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HR expert Kate Palmer spells out some of the HR-related issues linked to our gradual emergence from lockdown, including childcare.
It may seem a long time away, but eventually, the UK lockdown will need to come to an end and, when it does, employers will need to have plans in place to help staff get back to normal. As we try and return to normality as much as possible, what should employers bear in mind?
For many companies, putting homeworking options in place may have been an entirely new venture that they had not previously considered. While the initial reaction to the lockdown ending may be to return all staff to previous working arrangements, some employees may have been satisfied with the homeworking situation and could wish to make it permanent. Ultimately, it is up to employers if they permit staff to work from home. Still, they should consider the benefits of doing so, and the positives of being more flexible with employees in general.
Homeworking can be a useful way of helping staff to manage outside commitments, such as childcare, and the outbreak may have intensified that. By allowing remote working on a more permanent basis, employers can help to encourage the loyalty and retention of staff and help combat any childcare issues that arise until the schools start to reopen. Employers should bear in mind that employees are increasingly looking for more flexible roles and may start to consider alternative employment if they do not want to return to their previous working arrangements.
Some members of staff may not wish to continue working from home and, to this end, employers may need to consider how they would be permitted to return to work. It is currently unknown how a relaxation of the lockdown will look, but one option that has been suggested is that a form of social distancing will continue. To this end, before bringing staff back, employers will likely need to make changes to the workplace that could permit a certain level of distance to be maintained between staff. If some employees are happy to continue remote working, this could be a way of keeping the number of people in the building down.
It is important to remember that it is currently unknown if a relaxation of the lockdown will mean that schools will also start to reopen. Staff being asked to return to work may, therefore, begin to have childcare issues, something that could lead to problems in their productivity or even in them getting into the workplace. While situations where employees refuse to come into work could be treated as a conduct issue, potentially even resulting in their dismissal, it is essential to proceed with care in these situations. Disciplining or dismissing individuals in this position could serve to be discriminatory against female employees who may be more likely to find themselves in this situation.
Instead, employers should consider if there are alternatives to individual employees coming into work. Could they continue remote working, or could flexible working hours be put into place temporarily? If they need more time to facilitate childcare, could they take a period of annual leave to give them more time in which to deal with their circumstances? Remember that the coronavirus situation is very unprecedented and the last thing a company wants to do is lose otherwise valuable members of staff through poor management of this situation.
*Kate Palmer will be leading a Facebook Live session for workingmums.co.uk readers with questions about any employment rights linked to the pandemic on 14th May from 12-1pm. Look out for more details.