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How businesses can look after their employees

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Looking after your people when dealing with uncertainty is vital. After all, they are your company’s most important asset.

While offering great workforce experiences to your employees and workers should be at the top of your agenda, dealing with a situation such as the coronavirus outbreak makes that harder to do.

But there are ways and means to make sure you’re supporting your people.

This takes the form of different scenarios. From keeping them updated on any company communications to dealing with sick pay and employee wellbeing, covering your HR duties is important.

To help you, this article covers a series of topics to ensure that not only are you compliant with legislation, you also have some guidance to maintain the wellbeing of your employees.

1. Keep your employees in the loop

There’s a lot of uncertainty around coronavirus and what it means for your business. Keeping your employees informed of the latest developments – that are relevant to them – will help them be clear on any implications for them.

They might be required to keep coming to the workplace, depending on the industry your company is in. Or you may need them to work from home. Whatever the situation, it pays to keep them in the loop.

However, don’t feel that your business needs to overcommunicate to your employees – and beware of under communicating too. Try and get the right balance so your people stay informed.

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2. Think about offering flexible working

All employees in England, Wales and Scotland have a legal right to request flexible working (the rules are different for Northern Ireland). However, your business may consider taking the step of offering flexible working to your employees.

According to a report by International Workplace Group and MindMetre Research, 82% of businesses that offer flexible working revealed they are more productive, while 58% of organisations said it led to an improvement in job satisfaction.

Perhaps allowing your employees to start work earlier or finish later, for example, would help them juggle the demands of managing their home lives (such as looking after children or supporting older family members) and completing their work tasks.

3. Allow your employees to work from home where possible

With the UK government recommending that people embark on social distancing and staff work from home if possible, it’s worth reviewing the practicalities of the latter for your business and offering remote working if feasible.

This will depend on your business – if you’re company is in retail, for example, front line staff will be required to be present at your workplace.

However, for back office staff covering the likes of finance and HR, it may be easier to allow them to work from home.

4. Consider holiday or unpaid leave for employees who don’t want to enter the workplace

If your business requires employees to go into work, you may find some people don’t want to do so due to the coronavirus outbreak.

They might not want to get on public transport, for example, or be in an environment where they are around a lot of people.

Take the time to listen to the concerns of your employees and address them in the best possible way – both for your staff and your business.

If an employee still decides that they don’t want to be in the workplace (and working from home isn’t realistic), if they put a request in, you could consider allowing them to use some of their holiday entitlement or unpaid leave.

According to Acas, this would be at your discretion and down to what’s required of your business.

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5. Be clear on Statutory Sick Pay

By law, you have to pay employees £95.85 per week of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if they’re ill – and eligible. Employees are eligible, as are casual and agency workers. However, those who are self-employed are not.

The SSP figure is subject to National Insurance and tax, and your business pays it in the same way you’d pay employee salaries, ie on a weekly or monthly basis.

You need to pay it for up to 28 weeks and can demand a fit note (sometimes called a sick note).

The chancellor has announced that any business with fewer than 250 employees will be able to claim back two weeks of SSP from the government that is paid to any employees affected by coronavirus.

While your business can’t pay less than the SSP figure, you can pay your employees more – this should be set out in your workplace policy.

The government rules say sick pay starts after day four. However, in light of the coronavirus outbreak, it now begins on the first day of sickness so employees who are self-isolating are eligible for SSP from day one.

6. Time off to look after dependants

Your employees have a right to time off to deal with an emergency involving family or those who rely upon them for care but who might be unrelated to them. This unplanned event could be linked to coronavirus, for example.

Unlike Statutory Sick Pay, there isn’t a legal right to pay an employee who is in this situation during this period. There isn’t a limit on the time that’s taken either.

Depending on the employee’s contract or your workplace policy, you might offer to pay them.

The employee should let you know as soon as possible that they require the time off. They don’t have to do so in writing, it can be done verbally.

7. Promote a healthy work life balance

No matter whether your employees are working from home or are required to come into the workplace, ensuring they are able to have the right work life balance is important.

Encourage them to take regular breaks, including a lunch break – especially if they’re working from home. By doing so, they will be able to remain productive and do their best work for the business.

And if fitness is important to your employees but they’re unable to use the gym membership they get as part of the company benefits scheme due to the government announcement that gyms should close for the meantime, for example, check whether their gym is offering online classes and let them know as part of your company communications.

8. Offer recognition for their work

At this time of uncertainty, your employees will be striving to make sure that the business keeps moving in the right direction. Some might even put more time in to make sure your operations continue to run smoothly.

So don’t forget to offer recognition for the work they’re doing. Rewarding your employees doesn’t have to be expensive.

A simple “thank you” not only shows your gratitude, it demonstrates to your people that they are valued members of the business.

Conclusion

The coronavirus outbreak is bringing a lot of unknowns to businesses, who are having to adapt quickly as the situation changes. But there is one constant – the importance of your people to your business.

By looking after your staff and ensuring they are supported in the right way, you’ll give them and your company the best chance of moving in the right direction.

Editor’s note: This article was first published in March 2020 and has been updated for relevance.

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