COVID-19 doesn’t only affect stock levels in high street stores, it will also affect employers’ obligations with respect to their most vulnerable resource – employees. Are there any additional workplace safety health and safety measures that employers may need to take? How early do employers have to notify their employees about any policy changes? Will employers have to relax their work absence policy? Read more on the 5 ways that employers can make themselves COVID-19 ready.

  1. Workplace Health and Safety

Employers have a duty to provide a safe working environment and provide reasonable care to the health and safety of their employees. Employers should also be conducting risk assessments of the work of the employees and based on the results of the risk assessments, provide their employees with any necessary information and equipment to safeguard their health and safety.

In light of the current pandemic there are some steps that all employers should aim to take in order to safeguard their employees’ health and safety, such as considering working from home, boosting the cleaning and hygiene practices, setting up approval regimes for travelling or, restricting access to some workplace areas. This allows employers to fulfil their legal workplace safety obligations to their employees, as well as creating a safe and hygienic environment which doesn’t prevent employees from refusing to come to work.

  1. A clear and concise policy

Employers should ensure that their policies and any changes in their policies are explained to their employees in a clear and concise manner, allowing employees to better understand, ask questions and voice their queries over these policies. Employers may need to remind their employees to re-read their employment contracts in order to better understand their contractual rights, and employers should notify their employees of any changes to workplace policies at the earliest possible time.

Not only does making clear and concise policies work in employees’ favour by allowing them to understand and better utilise the policies, it also benefits employers by protecting them from any misunderstandings that may occur later on down the timeline, some employees may claim that they were unaware of such policy changes, employers can protect themselves by ensuring that clear policies are explained to all employees prior to the changes being finalised.

  1. Flexible working

Employers now, more than ever should be open to allowing their employees more flexible working days and hours, there may be vulnerable members of staff that wish to avoid rush hours on their journeys to and from work in order to minimise the likelihood of contracting the virus via public transport or other reasons for a change in their work timetables.

Employers should also be aware that employees may have the right to make a ‘flexible working request’ if they have worked for more than 26 weeks and employers are required to consider ‘flexible working requests’ in a reasonable manner.

Some advantages to flexible working on employers are that; it reduces stress from employees by making them feel more in control over there working days and hours, and allows employees to juggle their personal lives and worries over COVID-19 and work more easily, therefore encouraging productivity in the workplace and happier employees, which every employer needs in their workplace!

  1. Relax work absence policy

Typically, employers tend to follow a general rule that 2 or more unexcused absences within a 30-day period may lead to some kind of disciplinary action, and 8 occurrences of unexcused absences within a 12-month period may lead to termination. However, during this time of the outbreak and panic it may work in employers’ favour to relax these absence policies as there may probably be a rise in staff taking absences for reasons such as symptoms start to show in that member of staff or for someone in the staff member’s home or, their children may be sent home from school temporarily etc.

Therefore, if employers are keen on keeping their staff and keeping the productivity levels up, they should aim to relax their absence policies during such time. However, maintaining ongoing correspondence and communication with the employee during such absence, will allow the employer to take a view on managing the employee’s conduct and capability on a case-by-case basis.

  1. Closing the business for a few days

In certain circumstances, employers may find that the business will need to be closed temporarily. This can be difficult both for employers and for their staff; and so being able to communicate clearly and seamlessly with staff and clients/customers is crucial to the continuity and survival of the business beyond the present crisis.

It is essential that employers discuss such closures with their staff as early as possible, and unless the contracts say otherwise then employers will still need to pay their staff during such closures. If employers plan to ‘lay-off’ some of their staff members or reduce their contracted working hours, it is important to note that employees who are ‘laid off’ but are not entitled to their usual pay, may be entitled to ‘statutory guarantee payment’. As ACAS have explained in their guidance article; this means that employers who have ‘laid off’ employees that may qualify for ‘statutory guarantee payment’ will have to pay them around £29.00 per day, this is limited to a maximum of 5 days within any 3-month period.

Alternatively, if employers only plan on closing their business for a short period of time e.g. one week, employers have the right to tell their staff when to take their holiday and will pay them holiday pay. This may affect holidays that staff have already booked and therefore, it is important that employers inform their staff at least twice as many days, before they need their staff to go on holiday, e.g. if the business is closing for one week then employers will need to inform their staff 2 weeks in advance. Employers should explain clearly the reason behind the closures and try to solve staff’s queries on how it may affect their holiday plans or entitlement.