July 2020 furloughed employees who are subsequently made redundant will be entitled to receive redundancy and notice pay calculated at their normal wage, rather than their reduced furlough amount.
If you're a client of mine, we would have been working off this basis anyway because, let's face it, it's the fair and reasonable thing to do. But, if you have been thinking about making redundancies on the proviso that you won't have to pay full redundancy pay, this will change things for you.
I had a conversation with a good friend a couple of weeks ago about establishing the facts to understand whether redundancy is a viable option. She wasn't sure whether she would need her staff back from furlough or not. We talked about writing down the jobs and tasks that she wanted the staff to do and then time how long those tasks took. That would then give her an idea of how many hours labour she needed. From there, we can work out whether we need to make redundancies or whether we can vary the contracts until things pick up again.
Since I've mentioned it already, it makes sense to talk about this a little. Many of my clients and people I speak to get caught up in what is in the contract of employment.
Now, I want you to bear in mind that there is a shit ton of context that needs to be considered when it comes to varying contracts, but the principles are as follows.
Contracts of employment are an agreement between you and the employee about the nature of your relationship. As such, they can be changed with agreement from both parties.
That is NOT free rein to do what you want, when you want. But, it does mean that you can change the terms of the contract so that you move employees to working from home permanently or you change their hours of work and working hours to avoid making redundancies.
For example, your employees are all contracted to 37.5 hours per week, but you can't find them all that much work until things pick up. You think that things will get busier after Christmas. So rather than make redundancies, you look at what hours you have available and offer everyone reduced hours. Maybe you look at where you can re-deploy people within the business.
Whatever the solution, you have to go through a consultation process to vary the contract. Once you have agreement, you may then give notice of the change.
If the changes are not agreed to and you are confident you have explored every possible compromise, you could consider dismissing the employee and offering re-engagement on the new terms. But remember, any sort of dismissal should be an absolute last resort!
We discussed furlough changes in my last blog so check that one out for the updates to the Job Retention Scheme and employer contributions.
From 01 August 2020 vulnerable people will no longer have to shield. That means you are likely to have some more employees returning to work who have been out of work since March and will probably be very nervous about coming back.
We've spoken a lot in previous blogs about the return to work after lock down. I think the important thing here is to make sure you're not complacent about it for the sake of the employee. You remember how anxious everyone was a couple of months ago? It'll be worse for these people. Take the time to make sure they ease back into the workplace gently and are supported and safe every step of the way.
For those of you who are looking at working from home for the foreseeable future, I refer you back to the Varying Contracts section. If you are changing employee's work location more permanently, you will need to follow a proper process to implement the contractual change. Not only that, but you should think about whether you have a Working from Home policy in place. Have you thought about who will pay for the WiFi going forward? What will the process be if they have an accident at home during working hours? Have you considered buying proper equipment for employees to use rather than their kitchen table? Have you checked that everyone has the room and the capability to work from home? Have you put measures in place to ensure DSE assessments can be carried out?
I think it's worth revisiting flexible working to point out that, even before COVID (those were the days) employees had the statutory right to request flexible working. That normally covers things like location or hours of work. Flexible working can be requested for any reason. Yep, any reason. Not just for childcare. It could be requested to enable someone to study, to allow them to pick their kids up from school, so they can spend more time playing golf. ANYTHING.
Employers are expected to take a fair and reasonable approach to flexible working. So if any employee who's worked from home since March wants to continue working from home permanently to spend more time with their cat, you need to have a bloody good business reason to decline that request. Such as, evidence that working from home has not worked. "I think it's ridiculous" or "It's inconvenient" won't cut it.
I'm banging on about it because I want you to be fully prepared for a potential influx of flexible working requests that you may struggle to decline. Requests should be handled reasonably and on a first come first served basis. Now, although the requests can be made for any reason, remember that any request made that is linked to a protected characteristic will need special attention. For example, if you decline a request for an employee to cut their hours to care for a disabled relative without that solid business reason and evidence, you could be indirectly discriminating.
So if anyone requests to change anything in their contract - you should treat it like a flexible working arrangement and follow a proper process.
Lock Down Dress Codes
I'm fairly certain that most if not all of you have a dress code in place for your employees in the workplace. But how has that translated into the virtual work space?
Recent reports show that since lock down, 34% of female workers have been told to wear more make up on virtual calls.
Dress codes can help to embed a company culture by promoting professionalism and uniformity and some employees will still be customer facing, albeit virtually. Organisations need to think about whether they want the dress code to continue in the virtual world, or whether the rules can be relaxed a little.
It's reasonable to ask employees to be suitably dressed for their online meetings (e.g. not in PJs or birthday suits) but it is completely unlawful to ask females to wear more makeup or get their nails done or, as in a case in 2018, to wear high heels. If you have a dress code, it needs to be applied equally to all genders.
This pandemic has created a lot of shit for us all to deal with and I am very aware that some of you likely want and need HR support but are worried about costs. If that is the case, please please please talk to me about it. My whole business is about helping your business, so let's have a coffee and work out what you need and how we can provide it to you within your budget.
Don't forget that Lilac Legends is up and running and we're having some really great conversations in the group! There's so much advice available, not just from me, but also from my team of Moderators: Welbourne & Co Accountants, LynnConnect Recruitment and Nicky Elmer Hypnotherapy so at just £10 a month, it's an absolute steal.