Kate Palmer at Peninsula UK joined forces with workingmums.co.uk for a Facebook Live update on post-lockdown employment rights.
Employers should not look to dismiss employees who cannot work because of childcare issues if they have done everything possible to arrange it, an employment rights webinar heard yesterday.
The webinar was led by Kate Palmer from HR experts Peninsula UK and was a collaboration between workingmums.co.uk and Peninsula.
She said that if no childcare was available when employees were due back at work, employers should look at the furlough scheme and could also offer unpaid parental leave and annual leave and explore ways forward with employees such as flexible working or redeployment. Employees also had a responsibility to do all they could to find childcare.
Employees with over two years’ service who were dismissed because they lacked childcare would be able to claim unfair dismissal and potentially sex discrimination if they were mothers on the basis that mothers are more likely to be the primary carer, said Palmer.
“Employers still have to act within the realms of the law in a responsible and reasonable way. There is still a risk of legal claims,” she stated. She added that an increase in employment tribunal claims was anticipated as a result of the lockdown and emergence from it.
Palmer covered a range of different employment rights issues in the webinar, starting with the implications of the test and trace strategy announced this week. She said the contacts of those who showed symptoms would need to self isolate for 14 days and could claim Statutory Sick Pay [SSP] from day one. If they could continue to work from home they should do so, she added. And smaller employers [with 250 employees or less] could make use of the recently launched SSP rebate scheme to cover the costs.
Other updates this week included an announcement that car showrooms and outdoor retail in England would reopen from 1st June and non-essential retail in England would be able to return by mid-June. The Government also confirmed that primary schools [reception and years one and six] and nurseries in England will reopen “in a safe way” with secondary schools reopening from mid-June for some face-to-face contact for years 10 and 12.
Palmer said she expected advice to be published shortly on changes to the furlough scheme, including the introduction of part-time furlough. She answered questions about possible resentment between furloughed workers, part-time furloughed workers who got full-time wages and those working full time. She said employers should tackle this through strong leadership, good communications and an ability to objectively justify who they had placed on furlough and why.
She added that employees could take annual leave while on furlough, which should be paid at the full rate. Employers can force employees to take annual leave while they are on furlough as long as they give double the amount of notice as the period of leave they were seeking to enforce. One proviso is that employees taking leave should be able to rest and relax. Employers could also cancel leave if they give the same amount of notice as the leave period booked. This might be the case, for instance, if employers were worried about employees going abroad and having to face quarantine on their return if that would have a negative impact on the business.
While most employees can carry forward up to 1.6 weeks of their annual leave if they work full time, a small number who have been unable to take their leave this year due to the coronavirus pandemic will be able to carry the other four weeks of their leave over for the next two years. This would apply to those who have been too busy to take leave, whose employers cannot find temporary cover for them or whose leave would have impacted the wider response to the pandemic, for instance, nurses.
When it comes to redundancies, Palmer said employers should consider other efficiencies they could make to avoid these, for instance, pay freezes, stopping recruitment and changing bonus schemes if they are not contractual. All posts at risk of redundancy should be fully consulted and a sound rationale shown for why a particular role was selected.
Other issues raised included:
*Watch the full webinar here.