As the children get back to school this week, and office workers are being encouraged to get back to their offices, it is hard to believe we have been living under the cloud of this Global Pandemic for six whole months.
What we at Thomas Mansfield are seeing with many employers is that the immediate crisis, where quick and often panic induced decisions were required, has passed, and they are now entering a period of reflection. Employers are looking to ensure that their workforce is future proof in the ‘new normal’, and given the vast changes workforces have seen in the past six months, they are realising that not only do certain new working practices need formal governance, they also want to ensure going forwards they have the full range of tools at their disposal for any future changes they may need to implement.
A key element of this reflection will involve employers looking at whether their policies and procedures can assist them in ensuring compliance with legal requirements but also, importantly, giving them flexibility and as many options as possible for the months to come.
A review of your policies is likely to be split into two areas – looking at what you need to change to protect your business from areas of legal exposure such as health and safety, data security and confidentiality, as well as looking at what can be changed to give your business maximum flexibility going forwards.
A priority is to review all data policies to ensure that all data is being adequately protected if employees are working from home. What rules do you need to introduce to ensure that data and confidential paperwork is being kept secure even when people are working at home? Are people allowed to leave paperwork on their home office desks or does it need to be locked up at the end of each day? These are areas which require consideration and training, to ensure everyone understands the processes they should be following, and the consequences of not doing so.
The safety issues surrounding lockdown and the return to work have also thrown up the need to consider changes such as allowing, or needing, employees to start work at staggered times to avoid rush hour exposure. You need to consider your position on flexible working going forwards, both in terms of requests you may receive but also crucially in case you need to compel workers to work flexibly. It can be easy to assume that everyone wants to work from home but for many this is not something they welcome, for a variety of reasons.
All employers should have regard to health and safety in the workplace. In the light of the pandemic, risk assessments in relation to the workplace will need to be revised in taking all the risk of the spread of Covid-19 and possible further outbreaks. You also need to consider what needs to be done to effectively monitor employees’ health and safety when they are not physically working in your building any more.
You should consider whether your sickness policies cover issues such as self-isolation, quarantine and shielding. Also, what is your position on company sick pay for those employees not sick but not in work for one of the above reasons? Until now it has never really been necessary to spell out in a sickness policy that you actually need to be sick to claim company sick pay, but such is the world we now live in that we consider this a necessity going forwards.
Annual leave may well cause an issue with employers as we get to the end of the year and conversations around carry over take place. We have seen evidence of employees expecting to be able to carry holiday over at the end of the year, saying their family holiday got cancelled and so they cancelled their leave. Storing up holiday for the workforce is likely to cause major problems for employers in 2021 if large chunks of the workforce suddenly have significantly more time off than usual. In many cases this is simply not something a recovering business can tolerate. We consider employers need to be proactive with their workforce now to manage expectations. If you decide you will allow carry over, consider what conditions you might want to lay down regarding how and when that carried over leave is taken.
If you think your policies should be reviewed in line with the above recommendations, we at Thomas Mansfield can help, so please get in touch with your usual contact, or with [email protected] for an initial chat on what you need assistance with.