September 2020 – Joys of Zoom & Planning for the end of Furlough
Employment Update for Small Businesses
Many of us have learnt to work very differently since March, when we first went into lockdown, with video conferencing becoming something that we have become much more familiar with. We have found it works remarkably well when dealing with HR matters, and in this month’s update we consider how it might work best for you.
Also, as we enter the final stages of the furlough scheme, we consider what options may be open to employers who are unable to maintain their current workforce, as well as planning for the return to work of staff who may have been off for eight months.
Please contact me if you would like to find out a bit more about any of the subjects raised in this update or if you need any help or advice.
Please forward this email to any of your contacts who might find it of benefit.
How to make good use of video conferencing facilities
Since March, we have been involved in a number of HR matters where video conferencing has proved to be a valuable tool. Initially I felt a bit nervous about using it for business meetings but I quickly found that I preferred it to talking over the phone. I find that the discussion is much more natural when you are talking face to face.
It seems there is no limit to the types of matters that can be dealt with remotely. We have held Zoom meetings with 40 or more employees in recent months when launching large-scale redundancy programmes, and followed them up with individual consultation meetings via Zoom. In these cases we join from our offices in Burton Lazars, the employees join from home and the managers join from home or the office.
We have held disciplinary hearings using video conferencing, as well as welfare meetings for employees suffering from poor mental health, quick catch-up chats, flexible working meetings, grievances, etc. Many employers have also used these facilities for social get-togethers, with Friday early evening becoming a popular time for staff to “meet up” over a drink.
Some employees are a little technically challenged, but they can still join meetings on Zoom by phoning in if they don’t have a smart phone, tablet or computer. Clearly that is not quite the same but it still gives them an opportunity to join any team discussions.
If you have not yet made use of these facilities, I would recommend you give it a try.
The end of Furlough
What happens next?
Today employers have to start contributing 10% of the furlough pay to staff, with the Government picking up the other 70%. In October that will be 20% from the employer and 60% from the Government. Employers already have to pay for the NI and pensions contributions.
It seems unlikely at this stage that there will be any extension to the furlough scheme or anything to replace it, so employers will need to consider what to do next.
Bring staff back from furlough
If you are able to bring staff back to work, you may find that some of them are reluctant to return, and good communication at an early stage is going to be essential. You need to tease out any issues staff may have about returning in good time, so that you can work towards resolving them.
The key issue is that you need to ensure your workplaces are safe, if you want staff to come back to work rather work from home. You should read carefully the HSE guidance and take reasonable steps to implement appropriate procedures, etc. You should let staff know what you are doing with a view to reassuring them about workplace safety.
If some employees are reluctant to return, you should talk to them and find out what the issue is. It may be that they have a health condition making them particular vulnerable, or that they live with someone who is vulnerable and they are worried about bringing COVID into their home. It may be that they are suffering from a mental health condition which could have been exacerbated by the current and ongoing situation with COVID.
There is no simple solution to these issues, and they will all depend on their own particular circumstances. Generally, we would advise you to be wary of being too heavy-handed in most cases. It is unlikely to be appropriate to discipline someone for failure to return to work in most instances, but that certainly should not be ruled out completely. You could consider alternative ways of working – seeing if home-working would be manageable, for instance – or allowing someone an extended period of unpaid leave.
Reducing staffing levels
You may not have capacity to bring all your staff back and may need to look at reducing staffing levels to bring them in line with a reduced workload. Consultation with staff will be vital. You may find that some of them would be prepared to reduce their working hours, or some may even choose to resign if they do not want to return. If you are considering redundancies, you may find some staff volunteer to be made redundant.
If you need to make redundancies, you need to make sure you plan well and allow enough time to follow a reasonable process – see last month’s newsletter for more detail.
If you need any assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us for support.
National Minimum and Living Wage Rates
The current National Living Wage and National Minimum Wage rates are:
£8.72 per hour for workers aged 25 and over
£8.20 per hour for workers aged 21 to 24
£6.45 per hour for workers aged 18 to 20
£4.55 per hour for workers aged 16 and 17
£4.15 per hour for apprentices under 19 and those over 19 in their first year*
*N.B. Apprentices over 19 and who have completed at least one year are entitled to the appropriate rate for their age.