MD Law & Corona Virus - Practical Advice
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
As the Coronavirus enters its peak there is no mistake that 2020 is set to be one of the most challenging years for businesses since the economic crisis in 2008. Employers and Employees alike are facing incredibly stressful circumstances where they are not only facing the worry that they may become unwell, that family members may become unwell, but also the uncertainty at the affect the restrictions being placed upon them and our economy may have on them as business owners, employers and employees financially.
The concerns we are all faced with are therefore twofold. Firstly, there is heightened sense of stress and anxiety for those of us who are worried that we may contract the virus, we may already be suffering from symptoms created by having contracted the virus, we may be worried that family members may either contract the virus or may have contracted the virus already. Some of us may be feeling isolated having been unable to attend social functions, or carry out the usual routine of going to work, whilst others may be required to attend the workplace, which may create a sense of anxiety and fear.
Secondly, our businesses are faced with unprecedented restrictions that may have an incredibly detrimental effect on our business.
As the guidance we are receiving changes daily, it is becoming difficult for employers and employees to understand how we should be responding and what measures we should be putting in place to protect our businesses and our employees.
The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Wales) Regulations 2020 came into effect on 18th March 2020 and provide that we should not be leaving our homes unless absolutely necessary.
If your business is one that must remain open, you should consider the following to ensure that employees are safe while in the workplace:
- Encourage your staff members to wash their hands approximately every 20-30 minutes
- If cleaners attend at your office arrange additional cleaning arrangements so that the working environment is fully cleaned every day and if you do not ensure that all employees clean their desks, phones and other work surfaces at least one daily.
- As an employer you should provide the facilities for use by your employees such as hand sanitiser / hand wash and cleaning products.
- Ensure that you are able to keep all employees at least 2 meters from one another in the working environment and where required provide them with PPE equipment.
- Stagger break times and lunch breaks to prevent
- Keep your employees updated with the government … maybe by having meetings (so long as social distancing can be adhered to) or with posters
If you have staff who are considered vulnerable, perhaps who have health conditions such as asthma, or are currently pregnant, it is important to consider “shielding” these employees. Discuss the current guidance with your employees and ask whether they would be wiling to isolate themselves to protect themselves. These individuals may have received a letter from health specialists advising that they should shield themselves for a period of 12 weeks from receipt of their letter and it is important that employees understand that you are supportive of their decision to shield themselves. It is important to understand that this decision is to be made by them and you must ensure that any decisions you may make as an employer are not contrary to the Equality Act 2010. It is important to allow vulnerable employees to continue their work at home if it is possible for them to do so.
When should you be allowing employees to work from home
The Government guidance in this respect is that, wherever possible, employees should now be able to work from home.
Many employers may find it difficult to loosen the reins and may find managing a team from a distance, without being able to oversee them visually, complicated, but it is important that there is an element of trust that your employees will work to the best of their ability. Some may even thrive.
It is also important that, as employers, we consider not only the effect working from home may have on the business, but also on the mental health of our employees. Keeping an avenue of communication open with your employees is imperative to success when working from home.
How to communicate effectively with staff members:
- Virtual meetings with staff members both individually and as teams could ensure that employees are able to share and resolve issues they may be experiencing.
- Arranging virtual meetings one on one with staff members to discuss any difficulties they may be experiencing and helping to find resolutions is imperative for the continued development of staff.
- Allow some time for your staff members to address points of concern with you, whether these be business related or whether these relate to outside concerns your staff members may have about the virus.
It is important to understand that some staff members may find working from home more difficult.
- Consider that some of your staff members may live alone and so may be finding the current restrictions incredibly difficult. The restrictions may be having a detrimental effect on their mental health and when discussing work with your employees it is important to try and note whether you feel that staff members may require a little emotional support.
- Some employees may feel that a change in their usual hours may be beneficial if they are living with children. With the best will in the world, it may not always be possible for your staff members to stick to the usual working hours when their children are also home. Be flexible where possible and allow your employees to reduce their hours if they feel they can not work the hours they would usually work in the office. Alternatively, allow your employees to work the same hours but at times in the day that may suit the home life better.
A topical question for employers is whether or not they have to allow employees time off work to look after their children.
The simple answer to this is yes.
All employees have a right to have time off to look after their dependants. There is no restriction in this regard and an employee has this right from the very first day that they are employed.
With the current restrictions requiring for school closures there are a number of employed staff all over the country who are faced with difficulty in attending work. The guidance furthermore provides that parents, who may usually rely on grandparents to provide childcare, should as far as possible be avoiding this option at present.
What employers should understand is that, unless their own policies provide differently, an employee who is not able to attend work due to a requirement to care for their dependants, the employee does not have a right to pay.
In the circumstances, it is imperative that, given the times, an employer is reasonable. Perhaps if an employer is considering the benefit of using the Job Retention Scheme it would be beneficial for parents who are not able to attend at work to be considered (when considering this scheme however it is important to understand that you must not discriminate and you must seek the agreement of the member before making this arrangement).
Other options would perhaps be allowing the member of staff to take some of the time off as holiday days.
MD Law’s hope is that all employers and employees alike are able to keep safe and healthy in these uncertain times and we wish you all the very best both from a health perspective and financially. We are all in this together!
Author: Amy Palmer