2020 has completely overhauled the ways in which many of us live and work. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced millions of employees to work remotely where they can, and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has prevented many UK businesses from being forced to make staff cuts by introducing paid furlough leave.
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS)
The CJRS, under which employers can claim back up to 80% of monthly pay for furloughed employees, has now been extended until the end of March 2021. This scheme has been a lifeline for employers and employees this year and it appears to have prevented job losses, especially in the hardest hit sectors such as hospitality and tourism. However, the end of the CJRS will soon come around and there are no assurances that it will be extended again. Employers should start to consider whether the scheme has provided interim relief to get them through the pandemic or whether it has simply delayed an inevitable need for staff cuts. If it is the latter, employers should now start to consider their contingency plans for when the CJRS ends and ensure that the correct redundancy procedure is followed when the time comes.
In April 2020, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) reported that 46.6% of the UK workforce were working from home following the official Government advice. It is likely that working from home will continue into next year and may even become a permanent arrangement for some businesses that have seen significant benefits from it. This year has taught employers that flexible working and homeworking may be easier to accommodate than previously thought, and that there is a need to be sensitive towards each employee’s circumstances. Employers should ensure that staff who are working remotely have the equipment needed to do their job efficiently and safely, create and follow a homeworking policy and provide the support needed to work from home, including IT training, workstation assessment and remote management.
Returning to work
A large-scale return to the workplace is likely in 2021 as the vaccine continues to be rolled out to more sections of the population. We have seen how each employee’s circumstances can vary and this should be given due consideration when making return to work arrangements. For example, employees may still be protecting someone vulnerable or be cautious of returning to the office due to their own health. Whether it is a mass return of employees or a slower return on a rota basis, employers should consult with staff about the return and ensure they have an up-to-date risk assessment and health and safety policy in place. Employers will also need to be ready to adapt to potential further lockdown restrictions or changing rules on social distancing.
With a mixture of homeworking and employees returning to work, the skills businesses have developed in relation to managing and promoting employee well-being will be vital. Consider whether there is more you can do for your employees, such as having mental health first aiders or a mentoring system so that employees can seek advice and support. You should continue to encourage a positive work-life balance, especially for those working at home, for example asking them to schedule rest and lunch breaks and making sure that they finish work at a reasonable time.