Covid-19: What next for employers?

Blog posts

12 May 2020

Ed Griffin

Ed Griffin, Director of HR Consultancy and Research

On Sunday evening, like many others, I watched the Prime Minister’s announcement of what was going to be the next stage in our national approach to dealing with the Coronavirus crisis. Then on Monday on I downloaded and digested the 60-page latest guidance on the Government recovery strategy. There are some really clear messages for employers that may help ensure employees are safe and that could help organisations take some initial steps in trying to re-establish their day-to-day working. When this is taken with the news today from Rishi Sunak that the Job Retention Scheme (furlough) will be extended until October, there is a lot for employers to consider and establish a clear position on.

Digging into the guidance there seems to be some areas that stand out for employers:

  1. Dealing with symptoms – the instructions remain the same. If you or anyone in your household shows symptoms, you should all self-isolate.
  2. Protecting those who are clinically vulnerable – people with specific conditions will still have to be extra careful and those who are in the extremely vulnerable category will have to continue to shield.
  3. Work from home if you can - “For the foreseeable future, workers should continue to work from home rather than their normal physical workplace, wherever possible.”
  4. There are more detailed safety guidelines coming out later this week.
  5. The lifting of some restrictions and the encouragement of those who have to go somewhere specific to do their job means a greater risk of exposure. There is a new suggestion of wearing a fabric face covering in these circumstances.
  6. Sectors such as hospitality, personal care and leisure are likely to only be able to re-establish on an extended timescale because of the increased risk of exposure.
  7. Only around 2% of children are currently going to school outside of the home.

Alongside this guidance, we now know that the JRS is currently covering 7.5 million employees and will be extended to October. It is not clear how it will work yet, but from August, employers will have to “start sharing” the cost. Presumably this means that employers will expect a lower level of subsidy from that point. There is also a new capacity to bring back furloughed staff on a part-time basis.

Whilst on social media there are plenty of criticisms and parodies of the guidance, we believe it is vital for employers to work quickly to understand the implications and then to take the appropriate steps for their workforce.

The implications at a general level from the guidance can be summarised as:

  • You must keep your workforce safe;
  • You will continue to have employees who cannot be at work because of a medical condition;
  • You will continue to have employees who cannot be at work because they or one of their household have symptoms;
  • You may have employees needing to wear face coverings in certain settings;
  • You will have some employees who are still having to look after children at home;
  • There may be new inequalities that emerge through the crisis or are increased (some of these are indicate in the recent ONS report);
  • You may able to continue to furlough employees on some basis; &
  • What happens may be different for each of the UK countries.

We continue to hear that many HR teams are still having to operate in a very reactive way. This is not surprising, but it is important to find ways of stepping away to understand the changing requirements, to assess the organisational impact and to keep looking ahead.

HR teams continue to have a vital part to play in keeping organisations functioning safely and being able to appropriately support their employees. This requires frequent review and planning to keep up with changing circumstances and new guidance as it comes out. You can use our guide for HR to help you in playing this role, as well as looking beyond to a possible longer-term future for the organisation.

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Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.