Risk assessments

Where employees are part of a phased return to the workplace, you will need to consider detailed risk assessment to safeguard employee’s health and minimise the risk of infection. It is important that you base any plans for returning to the workplace on up-to-date Government and public health guidance in relation to COVID-19. The Health and Safety Executive has published advice and guidance

You will need to review your workplace:

  • Can staff maintain a 2 metre physical distance between each other?
  • How will you manage meetings, interviews and other interactions?
  • What about communal areas such as kitchen and toilet facilities?
  • How can you implement strategies to support physical distancing such as staggering working hours so that not all staff are in at the same time?
  • Additional equipment or briefing of staff who are required to travel or visit other locations.
  • Encouraging remote meeting facilities and video-conferencing where possible to minimise the need for staff to travel and/or use public transport.

Supporting employees

Encourage and support managers to have a one to one return meeting with every employee, where a key focus is on health, safety and well-being. Managers need to discuss any adjustments and/or ongoing support employees may need to facilitate an effective return to the workplace. This is especially important for those who have been furloughed, and should cover topics such as changes in services or procedures, how specific client/user queries or issues are being addressed, or changes in other arrangements, as well as any changes to their work duties or tasks. It could be that some staff require a phased return to their full role, or want to discuss a new working arrangement, especially if their domestic situation has changed because of the pandemic.

Staff welfare

Refer to resources from organisations like Mind for more information.  You may also wish to share the advice from Carers UK and Carers Trust with any employees with caring responsibilities. If your charity has access to an Employee Assistance Programme make staff aware of the services they can provide.

The following links provide useful tools to manage mental health:

https://www.mentalhealthatwork.org.uk/toolkit/coronavirus-and-isolation-supporting-yourself-and-your-colleagues/

https://www.mind.org.uk/workplace/coronavirus-and-work/tips-for-supporting-yourself-and-your-team/

https://www.matesinmind.org/news/covid19-mentalhealth.html

Communication and consultation

Communication with your staff is key. Keeping people informed of what your charity is doing will help staff to understand your actions and decisions and give them some degree of security in very uncertain times. Knowing they are valued and supported by you as their employer – and that you continue to prioritise their health and safety – will be important for their well-being.

Consultation is a statutory requirement prior to any action taken with regard to varying terms and conditions of employment or considering restructuring and/or redundancy.  There are standard procedures to follow for consultation particularly in potential redundancy situations.

Varying employment terms and conditions

You may wish to vary the terms of your employment contracts for a number of reasons including the changed economic circumstances and the resulting need to reorganise the way services are carried out. As a result, possible areas of change for the employee might include hours or days worked, duties, supervisory relationships or place of work or other terms.

The recommended approach to varying an existing contract of employment is to gain agreement from the employee.  The following should be covered with the employee(s):

  • Discuss the reasons behind the change. Employees are far more likely to accept changes if they can understand the reasons behind them and have an opportunity to express their views. Involving employees makes good business sense, as it drives up levels of employee engagement and motivation.
  • Explain what will happen if the changes do not occur, for example, loss of a major grant/contract/funding, potential redundancy etc.
  • Give employees the opportunity to raise their concerns and put forward their suggestions. You should remain open to suggestions, show that you have listened to them and explain why if you are unable to take them on board or you may accept their suggestions or you may suggest a compromise.

Any variation should be recorded in writing within one month of the change in order to comply with the Employment Rights Act 1996. If the employees agree to the change, they should be asked to confirm their agreement by signing the new contract of employment.  This is important to provide evidence of agreement to the changes.

Redundancy

Your charity may not be able to continue operating, or you may only have enough activity to require significantly fewer staff. In such a situation, you may need to consider redundancies.

Information on implementing redundancies can be found on the ACAS website and some key points are:

  • As part of a fair process and to avoid unfair dismissal, you must consult with staff – even if there is no option but to make redundancies – before formally giving notice of dismissal. This should include the reasons why they are being made redundant.
  • If you are planning to make more than 20 but less than 100 redundant, you must start consultation 30 days before giving notice of the first redundancy. You will need to start consultation in good time to allow a sufficient notice period for any potential dismissals.
  • When you are making fewer than 20 people redundant, there is no fixed period of consultation required – instead, it needs to be of sufficient length to be meaningful to your particular situation.
  • Remember that redundant staff are entitled to receive notice; holidays and other contractual entitlements; and a redundancy payment if they qualify.

Flexible working

People’s expectations around work, and how they fulfill their role, and reconcile work and domestic responsibilities, could have changed dramatically. This is an ideal time for you to consider more effective ways of working which may require you to review existing or produce new policies on flexible working.

The statutory right to ask to work flexibly covers all eligible employees.  Any employee may make a request to work flexibly after 26 week’s employment service.  An employee can only make a statutory request once in any 12 month period.

However at this time you may require your employees to work more flexibly as a result of different required ways of working.  This will require consultation with your affected employees. For example, if your charity has work for all its staff, but not at the level before restrictions, you may want to consider asking staff to reduce their working hours on a temporary basis. As with furlough, because this will be a temporary contractual change, employees will need to agree in writing.

You’ll need to be clear about the reasons for reducing working hours and be prepared to respond to questions from staff.

Furlough

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme CJRS (the furlough scheme) has now been extended from June to end of October 2020, and so charities need to consider the following:

  • You should have sought written agreement with staff to be furloughed. Even if you put in a clause allowing for an immediate recall, you should still give staff a reasonable period of notice of requiring them to return to the workplace. This is particularly important given that many people may have additional childcare or other responsibilities, which they may need to make arrangements to manage.
  • If your furlough letter included an end date or linked furlough to the CJRS, you will need to seek further agreement from staff to continue being furloughed. It would be sensible to give an estimate of how long the further period is likely to be.

Annual leave

Staff are now allowed to carry forward some of their statutory holidays if they are unable to take them in the current leave year.

Encourage staff to take previously agreed holiday dates – even if working from home, people still need time away from work. Have a clear policy to allow as many people as possible to take leave this year while still maintaining key charity services.  There is Government guidance on the issue of annual leave and pay during Coronavirus.

Equality considerations

In addition to health and well-being, employers should bear in mind the importance of diversity and inclusion in any decisions or plans made. You will need to ensure that decisions do not discriminate against certain groups of employees, e.g. decisions around risk assessments, and flexible, home or part time working do not have an adverse impact disproportionately on employees with protected characteristics such as race, sex, and disability. The EHRC has produced guidance for employers on making reasonable adjustments and non-discriminatory decision making.

Employee performance and conduct 

Issues with employee’s performance and/or conduct should not necessarily be delayed in the current situation.  Additional consideration is required to decide how best to manage formal procedures and ensure a fair and safe process is followed.  ACAS provides guidelines on what should be considered in these circumstances.

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