Return to work Q&A

A Facebook live by Peninsula UK last week addressed some of the questions employers and employees have about returning to work as lockdown is eased.

Question

 

Workingdads partner site workingmums.co.uk last week joined forces with HR experts Peninsula UK for a Q&A related to employment rights issues around the COVID-19 pandemic.

Peninsula’s Kate Palmer led the session, which followed Government announcements recently that workers who cannot work from home should be ‘actively encouraged’ to go back to work. She said that employers should come up with pragmatic solutions.

If employers cannot afford to furlough staff and need them back in the business, but they have no childcare she said that there should be open discussions between employers and employees to explore the extent of their childcare challenges.  They should look at whether the staff member could definitely not work from home, if changing their hours to evenings or weekends when childcare might be available might be a possibility, and and whether the individual had made every effort to find childcare. After this, if there was still no way they could return to work it would be hard not to furlough them. “Employers have to come up with a pragmatic and socially responsible way forward,” she said. Another approach would be to reduce hours due to childcare issues, if it is requested by the employee. This could come in the form of a flexible working request.

Home working during lockdown

One reader sent in an email asking if employers can stop homeworking, if someone had been productively working from home during lockdown. This is a key question for a lot of parents as there are mixed feelings about sending children back to school, which could be their only option if they were called back to the office.

Palmer said that if the employer had been satisfied so far that working from home with children present is meeting the needs of the business, it may be then difficult for them to claim that it no longer works simply because the schools may be opening from 1st June.

Generally, she said, ‘choosing’ not to send children to school and therefore not being able to attend the workplace would normally be a difficult issue. However, because of the unprecedented circumstances, she said it may be appropriate for employers to be more lenient and find a compromise. Taking annual leave, parental leave, or another form of unpaid leave may also be a solution, she said.

Another emailed question about childcare asked whether, if an employee stays furloughed due to childcare, their employer can employ somebody else to cover their role. Palmer said there is no guidance on an employer’s ability to recruit new employees to cover for someone who is furloughed. She stated: “Essentially, furlough is implemented where the employer has no work to provide and so hiring someone to cover for a furloughed worker may seem to run against the grain of furlough’s purpose. However, because it appears that furlough can be used to cover a wider set of circumstances, it may be that new recruitment is possible. Still, employers would need to consider what happens with the ‘new’ employee once the furloughed employee is ready to return to work. It may be useful for an employer to bring in another existing furloughed worker and redeploy them to provide temporary cover.”

Another popular question was whether you can be made redundant if you have no childcare. Palmer said redundancy was about the role and if the role was still there you could not be made redundant. If employers sought to do so because you had not childcare you could sue them for unfair dismissal if you had more than two years’ service.

Palmer was also asked the following:

  • Should people who are shielding be asked to come off furlough?   Palmer said it was unclear if people would continue to be shielded after the initial 12-week period, but that it would be remiss not to furlough shielding employees.
  • Should furloughed staff who were made redundant be paid redundancy based on their contractual pay rather than their furlough pay? Palmer said they would.
  • Can furlough be used for publicly funded staff? She said it was not meant to fund publicly funded roles as it was not meant to be “a windfall” for employers who would then receive public money twice. However, if a role was only part funded by public money [ie to the tune of less than 25% of wages] they may be able to be furloughed.
  • Can employers can impose cuts to your hours? Palmer said any changes to terms and conditions would need to be consulted on and agreement reached or employers could be in breach of contract.

The full video can be watched here.



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