Questions for the ‘New Normal’…. 5 questions I’ve been asked in #CEO groups in the last fortnight.

During the last fortnight I’ve given my presentation, ‘The F Word’, to about 200 #CEOs of #SME businesses, most of whom have been grappling with getting their businesses fit for the future and maximising the benefit of the CJRS to conserve their cash flow as we get the country back to work.

Here are 5 of the most popular questions I have been asked.

1.  If an employee doesn’t want to carry out their role if you bring them back from furlough can you leave them on it?

Not all my answers are so long (!) but this really is an important issue at the moment.

Although not wanting to carry out their role is different from not wanting to come back to work, you can leave an employee on furlough as long as you like and as long as the scheme is available, but just remember that it looks as if from August employers will have to contribute towards the 80% wages costs.

Grappling with the ‘reluctant returners’ is one of the most difficult issues being faced by employers at the moment.  Despite the fact that ACAS say that ‘If an employee refuses to attend work without a valid reason, it could result in disciplinary action’, any action should be preceded with dialogue.

That dialogue should endeavour to address the anxieties of staff, and in particular, the steps you have taken to make the workplace safe.

I have covered what the various anxieties might be in a previous blog, and emphasised the need to be able to demonstrate that you have complied with the Governments 5 steps to a covid safe working environment:-

  • Carried out and shared the results of a covid 19 risk assessment
  • Have cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures
  • Helped people to work from home wherever possible
  • Taken steps to maintain 2m distance at work
  • Where not possible to maintain social distancing, done everything practical to manage the risk

Following these steps and communicating them to employees will go a long way to removing their anxieties and preventing a claim that they reasonably perceived that they were in imminent danger if they came to work, which is most likely to be their claim if action is taken against them.

Ultimately, if someone is refusing to return to work, that could lead to a dismissal, but it is a situation where you will need professional advice.

2.  We have terminated the contract of someone with less than 2 years’ service. Notice expires end June. She wants us to keep her on furlough until it runs out. Could we or should we do that?

Someone with less than two years’ service can be dismissed without a reasonable process.  That’s not to suggest that you behave unreasonably, but you do have more flexibility with these colleagues when faced with having to make redundancies, and this is probably the context of the question.

You can extend her notice if you wish to, but take care that does not lead to her accruing the two years necessary to claim unfair dismissal.  Also note that she will accrue more holidays, so require that they be taken during her notice.

3.  Can we alter the furlough agreement re holiday clause?

Yes, employers have always been able to require that holidays be taken at specific times.  Many do it at Christmas, and some have measures that ensure holidays are evenly distributed throughout the year (phased holidays).

If you have not provided for holidays in your original furlough agreement  here’s an example of something you could add:-

‘We require you to use all accrued holiday by the end of July, and if we extend your furlough further, any more holidays accrued must also be used by the new end date for furlough.  If you have any doubts about the rate of holiday accrual, please discuss this with one of us, but basically most of you will have a total holiday entitlement of 32 days including public holidays which accrue at the rate of 2.66 days per month.

You should book your holidays in the normal way, and you may want to choose dates that you definitely would prefer us not to call you back into work’.

You do not have to follow this exactly; a lot might depend on where you are in your holiday year.  Clearing at least 50% of your accrued leave might be another option.

4.  I understood employees can carry holiday over for 2 years due to Covid, is this right?

This is only partially correct.  The Government has passed legislation which allows the carry forward of annual leave where the employee has been prevented from taking it – normally carry forward of 4 weeks of the statutory 5.6 weeks holiday is not allowed.

It is only really for situations where an employee wants to take their leave in the current year, but cannot because you are, for instance, too busy.

The Government has published guidance on the topic, which includes on the rate of pay for holidays during furlough – although, frankly, they simply quote complex regulations which are rarely followed to the letter anyway.

The consensus amongst legal commentators is that whether on furlough or during a temporary period of reduced salary or hours, holiday pay should be at the ‘normal’ (100%) level for salaried staff.  There are different rules where pay varies.

5.  If an employee agrees to resign, rather than be made redundant, can they give a resignation notice to expire at the end of July, and if they do, can they withdraw it before that time or can it be enforced?

They can give you notice which is longer than required in their contract and you can refuse to allow a withdrawal of notice.  There are circumstances in which you need to take care in refusing.

For instance, if a resignation was given in haste, such as after an argument.  Then it might be reasonable to allow a withdrawal.

A resignation under pressure might also lead to an unfair dismissal claim – for instance, a situation where you put it to someone to resign or else, we will make you redundant!

These questions were also interspersed with lots of others about the challenges of managing colleagues who are working remotely.  I covered this briefly in my recent #LinkedIn blog and I intend to return to this theme in the future.

Watch this space.

Ken Allison | 28th May 2020 | Paradigm Partners | www.paradigmpartners.co.uk

Ken Allison is an engaging trainer and speaker who manages to make his topics, highly interactive, challenging, entertaining, and above all, relevant to the 21st Century executive. Ken uses his understanding of managing businesses to show managers what they ‘can do’ rather than what they ‘cannot do’.

Ken specialises in taking the strain out of employment law related people issues through training workshops for managers, and his firm’s ‘ExecutiveHR’ service, providing telephone based support services to businesses throughout the UK.

Nothing in this article should be relied on as a substitute for taking professional advice about your particular situation.

 

 

 

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