Not much has changed from the previous lockdowns, however official government advice is slightly clearer. The guidelines set out that leaving home for work is only permitted where it would be ‘unreasonable’ to do your job from home.

Employers must now seriously consider whether their employees can reasonably work from home and, once again, take steps to implement any necessary changes. While frustrating, this isn’t our first rodeo and many businesses will already have appropriate systems for remote working in place following the two previous lockdowns we experienced in 2020.

Where it is not possible to work from home, for example in the manufacturing or construction industries, employers must ensure they follow all government guidance to make their workplace COVID-secure. Due to the new strain of the virus and new information on how it’s transmitted, TUC wants the government to urgently update workplace safety rules to protect employees who cannot work from home. On that note, it is definitely worth businesses reviewing their COVID-19 risk assessment, ensuring that it’s fit for purpose.

Following school closures, the majority of parents are now juggling work with the demands of homeschooling. One positive is that the government has announced that employers can use the Job Retention Scheme to furlough eligible staff with childcare responsibilities in light of school closures.

Fully furloughing employees may not be feasible in every case, and some people may not accept the 80 per cent wage the scheme provides. It’s important during this challenging time that employers be as flexible as they can, listen to the needs of their employees, and discuss all possible options with people who may be struggling. Any extra support such as parental leave or flexible working could be a huge help for them.

Additionally, clinically extremely vulnerable individuals have been advised to start shielding again. This means that they are unable to leave the house for work, which poses a problem in industries where remote working isn’t possible. If putting the employee on furlough isn’t an option, it could be worth considering whether there are any other suitable roles within the business that they could safely do from home.

As with previous lockdowns, working from home presents its own legal hurdles if businesses aren’t normally used to working that way. Without the cue to take natural breaks prompted by colleagues in the office, staff may work more than their contracted hours. This can not only raise questions around Working Time Regulations, but it can also cause burnout in the long term. As an employer, it’s hard to control or manage this when you aren’t actually seeing your team.

It’s not enough to just encourage people to take breaks. Taking the time to check in and make sure the people on your team are looking after themselves will not only make them feel valued but can also help to build a culture of trust.

If you give your team the breathing space to complete their tasks and work to their own timeline, you may even begin to question the importance of working 9-5. More and more companies are asking themselves if traditional working hours are unnecessary or outdated in the modern workplace.

Start considering how your company works. What degree of flexibility do you already offer your teams? Creating a set of core hours that offers flexibility for staff may help with the school closure situation for working parents but, at the same time, you should make sure your performance management process is up-to-date and reflects the way you work. That way outputs can be measured, and employees will still be accountable for their duties.

The Job Retention Scheme has been extended until 30 April 2021 and the Treasury is providing additional grants to businesses in industries that have been particularly affected by the pandemic (retail, hospitality and leisure). Additionally, £594m of funding is available for companies outside of these sectors. This is available by application with local authorities.

We know that these are uncertain times and many businesses have been hit hard. If you require advice on how to best support your employees, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the HR experts at Streetwise HR on 0844 682 7488.

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