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Returning your team to the workplace

Some of the HR aspects that you will need to understand – CODE Total HR Team

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact across all areas of the dental profession but now, with the right measures in place, dental business owners can re-open and welcome their patients once again.

However, in doing so, there are some HR aspects that require careful consideration, which is why we want to share our advice and guidelines on how to prepare, along with the necessary steps to take, to implement your return to work strategy.

Strong, confident leadership is more important now than ever, so ensuring you are able to effectively and sensitively deal with subjects such as furlough, sickness absence, annual leave, bereavement and flexible working will show your team that you are understanding and supportive. It will also help you to prevent issues arising and mitigate your risk of grievances.

Furlough

Things will look different for the foreseeable future, so you need to assess what is feasible under the new health and safety measures in order to maintain exceptional care standards for patients.

If you are using the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, this has been extended to 31 October, however we anticipate there will be flexibility to allow a transition to the workplace.

At some point, you will have to ‘un-furlough’ your team members and it is essential that you communicate this within a reasonable timeframe. We suggest at least 48-hours’ notice, in writing and kept on file.

Remember that some members of staff may have to organise childcare and/or other responsibilities, so keeping open lines of communication is vital so that the news of a return to work does not come out of the blue.

Once they are un-furloughed, a team member will be entitled to return to work on their full pay.

REMEMBER THIS…

You may have added a team member back on your payroll in order that they could be furloughed and receive an 80% income, as per government advice. You will need to end this arrangement and it is recommended that you seek expert HR advice to do this correctly.


Take time to talk

Once you are back at work, take the time to talk to each staff member individually to find out how they are feeling and what support they might need. Every one of us has had a different lockdown experience and it is important to have these discussions to help boost morale and iron out any concerns before they escalate to formal grievances.


Temporary measures

You may find that you need to put temporary staffing measures in place as it may not be feasible to accommodate the full team back at once. A phased approach could be the way forward. If this is the case, then lay-off and short-time working, pay reductions and shorter working hours may need to be considered in the short-term.

Lay-off refers to a temporary reduction in contractual hours, when an employee is off work for at least one full working day. Employees who have been laid off are entitled to £30 per day for five days in a three-month period – payments are calculated on a pro-rata basis for part-time employees. To be eligible, the employee must have been in continuous employment for one month. While lay-off can last longer than five days, additional time will be unpaid. Employees can apply for redundancy if they are laid off for a continuous four-week period.

Short-time working refers to a temporary reduction in contractual hours of work in each contractual day. As the employee would work on each day, just for a shorter period of time, they would not be eligible for statutory guarantee pay as they would with lay-off.


Communication is key

Introducing measures like these can feel unsettling for your employees so we highly advise including your team as much as you can during the decision-making process. Discuss the various options and ask for their input – this will help to ensure a greater sense of clarity, which helps to boost of morale.


If temporary becomes permanent…

Being dubbed the ‘new normal’, many practices are anticipating changes to the way they operate, which could mean decreasing hours of work, opening for longer in order to stagger patients, working evenings and weekends, and having a multi-skilled team who can cover various roles within the practice.

If your temporary measures need to become permanent, there is a process for agreeing these changes. You must first plan and document what you want to achieve and how you will go about it. Once you have a plan in place, break the news to your team. You can do this individually or as a group at this stage as it is just to make everyone aware of proposed changes.

The consultation stage would happen later, and at this point you should have individual discussions with your employees to allow them to ask questions and raise any concerns they may have. During the consultation, your employee can be accompanied by another team member or trade union representative if they wish, and we advise that you should also be accompanied by another senior member of staff.

Of course, reaching a mutual agreement with your employees would be the most beneficial solution for all parties but there are instances where this does not happen. If this is the case, we recommend seeking expert HR advice to discuss the next steps.

Annual leave

Many practices are, of course, concerned about how they will manage their employees’ annual leave in what could potentially be a short period of time. To help businesses navigate this, when returning to the workplace, the government has relaxed the current rules around annual leave carry over; statutory leave can be carried forward into the next two leave years. Therefore up to four weeks of unused annual leave can be carried forward into the next two leave years.

As employers, you do also have the option to tell your employees when to take their leave, as long as you give them twice as many days’ notice as the amount of days you require them to take. The Covid-19 pandemic is likely to impact upon employee’s pre-booked leave arrangements and we recommend that you discuss this with each individual.

As always, it is important to keep accurate records of employees’ leave to ensure that leave taken and carried over meet the statutory entitlements under the Working Time Regulations 1998.

Time off for dependants

The Employment Rights Act 1996 provides employees with reasonable unpaid time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependant and it applies to all employees.

It means that employees are entitled to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work to deal with unexpected or sudden emergencies and to make any necessary longer-term arrangements. The emergency must involve a dependent, e.g. husband, wife, partner, child, parent or a relative who lives in the same household and is not a tenant or an employee.

You will be aware that during the Covid-19 pandemic, schools, nurseries, some respite centres and care providers have been closed and carer responsibilities may have fallen to one of your employees. If this continues into the period of time when you are planning to reopen, it is important to be aware of your employees’ rights and your obligations as their employer. 

Sickness and absence management

Covid-19 related absences will still be prevalent in the coming weeks, months and possibly years. It is important to have a sickness management procedure in place to record and monitor employee sickness absence dates and the reasons for the absence.

The government announced very early on into the Covid-19 pandemic, that for any sickness absence related to the virus, Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) payment should be brought forward to day one, rather than day four.

In addition, small or medium-sized businesses (with less than 250 employees) may be entitled to reclaim the costs of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for sickness absence due to Covid-19. This is under the government’s Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme.

If eligible, the refund will cover up to two weeks’ of SSP per eligible employee who are either ill or been told to self-isolate due to Covid-19.

Sickness absence during the pandemic may not always be Covid-19 related, it may be that your employees are stressed or anxious and if so, we would encourage you to support them as much as possible.

It could be that an employee had a planned operation or course of treatment that has been postponed due to the pandemic, and therefore their symptoms have become severe, which could lead to possible long-term sickness absence.

If you have employees who are unwell now or in the next few months, we advise a considerate, supportive and sensitive approach to ensure you are complying with your duty of care and reducing your risks going forward.

Supporting the team

During your Covid-19 Return to Work meeting you may identify that an employee is particularly suffering as a result of the pandemic. Covid-19 has had a global impact on our physical and mental health due to isolation, financial difficulties, family responsibilities, domestic violence and bereavement.

You can support your employees by encouraging them to seek medical support from their GP, you may offer counselling sessions funded by the practice or access to an Employee Assistance Programme (you may have an EAP as part of your Employers Liability Insurance).

Flexible working may be beneficial in these circumstances and can take on several different forms, for example, working reduced or additional hours, working compressed hours, staggered hours or working from home on a part-time or full-time basis. This should be requested by the employee in writing, and then, as the employer you can consider the application and then discuss the arrangements with the employee concerned.


 

There are a whole host of support tools that you can refer your team members to, here are a few to consider:


At CODE we are here for you right now and are working hard to continue to support you. Our support lines have been extremely busy recently and our teams are providing daily news and external updates which you can read on our website at www.codeuk.com.