Hot Weather and Managing Staff

With longer days and higher temperatures, summer is likely an exciting time for both you and your employees. That said, you need to be ready for the issues the hot weather can cause in the workplace.

Summer issues for employers and how to deal with them

1. Keep everyone cool!

Whilst the law does not say how hot or cold your workplace should be, temperatures need to be ‘reasonable’.

Keep staff cool by allowing them to switch on fans and air conditioning or ‘dress down’ on hotter days if possible.

2. Remember more vulnerable workers

Some members of staff may be more affected by hot weather, such as those with a disability or pregnant women.

You can help by allowing these employees to take more breaks, move to cooler areas or even work from home temporarily.

3. Prepare for transport disruption

Hot weather can cause issues in the daily commute and you should try to be more understanding if staff are late for work. For example, trains may go slower to prevent tracks from buckling.

Employees should also be encouraged to plan ahead of their journeys and make allowances for delays.

4. Be ready for holiday requests

Everyone can’t be off at once and leave requests are likely to overlap, for instance during the school summer holidays.

It is a good idea to have a first-come, first-served system in place. That way, you can help to avoid one employee being prioritised over another.

5. Look out for unauthorised time off

Employees who are refused a holiday request may take the time off anyway. Alternatively, you may suspect a member of staff is ‘pulling a sickie’.

It is important not to jump to conclusions and conduct a full investigation into the absence. From here, it may become a disciplinary issue.

6. Check on your homeworkers

You aren’t expected to install air conditioning in your employees’ homes, but they should have the same rights as those working in the office. For example, more vulnerable staff should take more breaks, even when working remotely.

Absence Management

Employers often find absence a tricky thing to manage. There is a need to balance compassion for the individual, the realities of life (we all get ill or injured at some point) and the sound running of the business.

With scenes of chaos at airports and stories of flights cancelled at the last minute, Covid once again is to blame for disrupting our lives. In this case, it is due to high absence levels as a result of employees forced to isolate due to the risk of spreading a highly contagious virus that has affected so many people.

So what should employers do about absences, especially where the employee must stay off but feels fine?

The importance of a procedure

A robust absence management procedure is essential. It can help employers gain an overview of absence levels, manage excessive absences and put in place reasonable adjustments for disabled employees.

Setting expectations

Key to managing absence is setting out expectations. Reasonable expectations of average absence levels are good to set out and act as triggers for action should absence levels exceed them. What is reasonable, of course, will depend on the organisation, the nature of the work and the individual employee. However, setting general standards (that are adjusted on an individual basis) is still a valuable exercise.

Adjusting expectations

Some employees may have high absence levels due to a condition that affects their ability to perform day-to-day tasks on a long-term basis and, as such, constitute a disability under the Equality Act 2010. Where this is the case, employers must act carefully so as not to treat these employees less favourably than their colleagues.

Where there is a disability, the Equality Act 2010 requires employers to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the disability to enable the employee to perform their duties. These reasonable adjustments also apply to absence triggers, and depending on the nature and severity of the disability, these may need to be either adjusted for the individual circumstances or removed all together if they are impossible for the employee to meet.

Removing absences entirely from consideration

Alternatively, some employees may have to be absent due to a requirement placed upon them, such as Covid isolation or where the employer has sent the employee home from work. Where this is the case, it would not be appropriate to include these absences as part of the employees overall absence figures, as in reality they had no choice but to be away from work and it could be viewed as ‘punishment’ for following the rules set down by either the Government, or now that isolation is no longer legally required, the employer.

Another situation that requires absences to be excluded from absence triggers are temporary conditions, such as pregnancy, that can impact an employee’s ability to attend work consistently. Again, to these employees, absence triggers should not be applied, as it would be discriminatory to do so. It is also worth noting that an employee who has suffered a miscarriage remains protected as though still pregnant for two weeks after the event.

Finally, absences that are connected with family friendly leave, such as emergency time off for dependents, parental bereavement leave, etc, should also not be included in absence triggers. This is due to the fact these rights are a) protected in law and therefore employees should not suffer a detriment from exercising them, and b) these are not sickness absences, but connected to a situation with another.

Covid related sick pay comes to an end

In line with the Government’s strategy to “live with Covid”, in England at least, many of the Covid restrictions (and support) have come, or are coming to, an end. February saw the end of the legal requirement to self-isolate and the need for face coverings, and now March brings the end of special SSP rules.

Since 13th March 2020, employees off work due to Covid, either because they themselves had it, had symptoms, or had contact with someone who did, have been paid statutory sick pay (SSP) from day one of their absence (subject to the absence being at least 4 days in length).

The SSP rebate scheme, originally opened in March 2020, closed 30th September 2021 and reopened between 21st December 2021 and 17th March 2022, enabled employers to claim back for up to two weeks of these SSP payments per employee, relieving some of the burden of forced isolation and absence from the business.

What’s happening from 24th March 2022?

SSP Rebate Scheme

This is the last day eligible employers can make or amend claims for SSP paid for Covid-related absences between 21st December 2021 and 17th March 2022. Failure to submit a claim by the end of 24th March will mean employers will not be able to claim the rebate.

End of Covid-related SSP provisions

A number of changes were made to SSP rules in light of the pandemic. These come to an end on 24th March 2022. These include:

  • payment from the first day of the absence
  • payment for isolating due to Covid, Covid symptoms or contact with Covid, when the individual is not actually unwell.

What does this mean for employers?

This puts employers in a tricky position. In England the legal requirement to self-isolate was scrapped on 24th February 2022. As such, they will need to decide what to pay employees whilst they are off work following the guidance. As SSP rules are applied across Great Britain, it remains to be seen what will be put in place in Wales and Scotland, as self-isolation in Wales does not end until 28th March 2022, and advice in Scotland is still to isolate.

For many, they can return to home working temporarily. For those that are left too unwell to work due to the virus, they will get whatever sick pay would normally be due. The biggest problems arise for those that cannot work from home, but are well enough to work. In this case, employers may choose to extend sick pay to these people to reduce the risk of Covid transmission in the workplace.

Workers in England no longer told to work from home

Government announces workers in England no longer told to work from home

What are the current Plan B rules?

There are 3 key measures under the government’s current Plan B restrictions:

  • Compulsory face coverings in most indoor public places
  • Advice to work from home where possible
  • Mandatory Covid passes for entry into nightclubs and large events (e.g. football matches)

These restrictions were set to expire on 26 January 2022.

What has changed?

The government announced a Covid update this afternoon – these changes apply in England only.

The guidance to work from home will be removed from today, 19 January 2022.

From 27 January 2022, the legal requirement to wear a mask in public places will be removed – although they will still be recommended in some places. Boris Johnson intends to trust the British people to make the right choices.

Also from 27 January 2022, the use of Covid passes will no longer be mandatory but businesses can choose to use them if they want to.

From tomorrow, 20 January 2022, children don’t have to wear face masks in classrooms.

A long-term strategy on living with Covid will be set out in the coming weeks.

Are any Plan B measures staying?

There will still be a legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive for Covid.

Self-isolation rules are due to expire on 24 March 2022 – the government doesn’t expect to renew these and the expiry date may be brought forward if the data supports this.

What does this mean for employers right now?

Employers should update their employees and prepare their workforce for their return.

A risk assessment should be completed to ensure all necessary Covid-secure measures are in place – e.g. one-way systems, hand sanitizers, screens/barriers, regular cleaning, social distancing, mask wearing reminders etc.

Many employers will have already gone through the process (sometimes multiple times) of sending staff home then welcoming them back to the workplace.

Where employers have already completed such processes, it may be useful to assess what worked well and what didn’t previously. Reflective exercises can ensure effective measures are put in place this time round to make the return a success.

Employers should have supportive conversations with any employees who are hesitant about returning to the office.

Reasonable adjustments (e.g. temporary hybrid arrangements to phase return to full-time office working) can go a long way in ensuring employees feel comfortable and supported.

Allowing flexibility at this stage can minimise absence levels, staff turnover and protect motivation, satisfaction and productivity rates later down the line.

Where employees unreasonably refuse to return to the workplace, employers may be able to treat this as a failure to follow reasonable management instructions and manage it as a normal conduct issue but they should first adopt a supportive tone, to see what is causing the hesitancy and if there is a way the employee and employer can work together to reach a conclusion which is beneficial for all.

2021: HR Year in Review

2021: HR Year in Review

2021 has been a year of fast-moving changes. Here we look back on some of the challenges employers have had to deal with over the last year.

Covid

  • The closure of the furlough scheme on 30 September 2021,
  • The ending of the shielding programme on 15 September 2021,
  • The roll out of mandatory Covid vaccines for CQC-regulated care homes in England.

Mandatory vaccinations are being extended to wider health and social care settings from April 2022. This includes public (NHS) and private organisations and will affect all frontline workers who have direct, face-to-face contact with service users, in both clinical and ancillary roles.

  • “Plan B” saw a return to compulsory face coverings in most indoor places, guidance to work from home and the introduction of Covid-passes in nightclubs and large events.

It has also been confirmed that booster doses of Covid jabs will be included within the scope of full vaccination as soon as reasonably possible. Organisations may therefore need to review the existing Covid-status of their workforce to include this.

Statutory Entitlements

  • Carer’s leave to be introduced as soon as parliamentary time allows. This allows employees with caring responsibilities to take up to one week (5 working days) of unpaid leave per year from day 1 of employment.
  • Flexible working. Consultation into changing this has now closed. Proposed changes include making it the default position, a day-one right to submit a request and allowing more than one request per year. It also reviewed the existing eight fair reasons for refusal and assessed the timeframe employers have to respond. An outcome is expected early 2022.
  • The Real Living Wage rates were increased in November 2021 to £11.05 (London) and £9.90 (rest of the UK).
  • New National Minimum Wage rates have been confirmed for April 2022: 23+ year olds = £9.50; 21-22 year olds = £9.18; 18-20 year olds = £6.83; 16-17 year olds = £4.81; Apprentices = £4.81.
  • New statutory rates have also been proposed (and are likely to come into force) as follows: SMP, SShPP, SAP, SPP, SPBP £156.66, SSP £99.35, LEL £123.

Equality and Diversity

  • Gender pay gap reporting has returned with a 6-month extension to publish 2020/2021 reports, until 5 October 2021. Normal April deadlines apply from now on.
  • The CIPD called on the government to introduce mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting by 2023.
  • A cross-government Menopause Taskforce was established, looking at the role education and training, workplace policies and peer groups for menopausal women can play in supporting women. Many organisations signed the Menopause Workplace Pledge, showing their commitment to recognise that the menopause is an issue and women need support.

Brexit

  • The UK officially left the European Union on 31st December 2020, which saw significant changes to right to work checks and immigration rules. Applications for settled status closed at the end of June 2021, subject to limited extensions.
  • A new points-based immigration system saw an increase in employers applying for a sponsorship licence, to employ those to whom settled status doesn’t apply.

IR35

From 6 April 2021, tougher requirements were put on employers to decide the status of contractors, freelancers and consultants, to ensure that employers were not evading their employment related tax liabilities. If contractors are “deemed workers” i.e they fall inside of IR35, they can no longer be paid “off payroll”. Instead, they will be paid via payroll after tax and NI is deducted. Previously, it was the contractor’s responsibility to assess their tax status, but this now falls on the organisation. It is worth noting however that the status of workers for tax purposes is not the same as in employment law.

Employers in England may be getting a strong feeling of déjà vu after the announcements on 8th December 2021 that bring back some Covid restrictions once again. It was confirmed that the Government’s Plan B, first announced in September as the stricter measures that would be implemented if needed, will be phased in from Friday 10th December 2021. This is as a result of recent data regarding the Omicron variant, which is quickly spreading throughout the UK.

The following changes will be implemented:

From Friday 10th December, masks must be worn in most public venues, including theatres and cinemas, unless someone is medically exempt. This will not apply in premises where people are eating or exercising (such as gyms or nightclubs).

From Monday 13th December, guidance to work from home wherever this is possible will be reintroduced.

By Wednesday 15th December, Covid passes will become mandatory for nightclubs, unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 5000 people and any venue with more than 10,000 people.

Two doses will be sufficient for a Covid pass, as will a negative lateral flow test but this requirement will be kept under review as the booster programme is rolled out.

Whilst employers are likely to be used to swiftly facilitating homeworking now, each instance still comes with its challenges. Employees who don’t have an adequate environment to work in at home due to lack of space or robust internet connection, for example, may struggle to be productive, and others may fear that their mental health will decline after having experienced a similar impact during previous enforced homeworking periods. Employers will need to spend time dealing with individual circumstances to make it work as best it can, and provide support and assistance to those who need it.

Those who can’t work from home, such as supermarket staff, must be sufficiently protected in work amidst heightened Covid spread and news of new variants that are less effected by current vaccines. Some employers, on the other hand, who were able to embrace homeworking fully and didn’t return their staff to the workplace once it was permitted again, will not feel substantial impact by this latest move, however, may still be affected as their supply lines from other companies adjust again to working at a distance.

Real Living Wage rates increased

Not to be confused with the compulsory National Living Wage (NLW), the Real Living Wage is voluntarily paid by nearly 9,000 UK businesses and is based on calculations of the cost of living covering everyday needs.

These are carried out by the Living Wage Foundation which has just made its annual announcement of the rates to be paid in 2021/22 by accredited employers – £11.05 an hour for London and £9.90 an hour for the rest of the UK.

Accredited employers should implement the rise as soon as possible and within 6 months. All employees of accredited employers should receive the new rate by 15 May 2022.

The Living Wage Foundation says almost 300,000 employees have received a pay rise as a result of the Living Wage campaign and the Foundation enjoys cross-party support. It has a broad range of employers accredited with the Foundation including half of the FTSE 100 and big household names including Nationwide, Google, Brewdog, Everton FC and Chelsea FC.

Katherine Chapman, Living Wage Foundation Director, said “with living costs rising so rapidly, today’s new Living Wage rates will provide hundreds of thousands of workers and their families with greater security and stability.

For the past 20 years the Living Wage movement has shaped the debate on low pay, showing what is possible when responsible employers step up and provide a wage that delivers dignity. Despite this, there are still millions trapped in working poverty, struggling to keep their heads above water – and these are people working in jobs that kept society going during the pandemic like social care workers and cleaners. We know that the Living Wage is good for businesses as well as workers, and as we rebuild our economy post pandemic, the real Living Wage must be at its heart.”

Government proposes to extend flexible working requests

The Government has launched a consultation into changing current flexible working legislation. This is open until 1st December 2021, where the responses will then be reviewed and a decision on any changes confirmed. Until then, all current rules and processes will remain in place as usual.

Its proposal is to introduce measures to help make flexible working the default, unless employers have good reasons not to. It aims to bring more employees into the scope of the legislation by making the right to request flexible working available from day-1 of employment. The government has recognised that external events (for example, the Covid-19 pandemic and its associated impact on home-life and caring responsibilities) are not limited to people who have worked in their roles for 6 months. It has also been raised that underrepresented groups, like new parents and disabled workers, are more in need of flexible working opportunities. However, there is a wider belief that the introduction of these measures will benefit productivity, motivation, retention and competitiveness, as well as help attract more talent to organisations.

The consultation is also assessing whether the current 8 business reasons for refusal are still valid, although the assumption is that fundamental changes are not needed in this area.

A separate assessment is being completed into the administrative processes associated with managing flexible working requests; specifically, the time scales for responding and the ability for employees to make more than one request per year, which is currently all they are entitled to. The government is considering allowing employees to submit a higher number of requests, to remove any unnecessary barriers to accessing flexible working arrangements amongst those whose personal situations might be impacted more frequently than every 12 months.

Similarly, the statutory Code of Practice outlines that employers should respond to requests within a 3-month period but the government is debating whether to make it a requirement to respond more promptly and the effect on organisations if this was introduced. Organisations should already be prepared for processing flexible working requests without any unreasonable delays, with many of them not needing the full 3 months to respond. As such, it is expected that this change, if implemented, won’t have a detrimental impact on organisations. But, employers may need to be prepared to manage a surge in requests being submitted by their workforce. This might involve hiring more HR personnel and undertaking training courses to ensure managers know how to deal with requests efficiently.

In addition, if the proposal is approved, employers should be prepared to amend their current policies and procedures on flexible working, to ensure they are compliant with the new legislation. We await the outcome of the consultation to see the exact impact on current practices and better understand what organisations will have to do moving forwards.

Coronavirus Vaccinations and the workplace

New research by Acas has found that a quarter of British employers have not been giving their staff paid time off for Covid-19 vaccinations and have no plans to do so in the future.

Furthermore, a similar percentage are refusing to provide full company sick pay to staff who are off work sick due to vaccine side effects.

On the plus side, the arbitration service found that 59% have been giving staff paid time off while 4% have not been doing it but plan to do so.

Its advice is that employers should support staff to get the vaccine once it is offered to them. This support could include ensuring employees have paid time off for Covid-19 vaccine reasons.

Acas Chief Executive Susan Clews said: “It’s in businesses best interests to have a vaccine policy that supports staff to take time off as fully vaccinated workers are less likely to need longer periods of time off work to recover from Covid-19.”

To support staff to get the vaccine, Acas advice is that employers may want to consider paid time off for vaccination appointments and paying staff their usual rate of pay if they are off sick with vaccine side effects.

While some organisations may have a review or ‘trigger’ point to keep track of sickness absence for their staff, employers could consider not counting vaccine-related time off sick as part of this absence record system, Acas suggests.

Should digital Right to work checks continue permanently?

Over 300,000 people a week could have been delayed in starting work if the Home Office had refused to allow Right to Work (RTW) checks to be conducted digitally now that the final stage of unlocking has been delayed.

This warning came from REC (the Recruitment and Employment Confederation) and refers to the fact that, since 30 March 2020, digital RTW checks have allowed employers to hire new staff without having to meet them in person to check documents.

This system has, the Confederation argues, kept people safe, saved companies time and resources during the pandemic and helped to slow the spread of Covid-19. It also levelled the playing field between UK and foreign nationals by allowing digital checks for both, rather than just for foreign nationals.

The Home Office seems to have agreed as it has now announced that digital right to work checks will be extended until the end of August.

It was, it said, “reviewing whether there are changes we can make to the right to work scheme to increase the digital checking aspects, including through the use of specialist technologies”.

The REC was quite clear what those changes should be with Chief Executive Neil Carberry welcoming the new concession but arguing that the next logical step should be a move to a permanent digital system.

“It makes no sense for Government to shoot themselves in the foot and return to mandating in-person checks when the use of digital checks has been a success story of the pandemic,” Deputy CEO Kate Shoesmith said.

She also highlighted the contradiction of the Government seeking to return to mandating in-person checks for UK nationals, thereby disadvantaging UK jobseekers in the labour market, while also trying to incentivise employers to not rely on workers from abroad.