Coronavirus Employment Help for Leaders
25 Mar 2020
During times of uncertainty, employees will turn to those they trust the most. Depending on a business’s leadership style, this might be an employees’ colleagues, leading to plenty of watercooler gossip and hearsay. Therefore, strong leaders are required to harness this trust and guide their employees to the best resolutions.
The unfolding pandemic has left employees across the globe uncertain of what to do, and sometimes unclear on whether they should be attending work and what their employment rights are. If employees feel their leader is responding poorly to Coronavirus, their morale may be seriously impacted.
Employees may feel forced to isolate themselves because of uncertainty or respond by significantly decreasing their productivity levels. This can have a detrimental effect on any organisation’s morale and their bottom line.
The rapidly changing nature of COVID-19 means that employment law help and support is changing day-by-day. However, in our years of experience of advising businesses on employment law and HR, we have found the four tips below to be beneficial for employers throughout times of difficulty.
1. Regular updates
Leaders need to keep their employees up to date with the current course of action their business is taking in the pandemic. In line with the government’s updates and the ever changing nature of COVID-19, we would recommend updating your employees at least once a week on the situation for your business. Even if you feel that there is nothing to update your staff on, a regular email to tell them it is “business as normal” can do wonders for your employees’ concerns.
With concern for mental health as important as ever, many employees may wish to reduce their intake of news and social media during this pandemic. This can help minimise their worries and ensure they are not falling down rabbit holes of false information. For this reason, it is important for business leaders to keep on top of government updates and relay any necessary information back to their employees. For example, the news on the government’s initiative to contribute to staff’s salaries in this current climate.
If employees are working from home, they will require regular communication from their leaders to aid in avoiding feelings of isolation. Luckily, with video conferencing tools such as Google Hangouts and Zoom, this has never been easier. This can be as simple as a daily 15-minute huddle with your team to see how everyone is getting on and uplift the mood.
Online isolation notes
We understand that communication is a two-way street for successful and happy organisations. As of the 20th March 2020, the UK government has launched a new ‘online isolation notes‘ service which provides employers with certification for coronavirus absences. The aim of this service is to allow people to self-isolate as much as possible to reduce the risk of spreading the virus and alleviate the pressure on the NHS.
Online isolation notes will provide employers with evidence from their employees that they have been advised to self-isolate due to coronavirus. This can be due to:
- Contracting the virus themselves
- Showing symptoms of the virus
- Living with someone who has symptoms and is required to self-isolate because of this
As these notes can be given without having to contact a doctor, this new service will hopefully reduce pressure on GPs and reduce the need for people to leave their homes. These notes can be obtained through the NHS website and NHS 111 online. After answering a few questions, an isolation note can be emailed to them or directly to their employer. This new service can be used to generate notes on behalf of someone else, such as your family.
Following the government’s latest guidance to stay at home and only leave unless it is absolutely essential, most employers have already let their staff work from home or temporarily closed the business where remote working is not possible. For organisations that are still operating on-site, employers have a responsibility to ensure they have taken reasonable steps to keep their employees safe at work.
As the UK has been warned that Coronavirus will spread further over the coming days and weeks, employers must take action and ensure their existing policies around flexible and remote working have been altered. This will enable businesses to ensure their daily operations can continue to function should their area become infected and also that they can keep their employees safe.
Employers should have already made, or planned to make, response plans to reassure employees of their health and safety rights. Falling short of this could result in your business being “exposed” for their shortcomings online or in the press. All employees, from senior management to interns, should be aware of the business response plan so they can be prepared when action needs to be taken. For example, if employees may need to take their laptops home each night, they must be forewarned so they can ensure they have the correct equipment in place.
If employees have been exposed to the virus or they have returned from a country posing significant risk, employees can be requested to refrain from visiting the workplace until they have been confirmed as testing negative for Coronavirus. If the employee is able to work from home or remotely, this can be agreed if the employee is well enough.
Given the current situation, most organisations might have already taken the above steps. The most important thing for an employer to be now is agile and responsive to the government’s advice. Now is not the time for phrases such as “that’s how we have always done things here,” as this unfolding pandemic is something that many of us have never experienced before.
3. Forward planning
Though this situation feels all-encompassing, it is important to remember that it will soon end. Now is not the time for knee-jerk reactions. Instead, business leaders should consider pivoting their services and operations to adapt to the current climate and plan for the future.
As a business leader and employer, your customers and employees will remember how you reacted during this time. The notion of the ethical consumer has been prevalent for the past few years. As of recent, we have known them for their stance on sustainability and single-use plastic. Now, plenty of ethical consumers, family and friends of employees are watching to see how business leaders react to the current situation – especially how they are treating their staff at this point. Leave your staff in the dark or treat them unfairly and it will quickly spread to social media amid cries to boycott your establishment.
For plenty of business-to-consumer organisations, when this eventually blows over, there will be a surge in consumers ready to spend their hard-earned money in celebration of the return of normality. By demonstrating how fairly you treated your staff during times of uncertainty, you can be sure that customers will feel happy returning to your business. From an HR perspective, treating your employees fairly during this time will also help build their loyalty to your company by remembering your good leadership in times of uncertainty.
4. Be more human
Now is not the time for organisations to stick to the silent culture of working through sickness. Before COVID-19, it was somewhat conventional for employees to come into work with a common cold. These pretences must be forgotten. Business leaders should remember their duties to their employees – and their own health. If an employer knowingly allows their staff who have been advised to self-isolate to come into work, they could be seriously breaching UK health and safety law. Especially if a sick employee comes into contact with another employee who is more vulnerable to infection, such as those with underlying health conditions or pregnant employees.
It is also important for employers to be sensitive to the nuances of the pandemic, especially if some of their team members contract the virus. Personal information regarding health is considered special category data under UK data protection law, meaning that employers cannot give their staff any personal information on the other employees that have contracted the virus. Doing so could result in a discrimination case against the organisation.
Employers should also be aware that they are nott discriminating whilst seeking information on employees’ recent travel and holidays. It is a perfectly justifiable and reasonable request for all staff to declare any travel from outside the country. Enquiring about travel to specific countries, such as China or Italy, could potentially result to cases of harassment or discrimination.
As reflected in the news and social media, there has been an increase in racism and prejudice against those of Asian and Chinese origin. This increases the potential risk that this could happen in the workplace. If employers have not got a discrimination or harassment policy in place, it is important to put other measures in place such as training or evidence to show that you are tackling prejudiced behaviour. Otherwise, employers could be liable for allowing discrimination happen within the workplace.
These are stressful times, not just for employers, but society on the whole. Given the ever changing nature of the pandemic, specific advice relating to coronavirus is also likely to change. However, what will not change are the above aspects to being a good business leader. Regularly updating your team, keeping in open communication, being reactive and proactive to their safety and being more human will always be important for leadership in times of crisis.
If you are a business leader, we can provide employers with employment law and HR support today. Get in touch with us now to see how we can help you through this challenging time.