I know, you're sick of hearing about it. I'm sick of talking about it too! But the virus-that-shall-not-be-named isn't going anywhere just yet and I don't want any of you to become the subject of case law being argued in tribunals next year.
So strap yourselves in for an update on recent developments and a reminder of your obligations and how you can prevent COVID from being a problem employee all on it's own.
Rule of 6
Boris has taken us back to meeting in groups of no more than 6 people, but thankfully that doesn't affect workplaces at the moment.
It is worth considering at this stage, whether it is worth keeping numbers in your office below 6 where applicable or whether you want to delay the return to the office until we're in a more stable position.
The PM's conference indicated we're looking at a potential second wave, so how will you protect your employees and your business?
Pay Assistance for Self-Isolating Employees
A new pay support scheme is also going to be introduced for employees who are on low incomes and required to self isolate.
The qualifying criteria for this scheme is yet to be shared but it seems that eligible individuals who test positive and need to self-isolate for 10 days will receive £130 for their period of isolate.
Members of their household will receive a payment of £182.
Again, it's not clear how the eligibility criteria is determined or how and when these payments are issued, so we'll await guidance from the top.
Localised Lockdown & Shielding
From 1 August, shielding employees were advised they could return to work. However, as we approach what looks like a second wave, localised lock-downs are likely to mean that the medically vulnerable will need to shield again. Start thinking about how you can support people through a second period of shielding by asking them what they found good/challenging.
Shielding & SSP
New legislation published on 16 April 2020 means that shielding employees are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from day one and the government will refund up to two weeks of SSP for absences related to COVID.
This also still applies to anyone who has the virus and needs to self-isolate (no matter the severity of symptoms) and to anyone who is self-isolating because they live with someone who has symptoms.
Right to Work Checks
With a remote or furloughed workforce, right to work checks are increasingly challenging. Thankfully, the Government confirmed that scanned or photographed documents are permissible. However, the employer should then arrange a video call with the employee and ask that they present their documents to the camera for a real-time check.
Discrimination, Bullying & Harassment
I've spoken in previous blogs about how to deal with issues like employees travelling to affected areas or who refuse to come back to work. But we must also be looking at the behaviour of all employees.
I urge you to be alert to "banter" about COVID, in any sense, but particularly that which might be related to an employee's national origin or nationality. Remember that unwanted comments or "banter" or treating someone differently based on their ethnicity or nationality could amount to bullying and harassment, which you will need to nip in the bud to maintain your zero tolerance approach. Equally, placing extra obligations on employees because they are from China puts you at risk of discrimination claims, so ensure all your procedures are applied equally to all employees.
There's also the issue that some employees may have lost loved ones to the virus, so it's wholly inappropriate to be making crass jokes or banging on about the conspiracy theory at work.
It's important that you decide, ahead of time, what your stance is on COVID-banter and how you will snuff it out without killing employee morale.
It's not an easy feat to manage everyone through such turbulent times, but keeping yourself updated on the situation and approaching everything with your reasonable hat on will help you.
And of course, your favourite HR Consultant is always ready and willing to help you.