Making Flexible Working Work

In contracts, covid-19, family, Uncategorized on March 16, 2021 at 11:03 am

Flexible working arrangements are now helping to keep many businesses operational amidst restrictive coronavirus regulations. Many companies that once thought flexible working arrangements could not work for them, are now functioning with remote working and flexible working hours. The picture is very mixed. At one end of the spectrum Microsoft has decided that some jobs will no longer return to the office. This is diametrically opposed by Goldman Sachs saying that home worker is “a temporary aberration” that does not fit their dynamic interactive culture.
In our experience there is a place for homeworking. For the majority that is not full time but a portion of the working week. The “closed-minded” approach of an employer may now find some kickback!
This can include reduced stress to better engagement. It is recognised that employees able to achieve a work-life balance are more likely to be happier and more productive at work. It could be that it’s simply different working hours or some days working remotely. There are recruitment and retention benefits too. Opportunities for flexible working is likely to be a question from candidates in the future and some employees may start to seek out an employer who has a flexible working policy in place.
However, we suggest that now is the time for employers to assess potential benefits as part of the inevitable excess of re-examined job roles and functions upon return to the workplace post-Covid and in the foreseeable future.
There will be some compliance issues: working hours are subject to the Working Time Regulations. A change in location must be preceded by a health and safety risk assessment in respect of that workplace and equipment being used.
A foundation of trust is also needed for flexible working practices to be effective. For example, remote staff or out-of-hours working can mean less day-to-day visibility. Staff surveillance software is available, but this may undo all the good that flexible working can achieve and does not always make for a good relationship between the parties.
Also, consideration needs to be given to the impact of changing working procedures for some that can impact significantly on others, from employee workflow to client relations.
Just because a working pattern has been in place since lockdown, it is not necessarily the best thing for your business. It might be, but it might not. The sooner steps are taken to have those discussions the “returning” or “non-returning” workers the better! 
Changes that you agree to should improve and not hinder your business in the long run. If you wish to discuss how flexible working might work in your business, email us to book a flexible working strategy call. 

Return to work conversations

In Uncategorized on July 28, 2021 at 10:31 am

We recommend that employers instigate a discussion with staff about their working environment and any new measures post-pandemic working.

Over recent months many employees have worked from home. Some mixed homeworking with attending the office. Some working teams have been bubbled to minimise and reduce the risk of exposure to Covid.

On 19 July the government advice, “to work from home wherever possible” ceased. There is an expectation that over the summer months there will be a gradual phased return back to “normal” working. What is normal however, remains to be seen.

Within some organisations this has left teams fragmented and displaced from the normal place of work. There is no single recipe that will satisfy every workplace.

For some businesses, returning the majority of workers back to the normal place of work is a priority. If a manufacturer has the means of production in one place, there is a need for people to return there. Other employers, such as those providing professional services, have experienced new ways of working. These new ways potentially offer employees a hybrid form of working. A way of working that some may have a desire to continue.

We do not offer a single solution to employers on the best way of working, however, we strongly suggest that employers have a clear working strategy that meets the needs of their business.

Clear expectations for employee and employer are key.

If employees need to return to the office, performing their duties “at the main place of work” as set out in their terms and conditions of employment, then this expectation should be made clear. The temporary arrangements since lockdown March 2020, may be

a) brought to an end,

b) continued for a further review, or

c) a new varied arrangement should be confirmed in writing.

We advocate talking to your staff now.

Calls over recent weeks into our offices from a variety of clients have highlighted the problems that can be caused by failing to establish clear expectations.

Some employees have assumed that their working from home arrangements will continue indefinitely. There have been some genuine employee issues where care responsibilities have changed during the last 18 months. Some of this is completely unrelated to the Covid-19 pandemic and would have happened anyway. Where an employee has care responsibilities for elderly parents or care for children there are well established processes for making a “flexible working request”. It is likely there will be circumstances where flexibility will need to be requested, considered and either rejected or accepted. The last months have potentially masked these issues and the relevant discussions have not taken place.

In a set of different scenarios, employees have decided to make lifestyle changes. These changes may have been influenced by having the flexibility of working from home. The 2 most common issues arising are firstly, the employee has moved house, and secondly, the employee has taken responsibility for a pet. We are aware of circumstances where employees have “declared” that they are now working a new pattern of work, or from a different place and they are unwilling or reluctant to now resume activities from the workplace. One employee cited that they are only able to attend their normal London based office on occasion with advance notice due to them now being domicile in Scotland!

We would suggest a simple practical step of organising a discussion with all staff around what working arrangements are being contemplated or now necessary for the resumption of future activity. (There is an outline framework for the types of topics for discussion).

These may include:

  • Acknowledging what adjustments have been in place since lockdown, including full or part-time furlough
  • Does the employee have any caring commitment that have arisen or changed during the recent period?
  • Does the employee having the underlying health conditions that need to be accommodated or considered? (Including any fears or concerns about returning to the workplace)
  • How will the employee travel to work? Are there any special considerations here?
  • Will the employee need any further training on new or updated company process?
  • Is the employee familiar with new health and safety procedures or other measures in place?
  • Is the employer aware of who to contact if they have any symptoms or contact triggers in relation to Covid exposure?
  • What arrangements are in place for accrued holiday?
  • Does the employee have any fears, concerns, or additional need for support at this time or in the future?

We recommend employers to be proactive in communicating their future intentions and also identifying specific issues for employees that may impact on operational efficiency, employee performance and good productive working relationships.

10 Questions Employers are asking about Furlough

In covid-19, Uncategorized on June 7, 2021 at 12:14 pm

If you still have employees furloughed under the scheme, now is the time to start planning for the future. Here are the top questions employers are asking:

1. How is the grant available under the JRS changing?

From 1 July 2021, the Government grant will reduce to 70% of furloughed employees’ wage costs for unworked hours. Pay for furloughed employees must remain at a minimum of 80% which means that employers must contribute 10% from their own pocket.

From 1 August 2021 until the closure of the JRS, the Government grant will reduce to 60% of furloughed employees’ wage costs for unworked hours. Employer contributions will therefore increase to 20%.

This means that from July 2021, employers will have to cover a portion of the employee’s actual wages, as well as the national insurance and pension contributions that they have been liable for for some months now.

2. When do I want my employees to return to work?

If there is work available for the employee to do, then you can get them back into the workplace as soon as possible. It should be remembered that there will be additional costs to the employer for keeping an employee on the JRS from 1st July 2021, so this may also be a factor in making your decision

3. How much notice must be given about a return to work?

There is no minimum notice period required for returning from furlough, but it is advisable for employers to talk to staff about any plans to end furlough as early as possible and address any concerns or problems there may be. Should you have any employees who are returning from abroad, consideration should also be given to allowing for any quarantine periods that may be necessary before their return.

4. What do you do if your employee has Health and Safety concerns about returning?

You may want to consider informing employees what health and safety steps you have taken to make the work-place safe. You can give them a copy of the risk assessment if required (An example risk assessment is available on our website)

Note that there is new legislation that means workers (as well as employees) cannot be subjected to a detriment by their employer for leaving or refusing to return to their workplace or for taking steps to protect themselves in circumstances of danger which the workers reasonably believe to be serious and imminent.

These rights are contained in a piece of legislation which comes into force on 31 May 2021 and the full text of which can be found at:

5. Do I need to confirm the end of Furlough Leave in writing?

You should confirm to the employee in writing the end of the furlough leave period. This letter is required as a record for your audit trail for HMRC. A template letter for your use can be found on our website.

6. Can annual leave be taken at the same time as furlough and can holiday pay be claimed through the scheme?

Yes, but the employer must top up to 100% pay. It can be taken during both full and flexible furlough.

80% can be claimed through the scheme until the end of June 2021. From July 2021, employers can claim 70%; this drops to 60% in August and September. The remainder must be made up by the employer.

7. Can you enforce annual leave during furlough?

Yes. Government guidance confirms that employers can require a worker to take annual leave when on furlough.

8. What about shielding for clinically extremely vulnerable employees?

Shielding was paused in England and Wales from 1 April 2021 and in Scotland from 26 April 2021. However, guidance confirms that clinically extremely vulnerable individuals are still eligible for furlough even though shielding advice is not in place. It also confirms that there is no requirement for an organisation to be closed or experiencing a wider reduction in demand in order to furlough someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable.

9. Can I make someone redundant when they are on furlough?

Although the JRS is in place to try and avoid redundancies, it is inevitable that some businesses will assess that redundancies are required. The Government guidance confirms that employees can be made redundant while they are on furlough. Redundancy processes are still subject to the normal rules when carried out during furlough and, to prevent an unfair dismissal claim, reasonableness of the decision will be a key factor. This includes the financial position of the employer. As part of the process, employers should consider why furlough, with its ability to claim capped wages from the JRS, was not suitable in the circumstances.

10. Can I make a claim for wages payable during the statutory notice period?

No. This was permitted in the early stages of the JRS, however, guidance was subsequently amended to confirm that, for claim periods starting on or after 1 December 2020, a claim cannot be made for any days on or after that date during which the furloughed employee was serving a contractual or statutory notice period (this includes people serving notice of retirement or resignation).

If you have any further questions about the return to work procedure, or on the JRS in general, then please don’t hesitate to contact your consultant.