COVID-19: what would a UK lockdown mean for employment law and HR?

Last week, the UK government introduced new measures intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 such as school closures and the shutting down of cafes, pubs and restaurants – except for take-away food. So with the country moving closer to a lockdown, Paul Holcroft, associate director at HR and employment law consultancy, Croner explores some key questions for HR and employers

Would all employers have to shut their workplaces?

The businesses that would need to close in this situation would ultimately be announced by the government. It should not be assumed that situations in other countries, such as Italy, will be completely mirrored by the UK. However, it is that those considered non-essential by the government in tackling the coronavirus outbreak will be told to shut.

Can I expect employees who have roles they can do from home to still work?

Provided they can still conduct their role from home, and the business is still able to offer them work, they can continue working as normal. This will mean that their usual entitlements to pay should also remain at this time.

Can I expect parents looking after children during a lockdown to work from home? If not, do I need to pay them?

When implementing a period of homeworking, there are several areas to bear in mind. The employee still needs to be able to conduct their role from home. If a business does not feel this will be possible due to their situation at home, such as having to care for small children, it may be advisable not to permit a homeworking period.

However, this should be assessed carefully. Just because an employee is also caring for children does not necessarily mean they will be unable to do their work. To this end, it is advisable to observe the arrangement and evaluate if it is working in practice. If not, it may be that the homeworking situation should not continue.

If they are unable to work from home, they will technically be considered laid-off. How they should be paid in this situation will depend on whether there is a specific lay-off clause in their contract. In the absence of this, the lay-off will need to be at full pay unless an alternative agreement can be reached with them.

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If other parts of my workforce can’t work from home, do I still need to pay them?

Again, the staff in this situation will technically be laid-off. Employers should bear in mind that the government has recently announced the Job Retention Scheme, assisting businesses in this situation, that may be an option to consider. Essentially, this permits staff to be placed on furlough, meaning they are on a temporary leave of absence but are retained on the company’s books. Employers who do this will be able to obtain a grant from the government to cover 80% of furloughed employees wages, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.

How can I maintain a productive workforce if the whole office is working remotely for an extended period?

It is essential to keep up-to-date with what staff are doing during this period. Management should maintain regular contact with them and encourage group communication where possible. It is also advisable to set targets and ask for daily, weekly or monthly work logs to be filled in. In this way, managers can maintain awareness of what their staff are doing and ask for further clarity if specific tasks have not been completed.

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