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Archive for the ‘covid-19’ Category

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. 

Covid-19 vaccination: What can an employer do if an employee refuses to have a vaccine?

In covid-19, Employment law, Equality on March 10, 2021 at 11:00 am

Most people will welcome the opportunity to be vaccinated against COVID-19, but there will be a minority who will be reluctant or refuse to have the vaccine. The reasons could be many and varied, including individuals who cannot have the vaccine (for example, on medical grounds), those who can have the vaccine but refuse (for example, on religious or spiritual grounds) and those who can have it but have concerns and are uncertain (for example, due to a fear of vaccinations generally).
 
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 obliges employers to take reasonable steps to reduce any workplace risks; this duty gives employers justification for encouraging their employees to be vaccinated to protect themselves and everyone else at the workplace. COVID-19 is also a reportable disease under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (known as RIDDOR) which strengthens employers’ encouragement that employees should agree to vaccination.
 
It may be prudent now for employers to begin planning for the wider rollout of the vaccine. Perhaps encourage concern staff with impartial, factual information or at least guide them towards it. Staff will need to be informed about the workplace controls measures and the impact and risks of COVID-19. Experience has shown that this needs to be repeated.
 
The press has reported that some employers want to make vaccination mandatory. One example Pimlico Plumbers (no strangers to the employment courts) stated that all new workers would have to receive or have received the vaccine. The phrase ‘no jab – no job’ was coined. Interviewed on Radio 5 the owner actually confirmed that he had no intention of firing anyone, or indeed enforcing the policy.
 
What we know for sure is that employers cannot forcibly vaccinate employees or potential employees. Mandatory vaccination is an intrusion on an employee’s body and would be an assault. More relevant in the workplace is forcing a vaccine may amount to indirect discrimination on the grounds of disability or religious or philosophical belief. Some employers would have a justification to act in that way, but this is not the answer in every case. The government has so far shown no intention of introducing legislation to make vaccines mandatory, but we may have to watch this space.
 
So, what if employees refuse vaccination? For the employer to discharge their health and safety duty, they may need to consider other steps. An employer could consider potential disciplinary proceedings for failure to follow a reasonable instruction in certain settings (such as health or care), but this approach is not without risk and any employer considering this should seek specific advice from us before doing so.
 
Can the employer insert a clause into the employment contracts for new employees? Existing employees can be asked to agree to a compulsory vaccination clause as a variation to their existing contracts of employment.  However, even if employees agree to vaccination in their original employment contract or a variation of it, employers still cannot physically enforce this as an individual’s consent is always required for any medical intervention. Employers enforcing a change without employees’ agreement would be in breach of contract and employees could resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal.
 
Failure to follow an employer’s reasonable instructions can lead to disciplinary processes and dismissal. Whether an instruction to have a COVID-19 vaccine is reasonable has not been tested in the tribunals and courts. As there is at least a risk of unfair dismissal, discrimination and other claims, employers should consider their position very carefully before moving towards disciplinary processes and dismissal. Being a test case as one of the first employers to dismiss on the grounds of vaccine refusal is likely to be time consuming and potentially expensive.
 
Every employment contract contains an implied term that employees must follow their employer’s reasonable instructions. Whether an instruction to be immunised is reasonable depends upon the facts of each case, for example the nature of the role, the numbers of clinically vulnerable colleagues, the size and layout and people contact in the workplace. For example, employers in a nursing home may be able to issue a reasonable instruction to employees to be vaccinated because refusal could put vulnerable people at risk. Employers in another sector such as accountancy, where it has been shown that work can be done effectively from home, may be in a weaker position and an instruction to be vaccinated may not be deemed reasonable.
 
This is clearly not an area without risk and organisations should ensure they have up to date risk assessments and policies in place. As always if you wish to discuss this topic further please contact your consultant.