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It was a pleasure to be speaking alongside Steve Rockey, people director at Limewood and Home Grown Hotels, and Sean Wheeler, director of people development for Principal.
We discussed the impact of the pandemic, how businesses are coping, what’s worked, hidden opportunities, and answered some complex questions about compliance, pay and privacy.
Here are six key themes.
Flexibility has played an incredibly important role in managing a workforce in an environment that is constantly changing.
In some cases, businesses have been looking at things like flexible hours, new roles and responsibilities, and being flexible with people taking time out and taking holidays. Communication with employees has been key to agreeing such flexibility.
Flexibility is also about finding Covid-compliant ways of keeping normal operations going, like using technology or physically distanced stand-up training and recruitment.
Face-to-face contact came up a few times and while it can be difficult to arrange, we heard that where permitted under government restrictions, a well-timed physical meeting can help people who would otherwise feel quite isolated to make an important human connection.
There is no doubt that being open and honest about your situation and what’s happening will go a long way towards building trust and culture. It can also help employees to understand the context for things that are happening, like ongoing recruitment or changes in working patterns. There are a lot of talented people looking for jobs at the moment and so for some businesses, it can be a good time to recruit.
Transparency is also about two-way communication and making sure you’re fulfilling your promises to each other, employer to employee. We heard from Sean and Steve that helping people to bond as a team, giving people recognition for their good work, regular check-ins and drop-in surgeries have all helped to achieve this.
Cultural connection to a business has been tested and this is an opportunity my fellow panellists have grabbed hold of.
Training and skills are both linked to culture. In one example, staff have been given emotional intelligence learning and really enjoyed it. They learnt new skills, learnt about themselves and their styles and they’re learning together as a team and can support each other.
Culture is important for customer services too. Guests can’t see your smiling faces behind a mask, and there are less amenities, so you have to find new ways of delivering on your promise.
There is always a risk that people won’t follow the rules, for example about good hygiene, social distancing, testing and self-isolating.
You should make sure your policies and the rationale behind them have been clearly communicated to all employees, so that they understand why it’s important. You should also carry out proper training on procedures and ensure that people know what to do and that they’re fully on board.
In training, it can be helpful to highlight what will happen if rules are not followed. In serious cases, this could constitute a disciplinary action.
If an employee looks like they are displaying symptoms but they haven’t said anything to you yet, you are within your rights to speak to them and require them to leave work and take a test.
Remember, if people are exempt from wearing a mask, you should consider why the exemption applies and risk assess their role, and consider if any changes are needed.
If the individual has a disability that makes it difficult for them to wear a mask you will need to consider any reasonable adjustments that need to be made to remove any disadvantage to the individual. This may include moving them to a role where masks are not required.
Facial hair can also raise some issues. You might want to talk to the employee about this and discuss possible alterations e.g. a different type of face covering. Remember there might be religious reasons for things like facial hair when you’re speaking to them.
I wasn’t surprised to see the audience had some questions about pay, as this can be a very complicated and sensitive issue.
Employees are obliged to tell you if they have Covid-19, and they are entitled to statutory sick pay if they are unable to work or required to self-isolate in accordance with government guidance. Where employers offer a contractual sick pay scheme, this will usually only apply if the individual is displaying symptoms and therefore “sick” under the scheme. Generally, I find that people are taking these steps where they are displaying symptoms.
Where people sometimes don’t notify their employer, is when they have been told to self-isolate by the track and trace system but are not displaying any symptoms. In these circumstances, employees may be worried about not receiving full pay and decide to continue to work.
Employees who fail to self-isolate are at risk of a fine as anyone who unreasonably fails to self-isolate is liable to be fined between £1,000 and £10,000 for repeat offences and serious breaches. Employers are also liable to a fine between £1,000 and £10,000 if they knowingly allow such a worker to come into work if they are aware of the worker's requirement to self-isolate.
Employees should be made aware of why they are required to notify you and the importance of following government guidance, which may include making them aware of the risk of a fine.
In cases where the employee is concerned about pay (and coming back to the importance of flexibility), there might be a solution where annual leave can be taken to support someone who is unable to work from home but will not be entitled to full pay if they self-isolate and do not work.
Incentivising people to do the right thing is always an option. In this case, this could even include offering some form of Covid-19 sick pay.
The audience also asked us about privacy, as it can be difficult to tell staff about a case of coronavirus without inadvertently disclosing who is ill.
If an employee tests positive, you are obliged to let their colleagues know there has been a positive case but you only need to provide the necessary details.
You should carry out a risk assessment in relation to that person, and act in accordance with your findings. Some people might be happy to let their colleagues know, which can make things a lot easier.
This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at November 2020. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.
11 November 2020