Second Lockdown in England and Furlough Extended

Following the Government announcement on 31st October 2020 those living in England will enter into a second national lockdown from 5th November 2020, with people in England being advised to ‘stay at home’ and non-essential shops, leisure, pubs, restaurants, cafes, beauty facilities and theatres being forced to close their doors once again.

The new lockdown restrictions in England are due to last for at least four weeks until 2nd December 2020.

As a result of the announcement, the Government have extended the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) / furlough until 2nd December 2020. This is subject to parliamentary approval and further details are to follow.

To be eligible for extended furlough employees must have been on an employer’s PAYE payroll before midnight on 30th October 2020. This will mean that some employees who would not have previously qualified will now.

For employers who have already put Job Support Scheme (JSS) agreements in place with employees, the advice is to retract and request employees to agree to be furloughed or continue to be furloughed via a written agreement.

The JSS will now be delayed until 2nd December 2020 at the earliest.

What are the rules for shielding employees?

The government has advised those over the age of 60 and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable should be “especially careful”, but that shielding would not be reinstated in the same way as it was during the previous lockdown in spring. The advice is that vulnerable people should not go to work even if they could not work from home.

Do offices have to close?

The government guidance advises that, where possible, everyone who can work effectively from home should do so.

In industries that cannot facilitate working from home, like construction or manufacturing, people should continue to travel and attend their workplaces. Additionally, public sector employees working in essential services – including education, police and healthcare – should continue to go to work sites.

Homeworking

With many employees now back working from home, below we have outlined key contractual and legal considerations for employers;

  • Review homeworking policy– it is good practice for the policy to address how employees will be supervised, how the business and line managers will communicate with employees and how work performance and output will be monitored.
  • Confirm employee rights– homeworking arrangement may be confirmed by a consent form, detailed homeworking arrangement or by amendments to the employee’s contract. Given the current circumstances, it would be good practice to express that changes are temporary and that the employee will, if applicable, return to office-based working once the situation ends.
  • Confirm contact methods – establish how and when employees, who are working from home, will have contact with their line manager. It is good practice for both the line manager and the employee to report in at regular times eg a weekly catch up call, and this can also help combat isolation and stress. Many teams are also continuing to meet virtually to update on their work progress and to keep in touch. You might encourage some social interaction at the start of the team meeting e.g. “the best thing that’s happened to me this week (not work related)” and go round the team.
  • Equipment– there is no obligation for employers to provide computer or other equipment necessary for working at home. However, given the latest government advice, employers should do what they can to enable employees to work from home. It is good practice to list equipment that has been supplied to employees.
  • Broadband–it is good practice for employers to confirm if the employee is expected to cover the broadband cost (plus any additional items, e.g. heating, lighting, telephone etc.) or if the employer will contribute towards these costs and, if so, to what extent.
  • Data protection– employers should make sure data protection obligations are maintained and employees using their own computer should still process information in compliance with data protection principles. Employers should remind employees about home security, confidential information, passwords, shredding etc.
  • Health and safety obligations– even when working from home, employers are responsible for an employee’s health, safety and wellbeing. Make sure employees are aware of the businesses health and safety policy. In addition, employees should continue to comply with the company’s sickness absence policy and report their sickness to their line manager when they are sick and unable to work.
  • Conduct risk assessments– it is good practice for employer to conduct risk assessments of all the work activities carried out by employees working from home eg the work station area and desk arrangement, if employees are desk based for long periods of time. However, as this would go against government guidelines to do this face to face, electronic risk assessment questions could be used instead. It is the employee’s responsibility to address any flaws in the home revealed by the assessment for example if the chair does not provide good posture and the employee has back pain, the employer should look to provide suitable equipment.
  • Review working times– the business may be able to offer employees more flexibility over working hours whilst working from home. However, businesses still need to comply with the Working Time Regulations, including the working week and daily rest break. Employers should encourage regular stretch breaks if employees are desk based for long periods, and fresh air during lunch breaks.

Taking care of your employee’s mental wellbeing

Many people are struggling with maintaining their mental wellbeing during coronavirus, especially as they spend a lot of time at home and away from other people and work colleagues. Here are some tips to promote good mental health at work:

  • encourage employees to connect with people digitally, normally in the work place they would chat over making coffee or at lunch time. Employees can still do this through text or social media to keep up to date;
  • at the start of team meetings encourage sharing, maybe a fun fact from the weekend to encourage more social interaction;
  • encourage employees to take regular breaks away from their laptop, and getting some fresh air and sunlight outside, or a walk at lunchtime, employees can put reminders in their diary to do this.
  • promote healthy eating, and drinking lots of fluids.
  • promote physical activity, this could be with a 10,000 daily step challenge or something the team can all take part in and share progress. Many people have been active at home with online exercise classes or routines;
  • having a house plant near a workstation can promote wellbeing;
  • as a manager, set the example, promote what you are doing for your own health and wellbeing e.g. exercise and breaks;
  • check in with your team individually in 1 to 1’s around their wellbeing, especially with anyone who has a known physical or mental health issue. Use zoom or teams so you can see how they are and how they respond to your questions;
  • Consider workplace adjustments where there is an individual need e.g. pregnancy, reduce time on-site if the individual can work from home to reduce risks, or if someone has suffered from COVID 19 and is fearful.

Questions a Manager can use to check in on an employee’s wellbeing:

  • how is your work situation at home? Do you have a private or shared space to work from?
  • in your usual work environment (in the office) what helps your mental health?
  • how can you adapt this into your new working environment?
  • what are your triggers in your new work space?
  • what has helped your mental health at home so far?
  • how might poor mental health impact your work?
  • are there any early warning signs that you start to show when your experiencing poor mental health?
  • what support can I put in place to help you?
  • are there any early warning signs that your friends and family might notice and how do they support you?

For more information and reference material please look at www.mind.org.uk

If you would like further guidance or support on this matter or require advice on other people management matters please contact Clover HR on 0121 516 0299 or email us at info@cloverhr.co.uk

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