The main impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been on the way we work. Working from home has now become the norm for many of us, and businesses will have to decide whether this should continue or whether some sort of hybrid arrangement should be permitted whereby staff can work more flexibly. This ultimately may become the default position under new legislation proposed by the Government.
There are advantages to flexible working. There are likely to be fewer complaints about the safety of the workplace which will, in turn, reduce the number of legal claims. It will also avoid the headache of the vaccination and whether staff should be required to have the jab to do their job. Businesses are also likely to face more requests for flexible working and will find it difficult to resist these when businesses have been operating successfully remotely.
Should a business press ahead with a compulsory return to the office, they will need to consider the health and safety measures that should remain in place as well as variations to employment contracts to facilitate such measures such as staggered start and finish times. All contractual variations require the consent of their staff.
Practical considerations such as when staff can take holiday will also need to be managed. Of course, certain businesses, such as those in the hospitality sector, will have to decide whether staff can return at all if they are struggling financially. And the easing of Lockdown is unlikely to change their economic prospects, particularly with the support they receive from the Furlough scheme set to end in September. To avoid claims, a business should follow a fair process which attracts additional duties and obligations if those potentially redundant exceed 20.
Above all, businesses should be alive to the following developments taking effect over the next few months:
- Compensation limits for certain tribunal awards and payments such as statutory redundancy pay and national minimum wage will increase on 6th April 2021.
- The rules on off-payroll working in the private sector will take effect from 6 April 2021 to counter non-compliance with IR35. These will shift the compliance burden from the worker's personal service company to the medium and large "client" organisations that they work for.
- Public Health England has issued new shielding guidance which will come into force on 1st April 2021. Those categorised as extremely clinically vulnerable will no longer have to shield nor will be eligible for SSP or similar benefits.
- New health and safety regulations will extend protection from detriment taking place on or after 31st May 2021 from employees to workers.
- Employers will be required to contribute 12.5% of capped furlough pay from 1st July and 25% from 1st August until the Furlough scheme ends in September.
- The deadline for gender pay gap reporting, delayed because of the pandemic, is now 5th October 2021.
With all the changes ahead, businesses and their staff should tread carefully and seek specialist legal advice where possible.