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6 tips for employers on how to re-motivate, re-energising and re-train staff as we return to work

6 tips for employers on how to re-motivate, re-energising and re-train staff as we return to work

With restrictions lifting in the last week of May, many businesses are reopening their doors for the first time in almost six months. It’s been greatly anticipated by customers and business owners alike. However, employees may not feel the same.

It’s only natural: staff are returning to work after a 6-month hiatus. Within that time many will have established new routines and adjusted to having a lot more time at home. So, some staff may feel a little deflated and unmotivated. Others may resent having to return to work, even in the most positive of working environments. While this is understandable, it’s not efficient for business.

Until we fully adapt to the ‘new normal’, business owners are responsible for guiding their staff through this exciting, rapidly evolving period. Here are 6 tips for employers to build confidence in staff as we begin to open our doors again:

 

  1. Safety first

Clarifying and implementing COVID procedures is a crucial first step. Government guidelines change almost weekly in Northern Ireland, so staying up to date with advice is vital. Doing so ensures that you are providing the safest and most comfortable environment for your employees, and your clients. Update employees about internal changes within your company which impacts how they should operate.

 

  1. Support and adjust early

Over the course of the pandemic many employees may have faced incredibly challenging personal circumstances. Their health and wellbeing, and that of their friends and family, may have been impacted. Extreme changes in circumstances can be reported to the human resources department if necessary.

It is important to offer support, and provide an invitation for employees to bring their concerns forward so that necessary adjustments can be made.

Now is also the perfect opportunity to revise existing set rotas, team structures and employee development plans.

Businesses are facing an ‘evolution’ stage. Areas for improvement and issues experienced prior to the pandemic should be highlighted and resolved alongside the new COVID alterations, while people are already adapting.

 

  1. Hit the ground jogging?

The lockdowns have severely adjusted the pace of our lives; this is especially true for people who have received furlough and have had a full break from work.

Accept that employees may initially struggle to readapt to the speed and energy required to work. If staff are in agreement and it’s possible financially, offer reduced hours or staggered working days. Working shorter, more frequent shifts opposed to longer days should prevent overwhelming staff until they are ready to return to work at full capacity. Flexi-furlough may be able assist this.

Where this isn’t feasible, collaborate with staff to figure out which tasks need to be prioritised. Express expectations, and implement a plan to determine the best way to move forward with maximum efficiency.

If staff are unwilling to return to work, contact HR about how to proceed. There is no blanket approach on how to treat individual staff members following a pandemic. However, if an employee is unnecessarily underperforming or unreasonably refusing to return to work, disciplinary actions may have to be considered.

 

  1. Refresh and retrain

Relying on muscle-memory may not be the best strategy to adopt towards people who haven’t been operating in their roles since December.

Providing a mini-induction training to cover the basics and daily operations will provide comfort, and allow staff to readjust to their roles. A refresher course will also instil confidence in staff who may be intimidated at the thought of returning to a job they haven’t worked at for half a year.

For those in the hospitality sector, offering a trial day, for example a friends and family only day, should alleviate pressure from employees and help sooth anxiety among those who feel overwhelmed.

 

  1. Reconnect through a team building activity

Many people experienced long periods of isolation over the duration of the pandemic. Another thing to consider is that many staff members may not have seen or spoken to each other in almost half a year.

Team building exercises not only reduce potential awkwardness between co-workers, but are proven to increase long term productivity and communication, and reduce the occurrence of health and safety incidents.[1]

Ice-breaking activities encourage collaboration and solidarity among co-workers. They bring people out of their shells, and closer together as a team. As Margaret Carty said, “The nicest thing about teamwork is that you always have others on your side.”

 

  1. Lead staff with compassion and clarity

Gather staff together for a meeting to acknowledge that you appreciate that things have been anything but normal for the past year, and that you understand discomfort – you are only human too, of course. Reminding employees that they are valued and an integral aspect of the business is also important.

 

Despite the challenges, it is time to move forward. Employees must be onboard and prepare to begin progressing enthusiastically, and as a team. Reinforce that they are still expected to work to a high standard upon reopening, even if that standard has changed.

 

If you require further support with the Coronavirus please feel free to contact Julie Pollock on 07858089006 or e-mail julie@consulthr.co.uk. Visit our website here: www.consulthr.co.uk

Tags: Coronavirus, Coronavirus HR, Covid-19, HR, COVID, return to work, adjusting to covid, motivating staff, human resources

 

[1] https://teambuilding.com/blog/team-building-statistics

Restructuring Your Business in the Pandemic

Covid-19 remains the greatest challenge for many companies, as cases rise dramatically, and restrictions tighten, during this second wave. Unfortunately for many, restructuring your business may be the only option to stay afloat. 

As the end of 2020 draws near, there remains no vaccine. It appears that society and the economy will be deeply affected for some time. If you have not already thought about restructuring your business, now is the time to do so. Restructuring can be a way to be future-proof on profit. 

Consult HR are here to provide some guidance on navigating the challenges.

How to Assess Your Restructuring Needs

Before you start, you need to know where your business is going under restructuring arrangements. What areas of service or production are you concentrating on? What areas are you cutting? Which staff do you need to retain? Where do you need to cut back? 

You may need expert HR advice at this point, to ensure that you are taking the correct strategic approach.

Restructuring and Redundancy Procedures

The other thing you need to take into account, is that there is a strict regulatory framework to follow. For example, there are statutory consultation periods (depending on the number of redundancies being made) and procedures to be followed.

Many employers think they can ‘hand pick’ employees they are considering making redundant – it is not that straightforward.  Whilst you will be able to justify that you need to make redundancies, the selection process needs to be fair.  This is critical to whether you will win or lose a case in tribunal.

You may face extra penalties if these are not followed correctly, so expert HR advice is essential to protect your business. Find out more here about Consult HR support for restructuring and redundancy. 

A man in a blue shirt signing important documents at work

Pandemic Restructuring & Communication

Restructuring a company is not an easy or pleasant task. It involves difficult decisions and conflict. Management will of course feel anxious about making cuts. 

Staff are individuals, with their own challenges and anxieties, during this pandemic. If a company keeps this in mind, then the process is likely to go much more smoothly. 

Management should communicate well with each other about proposed plans, and final decisions. But management should also communicate with their staff, about such huge changes. 

Recently, Cineworld decided to lay off up to 5500 workers. Staff did not know of this decision, until it was reported on by the media. This is an example of how NOT to manage lay-offs. Staff should be informed of crucial decisions BEFORE they are made. This will go some way to reduce conflict and uphold morale. 

HR professional advising clients

Photo credit Tim Gouw @unsplash

Restructuring and Equality

Another key area in restructuring and redundancies is the issue of fair redundancy selection criteria. You may think it makes sense to select workers close to retirement age or the newest recruits to the company. However, companies should always bear in mind their obligations around Equal Opportunities. 

Age is a protected characteristic under the law. If your older staff are the only ones to be made redundant with no clear justification, this could be costly. A company could find themselves being taken to an employment tribunal and paying compensation (which unlimited in discrimination cases). This also causes damage to reputation.

When making redundancy decisions, management should aim to maintain a diverse workforce, retaining their strongest people to support their business. Consider knowledge and skill set. Long standing employees may have shown loyalty, but newer recruits may bring innovation. The selection process should consider the skill set, knowledge and expertise, for the long-term future of a business. 

A woman sits on a chair, on her laptop, smiling

Consult HR Help for Restructuring and Redundancy

Restructuring a business and making redundancies, is one of the most stressful processes a business, and management can go through. It is crucial that restructuring is well thought out, and carefully planned.

For bespoke guidance on restructuring your business, contact Julie Pollock on 07858089006 or email julie@consulthr.co.uk 

 

Visit our website here: www.consulthr.co.uk 

 

Why You Need a HR Professional on Your Team

How do you know when it is time to get expert HR Advice? We are all facing a volatile working environment at the moment due to Covid-19. Employers have to make difficult decisions on staffing levels.  

This creates an increased risk that an employee will seek compensation if you get it wrong.  So now is the time to ensure you get professional HR advice, to protect you and your business.

HR professional advising clients

Should You Outsource HR or Keep it In-House?

Outsourcing works best for small and medium-sized businesses who don’t have their own HR departments. Given the current economic uncertainty, it may not be the right time to expand your management team. However, at such times, it’s crucially important that you have access to HR expertise.

Outsourcing your HR offers a flexible solution to match your needs and your budget. Contact us to arrange to discuss your HR needs on  07858089006 or email julie@consulthr.co.uk.

How a HR Service Can Ease Your Business Through This Pandemic 

Running a business during a global pandemic is a constant challenge but good HR makes sure you have a strong team to help. A specialist HR service supports your business with cost effective and flexible advice to get you back on track. 

HR experts like Consult HR can help you make the changes needed to navigate the post-Covid business world.  We have the experience you need to offer year-round support in key areas like employment law, redundancy and restructuring We also help you shape the management team you need to lead your business through this crisis.  

Covid-19 and Company Staffing 

For businesses who need to streamline their staff, redundancies may have to be an option. The redundancy process can be a complex area and the procedures vary depending on the number of redundancies involved. 

Redundancies and Covid-19

You may need to reduce your staffing costs but don’t know how. We help businesses map out their options and guide business owners through the statutory procedures Let us take care of the legalities and provide you with the framework to streamline your business. We create plans to deal sensitively and supportively with staff, while providing on-site and offsite support, as needed. 

HR professional consulting

Restructuring During Covid-19

Where appropriate, HR professionals can provide advice on alternative options to redundancies. We support business owners to create a plan that fits with the vision of their business.  Restructuring your business does not need to be a difficult undertaking and may allow you to keep on staff you’re reluctant to lose. Sometimes job losses can be avoided by changing the role of staffHR professionals can guide you through the legalities of restructuring your business and creating new positions for existing staff 

Employment Law during the Covid Pandemic

Most business owners do not have the time – or inclination – to learn the ins and outs of employment law. This is where a specialist HR professional can save you a lot of time and money. A good HR provider will work with you to develop robust terms and conditions of employment. They will ensure these terms comply with legislation and are specifically tailored to suit the requirements of your business. 

At Consult HR we take care of all aspects of employment policies and procedures for the businesses we work with. We ensure your business is compliant with all employment legislation, which can also protect your Company in litigation claims. 

HR proffessional working

 Coronavirus and Dismissals 

 Employment law is particularly important right now, as many business owners are letting go of staff. Consult HR can advise and guide you through the process to ensure you comply with legislative requirements  

Consult HR are experts in the field of employment law and can provide you with advice on legally binding agreements. This helps you to avoid future litigation and unfair dismissal claims through the industrial tribunals.  

At this time of great upheaval for businesses, a professional HR service can ease the burden and hassle of employment issues. Consult HR have a range of service options to meet all businesses needs and budgets, from project work to pay as you go. Contact us today to find out how we can support your business,  

 

Contact Julie Pollock on 07858089006 or email julie@consulthr.co.uk.  

Visit our website here: www.consulthr.co.uk 

 

 

 

 

 

Common concerns employees express about returning to work during the Coronavirus pandemic

Lockdown restrictions are beginning to ease and slowly but surely things are set to return to ‘the new normal’. With dates now in place for the reopening of the hospitality and caravan parks, more and more employees will be unfurloughed as they return to work. Given that social distancing is still very much a part of our lives and many haven’t been working for weeks, it is only natural that employees may feel a little apprehensive about returning to work during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Here, at Consult HR, we have been advising employers on a daily basis about the best practices and many have shared with us the common concerns that employees are expressing. With this in mind, in order to help staff make the transition back to work a little easier, we’ve rounded up the three top concerns expressed by employees.

 

  1. Returning to work & then being made redundant

With unemployment rates expected to rise to 20%, it isn’t surprising that many employees are worried about the security of their jobs. Many are questioning whether they should return at all or look for another job. While it’s hard to predict what the future holds for any business, employers should share their plans for getting the company back and running at full capacity and be honest if you are considering different working patterns, or if indeed, hours will need to be reduced initially. Both options will require a process of consulting and seeking agreement, even if using the flexi-furlough system coming into place on 1st July.

 

2. Concerns over an increased workload

For many businesses, lockdown came in a flash. For those employees who were furloughed and unable to work from home, there is the fear that when they return to work, they will face an increase in workload, picking up the slack left over from lockdown. Many also fear there won’t be a phased return to work. It’s important to remember that this isn’t due to employees becoming lazy during lockdown, as in fact, many have been juggling home-schooling and caring for others, but rather the impact that social distancing has had on their mental health. Therefore, being mindful of their health and wellbeing is of the upmost importance.

3. Fears that it isn’t safe

Emerging from our homes, where we have been surrounded by the same people for weeks, and into another environment with a greater number of people can easily lead to feelings that it isn’t safe to return to work yet. Furthermore, some worry that by doing so, they will be putting their loved ones at risk. If full-time or part-time remote working isn’t at all possible, it is vital that stringent strategies are put in place to ensure the health and safety of your staff. Adhering to the Government’s guidance is crucial. Make employees aware of these steps so that they can return to work feeling a little less apprehensive.

What employees expect from employers

When speaking with employees, the common changes they feel should be implemented by employers are; more opportunities to work from home, increase in cleaning procedures, less face-to-face meetings, staggered shift times, mandatory face masks and an adapted office layout. All of this helps ensure safe social distancing practices are adhered to.

If you require further support with the Coronavirus please feel free to contact Julie Pollock on 07858089006 or email julie@consulthr.co.uk. Visit our website here: www.consulthr.co.uk

 

Coronavirus: Top tips for working from home

The hashtag #wfh (working from home) is currently trending online, which isn’t surprising, considering that millions of us are working remotely due to the coronavirus crisis. With lockdown expected to last for another few weeks yet, it’s likely that for some, the novelty of working from home will wear off soon enough. If you find yourself in this situation, panic not. Consult HR’s Julie Pollock shares her top tips for working away from the office.

  1. Get up & dressed as normal

When working from home, there is obviously the temptation to wear pyjamas or loungewear all day long. However, you should dress for your work environment. Wearing such clothing is likely to have an impact on your mood and therefore impact your productivity.

You don’t need to dress as formally as you might usually do but the act of actually getting dressed sends a signal to the brain that it’s time to get to work. How often have you spent the day or weekend lounging about, only to finally get showered and dressed before admitting that you “Feel more human”? The same applies when you’re working remotely. The way to think about it is that you should always be prepared for unexpected video calls from colleagues or managers, so get ready each day with that scenario in mind.

2. Create a designated workspace or office

For those who work remotely from home full time (such as freelancers) one of their biggest challenges is separating their work and home lives. One way to ensure that you can fully disconnect from work is by having a physical area for it. If you have a home office – great! If not, you’ll need to find somewhere that serves this purpose and which is distraction-free. If you can, avoid working from the kitchen table, sofa or bed. Having an area – such as a dining room – so that you can physically close the door at the end of the day is ideal.

Set up the area as best as you can so that it resembles a workspace environment. Consider what you use on a daily basis in your office and make sure you have access to any computer programmes or software that you might need. Place your desk where there is good lighting, make sure the temperature is comfortable and that you have stocked up on pens and stationery.

3. Stick to working hours

There is always the temptation to sleep in and start work later, but it is better to stick to your usual working hours. This means that you are more likely to be productive during this time and being on the same schedule as your co-workers makes things easier for everyone. If you live with other people, or find that others in your household are also working from home, separate yourself from them and establish boundaries in order to limit distractions during the day.

That way, when you are finished for the day, you can give others your full attention. Carving out a separate time for work will ensure you are more present in your home life.

4. Incorporate travel times & rituals

The physical act of getting ourselves to work each day actually sets us up for the day ahead. As mentioned above, it’s best to avoid lying in each morning. You might think that you are saving yourself commute time and therefore it’s warranted. However, use this time to set yourself up for the day. If you usually listen to your favourite podcast or playlist on the way to work, continue to carry out this ritual.

Likewise, the act of travelling and arriving home serves as a wind down time each day, so again, try to continue with this. If, for example, you usually walk the dog before making your dinner, make sure you do these things. This way, you will remind both your mind and body that you have finished work for the evening.

5. Avoid distractions

It can be tempting to sit down in front of the TV at lunchtime but before you know it, you’ve been sucked in and find yourself saying: “Just one more episode.” Taking breaks are important but make them just that. Throwing on a load of washing or emptying the dishwasher is fine but don’t be tempted to take on bigger tasks which can easily take over your day.

 

6. Communication with your team is key

There is a certain level of trust that comes with working remotely. One thing that is expected to come out of the current crisis is that more employees are likely to request working from home and employers will to be more open to allowing this to happen. This is your opportunity as a manager to test the water and see how this works.

The key is to communicate clearly with your staff. Whether it’s a Zoom call in the morning, outlining the schedule for the day, requesting a report at the close of business showing what each team member has achieved that day or a weekly team meeting, when everyone is on the same page and are aware of what is expected of them, things run more smoothly.

Finally, don’t be tempted to default to text-based communication. Don’t email someone if it is something you would usually speak to them about in person. Pick up the phone, or better still, jump on a video call. Seeing and speaking to people is an easy way to ensure we all feel connected.

7. Remember to socialise

One of the big things we’re seeing is just how well people can stay in contact, despite being separated. So many apps such as Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and House Party allow multiple people to engage in video calls at the same time. Have a virtual 10 O’Clock coffee break with the team or if you have a Friday ritual of a drink after work, there’s no reason why you can’t continue this. Getting everyone on the same call – even for just a few minutes – will keep morale high and connections open.

If you require further support with the Coronavirus please feel free to contact Julie Pollock on 07858089006 or e-mail julie@consulthr.co.uk. Visit our website here: www.consulthr.co.uk

How to prepare your employees to help reduce the spread of Covid-19

Here, we share the latest advice on how to introduce appropriate measures in your workplace to help reduce the spread of Covid-19.

Recently, employers have been heavily criticised by the First and Deputy Minister for failing to introduce appropriate measures into the workplace to protect employees from the spread of Covid-19.

Employers and employees have a crucial part to play, however there does seem to be a lack of knowledge around what simple steps individuals can take which will have a dramatically positive impact on reducing the spread of the Coronavirus.

Julie Pollock from Consult HR shares with us her top tips on how employers can play a critically important role in preparing their workplaces and employees to minimise the impact of the Coronavirus to both the workplace and the general public.

  1. How does the coronavirus (COVID-19) spread?

Coronavirus spreads through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby (within 2 metres) and can potentially be inhaled into the lungs.

It is thought the virus can be spread both through people showing symptoms and those who do not show symptoms.

If someone with the virus sneezes or coughs into their hands and they touch a surface or an object, which another person then touches, this is another way the virus can be spread. It can also live on individual’s clothes for a period of time.

This is why hand-washing, sneezing or coughing into a tissue or sleeve is essential, as well as binning used tissues. People are also being advised not to touch their face and to keep 2 meters away from other people (who aren’t from their household).

 

  1. What Are the Symptoms of the Coronavirus

The symptoms of the Coronavirus are:-

  • A high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
  • A new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)

You should educate your staff on these symptoms and advise them NOT TO COME TO WORK if they have any of these symptoms. They should not leave their home and they should follow the normal company absence reporting procedures.

Employees should be advised to protect others by NOT going to places like their GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. They should STAY AT HOME.

Use the 111 online coronavirus service to find out what to do if needed.

  1. What is social distancing and how do you as an employer apply this in the workplace?

Social distancing measures are steps you must take to reduce social contact between employees and others that your employees may come into contact with at work.

Employees should stay 2 metres (6ft) away from others. Employers have a responsibility to ensure appropriate measures are put into place and some examples of these are:

  • Staggering breaks to reduce social contact with others
  • Splitting employees into various shifts to reduce the number of people at work at the same time
  • Work from home arrangements introduced for those staff who can work from home
  • Re-spacing workstations/desks and communal areas
  • Installing screens to separate employees
  • Generally reducing the amount of contact with others at work or in public
  • Replacing face to face meetings with online virtual meetings
  • Ensuring appropriate ventilation in work areas

If employees are required to visit members of the public, i.e. home visits or visiting customers etc, any face to face visits should be avoided where possible. However, where this is not possible appropriate risk assessments should be conducted in advance of the meeting such as contacting the client in advance to establish if there is anyone at the premises who has tested positive with the virus, are self isolating or have symptoms.

Employers should educate their employees on social distancing practices.

 

  1. Social Distancing Outside of Work

How staff interact with people outside of work is equally as important as when they are at work. Employers should also educate their staff on good social distancing practices outside of work such as:

  • Avoiding contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of coronavirus – these symptoms include high temperature and/or new and continuous cough;
  • Avoiding non-essential use of public transport, varying your travel times to avoid rush hour, when possible
  • Avoiding large gatherings, and gatherings in smaller public spaces such as pubs, cinemas, restaurants, theatres, bars, clubs
  • Avoiding gatherings with friends and family – keep in touch using remote technology such as phone, internet, and social media
  • Using telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services.

 

  1. What should your staff do if they think they have the Coronavirus

  • If a staff member has symptoms of coronavirus, they need to stay at home for 7 days;
  • If they live with someone who has symptoms, they will need to stay at home for 14 days from the day the first person in the home started having symptoms;
  • However, if they develop symptoms during this 14-day period, they will need to stay at home for 7 days from the day their symptoms started (regardless of what day they are on in the original 14-day period). This may mean they have to stay at home for a maximum of 21 days;
  • If they have symptoms and live with someone who is 70 or over, has a long-term condition, is pregnant or has a weakened immune system, they should try to find somewhere else they can stay with for the 14-day isolation period;
  • It is likely that people living within a household will infect each other or be infected already. Staying at home for 14 days will greatly reduce the overall amount of infection the household could pass onto others in the community;
  • Testing for coronavirus is not needed if you are well enough to stay at home.

If all members of the household have to stay at home together, they should try to keep away from each other as much as possible.

Employees should self-isolate if they have been advised to do so by their doctor, NHS 111 or on the basis of government advice to avoid spreading the virus.

Employees who need to self isolate should be advised NOT TO ATTEND WORK and follow the normal absence reporting procedures.

This is a useful guide to demonstrate how the periods of self isolation work:-

  1. What Does Self Isolation Mean?

Self-isolation is for the purposes of minimising the spread of the virus in the event there is the potential that one of your employees may have it.

Self isolation means not leaving your home for any reason (other than to exercise once a day and this must be at least 2 metres away from others), not leaving the house to buy food or collect medicine and not to have any visitors. They should get others to bring them whatever supplies they need and to leave it on their door step or window sill to avoid contact.

If employees who are self isolating feel well enough to work, they can work from home if there is work they can do from home and their employer agrees to this.

More guidance on self-isolation can be found here.

In situations where employees are required to self isolate, employers should advise their employees of what they should do during their period of self isolation.

You should also educate employees in advance that they should NOT COME TO WORK in instances where they should be self isolating. They should remain at home and follow the normal absence procedures.

 

  1. What to do if you are aware that staff are not abiding by the self-isolation guidance

Emergency powers for the protection of public health have been brought in by the UK Government, which means people not self-isolating when they have been told to do so, can be arrested and fined or jailed. These rules have been replicated and are now law in Northern Ireland.

Most employees will be responsible and will follow the advice but you should send home an employee who you discover should be self-isolating. You could suspend an uncooperative employee on the grounds of health and safety but persuasion is preferable. You have a duty of care towards your employees to provide them with a safe working environment.

 

  1. Who is classified as extremely high risk, what is ‘Shielding’ and what is your obligation to these employees?

The government has identified a group of people at extremely high risk of being hospitalised because of the coronavirus. People falling into this group include:

  1. Solid organ transplant recipients.
  2. People with specific cancers:
    • People with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radical radiotherapy for lung cancer
    • People with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment
    • People having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
    • People having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors
    • People who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs
  3. People with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe COPD.
  4. People with rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as SCID, homozygous sickle cell).
  5. People on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection.
  6. Women who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired.

Employees who fall into this category should adopt the ‘shielding practice’. Shielding is a practice used to protect extremely vulnerable people from coming into contact with the coronavirus.

Those employees who fall into this category should receive a message or letter from the  NHS or similar and they are advised to self isolate for 12 weeks (please note this time may change).

They are strongly advised to stay at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact.

There are also a list of people who are deemed to be at increased risk of severe illness from the Coronavirus. They may not necessary have to self isolate and it may be sufficient for them to remain at work and adopt the social distancing guidelines. You can see a list of these illnesses in this link here. You should take specific medial guidance on individual cases prior to making any decisions.

 

  1. What advice can you give to your employee to minimise the virus spreading?

This is a new area for everyone and to minimise the spread of the virus within your workforce, you should educate your staff members on good practices to follow on how to avoid contracting the coronavirus.

Employers where possible should advise their staff on:-

  • How they can catch the coronavirus
  • What the symptoms of the coronavirus are so they can identify these early
  • Advise them on good social distancing procedures both at work and outside of work
  • If they believe that either themselves, or a member of their house hold has the virus, they are not to come to work – this will limit the spread of the virus among your workforce
  • Advise them what they should do if they have to self isolate
  • One of the main ways the virus is contracted is by touching something which has the virus and then touching your face. Therefore employees should be guided on extra hand-washing and/or hand sanitising procedures. Hands should be washed with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and more frequently than usual.

 

  1. Posters For The Workplace

Employers should display posters/visual guides in the workplace as a reminder to staff.  Here are a few useful links to posters you can use in the workplace:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/873785/COVID19_Guidance_Employers_and_businesses_.pdf

https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/sites/default/files/2020-03/handwash%20poster%2019%2003%202020%20%283%29.pdf

https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/Catch%20it%20bin%20it%20kill%20it%20SQUARE.png

 

This information is up to date as of 27th March 2020. This is a constantly changing area so you are advised to keep up- to-date the with latest government advice. The may find the following links useful:

Disclaimer

The information contained in this guide should not be treated as advice and you should take appropriate professional advice prior to taking any action.

If you require further support with the Coronavirus please feel free to contact Julie Pollock on 07858089006 or e-mail julie@consulthr.co.uk. Visit our website here: www.consulthr.co.uk

 

Coronavirus – FAQs

With so much contradictory information surrounding the coronavirus and the guidance that businesses should follow, here, Consult HR’s Julie Pollock answers the most commonly asked questions.

  1. What should the company do about business travel?

Seriously consider suspending unnecessary business travel overseas or certainly areas that are regarded as a ‘risk’ (travel to some countries will not be possible anyway due to lockdowns). Risking an employee bringing back the illness to your other employees and creating anxiety for the employee themselves should be carefully considered. There is also the risk that they may find themselves unable to return home from a trip as some countries are beginning to go into lockdown. Consider using video calling as an alternative.

If the business travel is necessary, carry out your risk assessment around how safe the area is to travel to, consider whether it is regarded as a risk and any precautionary measures you should put in place to protect the safety of your employee.

  1. What should we do regarding employees attending events?

Employers may find that many events are being cancelled due to the coronavirus. If your employee is concerned about attending an event listen to their concerns and weigh up the pros and cons taking into account daily updates from the authorities regarding coronavirus.

  1. What should we do about employees who have booked holidays that have now been cancelled?

From an employment law perspective, there’s no requirement for employers to accept workers cancelling holiday. If you have specific rules on allowing employees to cancel their leave, you can stick to these. However, given the circumstances, it may be advisable to be more flexible where possible and allow the employee to cancel their booked leave and take it at another mutually agreed time.

  1. If an employee returns from a trip to a ‘risk’ area what should we do?

Employers have a duty of care towards the health and safety of their workforce. If they knowingly allow an employee who has been advised to self-isolate into the workplace they could be in breach of health and safety regulations, especially to high risk employees.

The Public Health Agency states people who have returned from Hubei Province, including Wuhan, Iran, Daegu or Cheongdo in the Republic of Korea, and any area within Italy under containment measures in the last 14 days should avoid attending work. They should call NHS 111 for advice and stay at home. 

  1. Do I have to pay employees who are self-isolating?

If employees can continue working from home then they will, of course, be paid their normal salary.

If employees cannot work from home and have no symptoms but have reason to believe they have been exposed to the virus then employers should pay sick pay as per the amendment made to the Statutory Sick Pay regulations for Northern Ireland on 16th March 2020, which now states that employees should be paid SSP for self isolation if advised by a medically qualified individual.

The Government has stated that SSP should be paid from day one for eligible employees who have the virus, who are required to self-isolate on medical advice or who have symptoms of an upper respiratory infection and therefore self-isolate for 7 days.  We are waiting on confirmation if employers in Northern Ireland will be able to claim back SSP paid to an employee is relation to the coronavirus outbreak.

You should also check your company policies to identify if employees are entitled to an enhanced sick pay payment as per the terms of their contract. If this is the case you will be required to honour that payment. 

  1. What to do if a member of staff or the public with suspected COVID-19 has recently been in your workplace

PHA advise for contacts of a suspected case in the workplace, no restrictions or special control measures are required while laboratory test results for COVID19 are awaited. In particular, there is no need to close the workplace or send other staff home at this point. Most possible cases turn out to be negative. Therefore, until the outcome of test results is known there is no action that the workplace needs to take.

If the employee or member of the public tests positive for the virus they should give their consent for colleagues to be informed that they have the virus under the GDPR Regulation. However, you have a duty of care for the safety of your employees and should inform those who have been in the proximity of the affected person without naming them if no explicit consent is given.

  1. If an employee self isolates themselves because they are fearful of getting the Coronavirus how should we treat this?

Try to listen to the employee’s concerns and try to alleviate them as best you can. Perhaps offer flexible working or home working, if possible. The employee may be able to arrange unpaid leave or holiday with you although employers do not have to agree to this.

If an employee refuses to return to work then this could result in disciplinary action unless their refusal is reasonable.

  1. If I am concerned and I send someone home in relation to Coronavirus what do I have to pay them?

If you take the decision to remove someone from your business and they are ready and available to attend work, in this instance the employee will be entitled to receive their normal pay in full whilst not at work. 

  1. If an employee is advised by a medical practitioner to self-isolate, how should we manage this?

If the employee is well and can work from home and this is a practical option for the type of work that they do, then this should be arranged where possible and the employee would receive their normal full pay.

If they are well and cannot work from home then sick pay should be paid from day one or occupational sick pay if this is stated in their contract of employment. 

  1. If we go into lockdown what are our options – how best do we manage this?

Unless you have a specific contractual clause regarding lay-offs in your employment contracts you must still pay your employees their normal wages in full, unless you consult with your staff and come to an agreement to reduce this pay.

If you place your staff on lay-off and you have a lay off clause in your contract of employment, the staff do not have to be paid for this time, other than a guaranteed payment. (Further information can be discussed in relation to this by contacting Consult HR).

Arrange home working, where possible. In this situation the employee will be paid full pay.

Keep your employees informed as much as possible during the build up to a potential lockdown situation.

  1. If we are struggling to get supplies/products which is having an effect on us being able to do our job, how should we deal with this?

If you have a lay off clause in your employment contracts you can ask your employees to reduce their hours or to not work at all (see above regarding guaranteed payments).

If you don’t have a lay-off clause and you send them home then you have to pay them their normal wages.

You could consider redundancies. (Further information on this can be discussed in relation to this by contacting Consult HR).

  1. What financial support is there for employers ie. in terms of paying SSP, loss of business etc?

The UK Government has announced a “business interruption loan” which will allow businesses with a turnover of £41m or less to apply for a loan of up to £1.2m covering up to 80% of losses with no fees.

Employers who have 250 employees or less can reclaim the cost of providing SSP for 7 or 14 days from the government in full.

We are still waiting on confirmation if any of these benefits will be extended to Northern Ireland businesses.

  1. Are there any key tips we should put into place to protect our staff and customers against the spreading of the Coronavirus?

  • Keep staff updated with your internal policies and protocols relating to coronavirus and ensure communication is clear and accessible.
  • Consider suspending travel on overseas business trips and attendance at events and consider flexible and home working arrangements where possible.
  • Reduce the number of staff in any one area at a time or introduce different shift systems/hours of work to reduce the time that all staff spend together.
  • Increase hand cleaning facilities and workplace cleaning. Use video calling for client meetings or meetings amongst employees based at different sites.
  • Ensure everyone’s emergency contact details and phone numbers are up to date in your records.
  1. If the schools close and my staff advise they have to stay at home to look after their children, how to I manage this?

The First Minister has announced that schools will close “at some point” and this is likely to be for 16 weeks.

If your employee has children who are slightly older you may be able to arrange for them to work from home if their job allows that. In these circumstances they will be entitled to their normal pay.

If your employee is unable to arrange childcare in order to attend work then consider being flexible on the hours worked.

If an employee is unable to work at all because of having to care for a dependent during the coronavirus outbreak then this would normally be unpaid leave.

  1. I have a staff member who is refusing to socially distance outside of office hours. Can we demand they self-isolate, and if so, do we have to pay them?!

Yes you could advise them that you are self isolating them, however this will be very difficult to police to ensure the staff member is not coming into close contact with others during the period of self isolation. They will also be eligible for full pay during the period of self isolation as has not been recommended by a medical professional. 

  1. We are investigating getting our staff to work remotely. Some will be able to, and some, due to their job roles (doing tasks physically in the office) will not be able to. Is that ok?

Yes, it is advisable to arrange home working for as many employees as possible but it will not be possible for all and will depend heavily on the nature of their work. So you may have a combination of some staff working remotely and some staff based in the office. 

  1. What are we to do if the order comes that businesses have to close for a period and people must stay in their homes. If that is the case, do we have to pay workers? What happens if they are able to work remotely but they refuse, or if they can’t work remotely because it is not practical for their job type, what do we do? Do we pay them?!

If you have employment contracts which state you can lay off employees or unless it is agreed otherwise with a union or there is a national agreement for your industry, then you must continue paying your employees their normal salary for the period of the shutdown.

You can compel your employees to take holidays but you must give twice the notice of the holiday you are asking employees to take.

If your employee refuses to work remotely and you are confident it is a reasonable request and there is no reason why it can’t be done then you could take disciplinary action against them.

If your admin workers cannot do their jobs remotely and you have to shut down then, yes, you still have to pay them their normal wage.

It is important to keep your employees informed at all stages if this seems a likely scenario for your business.

  1. Potentially, if we have to ask workers to do short term / reduced salaries for a period, what happens if some agree and some don’t? Can we go down the redundancy route and automatically pick the ones who refused?!

If you have a lay off clause in your contract of employment, if your employees all agree or if there is a national agreement regarding lay-offs for your industry then you can reduce wages for the period of difficulty.

If you do not have a contractual clause regarding lay-offs and your employees do not agree to the change then redundancy is another option.

If you go down the redundancy route you cannot simply pick the employees who refuse to accept a reduced salary – you must follow a fair procedure taking into account eg. standard of work, skills, qualifications and experience, attendance etc.

Your employees may accept the reduced pay option if they understand that the alternative may mean redundancies.

  1. Rather than a ‘general’ order to shut, if we have to close for say 14 days and self -isolate/deep clean because someone in our midst is diagnosed with coronavirus, do we have to pay our self-isolating staff then?

If the employees may have come into contact with an individual who has contracted the virus, then if they are advised medically to self isolate themselves, then they will be entitled to SSP or contractual sick pay from day 1.

If however you ask the employees not to attend work for a period of time then you will be required to pay them their full salary.

  1. If I have to pay employees SSP due to the coronavirus can I claim this back from HMRC

We are still waiting on the government to make a decision on whether businesses in Northern Ireland will be entitled to reclaim SSP paid out to employees. However any employees you pay SSP to, make sure you receive a medical certificate for their absence which they can get by dialling 111. They do not need to go to their GP practice to get this. 

  1. Can we ask an employee who has a family member who has been diagnosed with, or is suspected to have, Covid-19 not to come into work?

The latest advice on self isolation within families is:-

  • If you live alone and you have symptoms of coronavirus illness (COVID-19), however mild, stay at home for 7 days from when your symptoms started
  • If you live with others and you or one of them have symptoms of coronavirus, then all household members must stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days. The 14-day period starts from the day when the first person in the house became ill
  • It is likely that people living within a household will infect each other or be infected already. Staying at home for 14 days will greatly reduce the overall amount of infection the household could pass on to others in the community
  • For anyone in the household who starts displaying symptoms, they need to stay at home for 7 days from when the symptoms appeared, regardless of what day they are on in the original 14 day isolation period
  • If you can, move any vulnerable individuals (such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions) out of your home, to stay with friends or family for the duration of the home isolation period
  • If you cannot move vulnerable people out of your home, stay away from them as much as possible
  • If you have coronavirus symptoms:
    • Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital
    • You do not need to contact 111 to tell them you’re staying at home
    • Testing for coronavirus is not needed if you’re staying at home
  • Plan ahead and ask others for help to ensure that you can successfully stay at home and consider what can be done for vulnerable people in the household
  • Ask your employer, friends and family to help you to get the things you need to stay at home
  • Wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds, each time using soap and water, or use hand sanitiser
  • If you feel you cannot cope with your symptoms at home, or your condition gets worse, or your symptoms do not get better after 7 days, then use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service. If you do not have internet access, call NHS 111. For a medical emergency dial 999.

If the employee has been in close contact with the family member, for example, lives with them, then they must self isolate as stated above and will be paid SSP if eligible.

However, if an employer simply asks an employee to stay at home because of the relationship between the employee and sick relative, without any reasonable evidence of contact between them, this is unlikely to be an appropriate course of action.

  1. What to do if an employee or a member of the public becomes unwell and believe they have been exposed to COVID-19

If the person has not been to specified areas in the last 14 days, then normal practice should continue.

If someone becomes unwell in the workplace and has travelled to China or other affected countries, the unwell person should be removed to an area which is at least 2 metres away from other people. If possible, find a room or area where they can be isolated behind a closed door, such as a staff office. If it is possible to open a window, do so for ventilation.

The individual who is unwell should call NHS 111 from their mobile, or 999 if an emergency (if they are seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk) and explain which country they have returned from in the last 14 days and outline their current symptoms.

Whilst they wait for advice from NHS 111 or an ambulance to arrive, they should remain at least 2 metres from other people. They should avoid touching people, surfaces and objects and be advised to cover their mouth and nose with a disposable tissue when they cough or sneeze and put the tissue in a bag or pocket, then throw the tissue in the bin. If they don’t have any tissues available, they should cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow.

If they need to go to the bathroom whilst waiting for medical assistance, they should use a separate bathroom if available.

  1. What to do if a member of staff or the public with confirmed COVID-19 has recently been in your workplace

Closure of the workplace is not recommended.

The management team of the office or workplace will be contacted by the PHE local Health Protection Team to discuss the case, identify people who have been in contact with them and advise on any actions or precautions that should be taken.

A risk assessment of each setting will be undertaken by the Health Protection Team with the lead responsible person. Advice on the management of staff and members of the public will be based on this assessment.

The Health Protection Team will also be in contact with the case directly to advise on isolation and identifying other contacts and will be in touch with any contacts of the case to provide them with appropriate advice.

Advice on cleaning of communal areas such as offices or toilets will be given by the Health Protection Team.

  1. When individuals in the workplace have had contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 what should we do?

If a confirmed case is identified in your workplace, the local Health Protection Team will provide the relevant staff with advice. These staff include:

  • Nny employee in close face-to-face or touching contact
  • Talking with or being coughed on for any length of time while the employee was symptomatic
  • Anyone who has cleaned up any bodily fluids
  • Close friendship groups or workgroups
  • Any employee living in the same household as a confirmed case

Contacts are not considered cases and if they are well they are very unlikely to have spread the infection to others:

  • Those who have had close contact will be asked to stay at home for 14 days from the last time they had contact with the confirmed case and follow the home isolation advice sheet
  • They will be actively followed up by the Health Protection Team
  • Uf they develop new symptoms or their existing symptoms worsen within their 14-day observation period they should call NHS 111 for reassessment
  • If they become unwell with cough, fever or shortness of breath they will be tested for COVID-19
  • If they are unwell at any time within their 14-day observation period and they test positive for COVID-19 they will become a confirmed case and will be treated for the infection

Staff who have not had close contact with the original confirmed case do not need to take any precautions and can continue to attend work.

  1. Certifying absence from work

By law, medical evidence is not required for the first 7 days of sickness. After 7 days, it is for the employer to determine what evidence they require, if any, from the employee. This does not need to be fit note (Med 3 form) issued by a GP or other doctor.

Your employee will be advised to isolate themselves and not to work in contact with other people by NHS 111 or PHE if they are a carrier of, or have been in contact with, an infectious or contagious disease, such as COVID-19.

Employers should use their discretion around the need for medical evidence for a period of absence where an employee is advised to stay at home due to suspected COVID-19, in accordance with the public health advice being issued by the government.

  1. Advice for staff returning from travel anywhere else in the world within the last 14 days

Currently, there are minimal cases outside the listed areas and therefore the likelihood of an individual coming into contact with a confirmed case is extremely low.

These staff can continue to attend work unless they have been informed that they have had contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19

If individuals are aware that they have had close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 they should contact NHS 111 for further advice.

The latest country information is available on the NaTHNac Travel Pro website.

If you would like any further specific advice please contact Julie Pollock on:-

Tel: 07858089006

E-mail – julie@consulthr.co.uk

www.consulthr.co.uk

Ensure that you keep up to date with the advice from Public Health NI and the Government.

Coronavirus: How to be prepared in the workplace

Novel Coronavirus, or Covid-19 as it is officially known, has dominated headlines since the first case was diagnosed in December 2019, and it isn’t surprising. Since then, and at the time of writing, cases have been diagnosed in 32 countries around the world, including the UK. In Northern Ireland alone, there are 12 confirmed cases so far.

While the advice is to take a “common sense approach” to the coronavirus, no doubt as an employer, you can’t help but wonder what impact this could have on your business. With more outbreaks predicted, it is therefore important to prepare for the worst-case scenario by taking action to protect your workforce and prevent spread of the disease. 

With this in mind, here are our top tips on how to be prepared for Coronavirus in the workplace…

Coronavirus

Changes to statutory sick pay (SSP)

Those off sick or officially in isolation due to the Coronavirus (also known as Covid-19), will be entitled to SSP from day one rather than serving three unpaid waiting days.

What if an employee is not actually sick but the doctor has advised them to self-isolate?

Employees who are not sick, but have reason to believe they have been exposed to the virus and have been advised by doctors to self-isolate, or have had to go into quarantine, at the time of writing this article, have no legal right to pay. They are not actually sick and therefore are not entitled to Statutory Sick Pay or Contractual Sick Pay. However, the advice on this may change and if you find yourself in this situation you should seek advice on this before making a final decision on payment.

Educate employees on the Coronavirus

By now, everyone should know the symptoms associated with the Coronavirus but there is no harm in reminding employees of this. Typical symptoms include fever, coughing and shortness of breath, which may progress to more severe symptoms. And, like most viruses, those with weakened immune systems and the elderly, are more at risk.

Keeping employees safe

Good hygiene is key in helping prevent the spread of the virus. Make sure your office has running hot water at all times, soap is readily available and if you can, offer hand sanitiser at various points throughout the office. If possible, reduce face-to-face meetings, which can be replaced with online Facetime meetings. Finally, working from home options should be considered for particular employees.

Travel to affected areas

Organisations must not insist employees travel to affected areas for work. Furthermore, they should advise employees not to travel to these areas for holiday purposes. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised against all travel to Wuhan in China, where the virus originated and is at its worst.

Employees returning from affected areas

Whilst as an employer it is your duty to keep staff safe by taking reasonable steps, there is currently no legal obligation to impose a precautionary suspension of non-symptomatic employees who are returning from areas with cases of Coronavirus.

Where an employee presents with symptoms, they should refer themselves to their GP and follow their advice. As mentioned above, those off sick or officially in isolation due to the Coronavirus, will be entitled to SSP from day 1 of their absence.

Suspending employees

If a business chooses to ask an employee not to return to work as a precaution, the person in question is entitled to full pay, unless their contract gives the employer the right to suspend without pay for this specific reason.

Coronavirus

Changes to annual leave

You may find that now, and over the next few months should the virus continue to spread, employees may wish to cancel planned holidays to affected areas, with little or no notice. This will mean a request to postpone annual leave. It is advisable to work with employees on this issue where possible.

Finally, this is an ever-changing area at the minute with daily updates so it is important as employers to stay up to date with the latest guidelines.