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Business as usual after lock down?

Boris Johnson has announced that he will set out a “comprehensive plan” on how to restart the economy in his “roadmap” which will be shared on Sunday. This is good news, however sketchy details suggest that businesses will have to continue to maintain social distancing, minimise the numbers using equipment and continue home working where possible. Furthermore, the government’s Coronavirus job retention scheme is presently due to end on 30 June 2020 and businesses will need to think about what happens next.

Return to Work

It is likely that a return to work will be a staged process and the use of public transport will have an impact as to whether employees are able to return to work. Considerations that business will need to consider:

  1. Health and Safety of Staff

The health and safety of staff is a key consideration for all businesses implementing a return to work plan.

  • Deep-clean office before the business re-opens
  • Minimise hot-desking
  • Consider how communal areas, canteens and kitchens can be kept safe
  • Consider providing masks and gloves
  • Can employees work in an office and maintain social distancing?
  • How are they travelling to work?
  • Should you consider staggered hours and days?
  • Consider the mental health and well-being of staff
  1. What if you do not need all of your employees?

The likelihood is that businesses will not be able to return to “normal” for many months. Is there a continuing requirement for staff or have businesses adapted to a new way of working which requires fewer staff or staff to undertake reduced hours? What are the options?

  • Temporary leave of absence

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) is due to end on 30 June 2020. You may decide to keep employees on the same arrangement but of course you will not be able to recover the amount from the government. You may also have to review the furlough agreement and enter into a further agreement with staff.

  • Variation in working hours

There is an option to ask employees to reduce their working hours on a temporary basis. As this will be a contractual variation to the contract of employment you will need to reach agreement with the employees affected.

  • Redundancies

Many businesses will find that in view of the pandemic, businesses have been impacted in such a way that there is no longer a requirement for the numbers of staff that had been engaged prior to the lock down and therefore may need to make redundancies.

Employers must consult with staff – even if there is no option but to make redundancies – before formally giving notice. Businesses planning to make 20 or more people redundant (but less than 100 people) must undertake collective consultation 30 days before giving notice of the first redundancy and also individual consultation. Consultation should commence no later than 31 May 2020 to take advantage of the CJRS scheme. Businesses planning to make 100 or more people redundant should commence consultation 45 days before giving notice of first redundancy and therefore should commence by 16 May 2020 to take advantage of the CJRS scheme.

Employees made redundant are entitled to receive notice (or payment in lieu); holidays and other contractual entitlements; and a redundancy payment if they qualify.

  1. Staff that are vulnerable and shielding

Some employees may still be required to shield (currently for 12 weeks) because they are ‘extremely vulnerable’ and at particular risk from COVID-19 infection. Others may be very concerned because they live or care for someone who is classed as high risk. If individuals are still shielding as restrictions begin to be lifted, or the CJRS ends, you should:

  • allow them to continue to work from home
  • if this is not possible, look at other options to retain them such as a further furlough period but be mindful of claims of age and disability discrimination.

Conclusion

These are some thoughts and considerations for businesses when managing the return to “normal” after the lockdown restrictions are relaxed.  If you need any advice or assistance please contact Sejal Raja on sejal.raja@rlb-law.com.


Disclaimer

This briefing is for guidance purposes only. RadcliffesLeBrasseur LLP accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken or not taken in relation to this note and recommends that appropriate legal advice be taken having regard to a client's own particular circumstances.

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