Legal issues and risks for employers post covid

As lockdown restrictions look set to be lifted from 19th July, the employment team at Axiom DWFM considers the implications for the world of work.

Whilst the removal of masks, remote working guidance and social distancing may herald a return to ‘normal life’, is it as simple as that?

Working from home

The main impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been on the way we work. Working from home has now become the norm for many of us, and businesses will have to decide whether this should continue or whether some sort of hybrid arrangement should be permitted whereby staff can work more flexibly.

This ultimately may become the default position under new legislation being considered by the Government.

There are advantages to flexible working. There are likely to be fewer complaints about the safety of the workplace which will, in turn, reduce the number of legal claims. It will also avoid the headache of the vaccination and whether staff should be required to have the jab to do their job, a topical issue at the moment and one that the Government has now mandated on in relation to care home staff in England.

Businesses are also likely to face more requests for flexible working and will find it difficult to resist these when businesses have been operating successfully remotely.

Separately, Liz Truss, the Minister for Women & Equalities, has called on employers to make flexible working a standard option for employees to help boost employment in areas outside major cities and increase opportunities for women, who are twice as likely as men to work flexibly.

Health & Safety

However, for businesses that press ahead with a compulsory return to the office, health and safety measures that should remain in place will need to be considered as well as variations to employment contracts to facilitate such measures, such as staggered start and finish times. All contractual variations require the consent of their staff.

Practical issues – holidays, furlough, redundancies

Practical considerations such as when staff can take holiday will also need to be managed. Of course, certain businesses, such as those in the hospitality sector, will have to decide whether staff can return at all if they are struggling financially. And the easing of Lockdown is unlikely to change their economic prospects, particularly with the support they receive from the Furlough scheme set to end in September.

To avoid claims, a business should ensure they follow a fair redundancy process which attracts additional duties and obligations if those potentially redundant exceed 20.

If you are an employer and you are concerned about how to deal with employee issues related to covid or generally, please do contact our employment law specialists.

Latest employment law changes

Businesses should be alive to the following developments that have taken effect since April this year:

  • Compensation limits for certain tribunal awards and payments such as statutory redundancy pay and the national minimum wage increased on 6th April 2021
  • The rules on off-payroll working in the private sector took effect from 6 April 2021 to counter non-compliance with IR35. These have shifted the compliance burden from the worker’s personal service company to the medium and large “client” organisations that they work for.
  • Public Health England issued new shielding guidance on 1st April 2021. Those categorised as extremely clinically vulnerable no longer have to shield nor are eligible for SSP or similar benefits.
  • New health and safety regulations have extended protection from detriment taking place on or after 31st May 2021 from employees to workers.
  • Employers will be required to contribute 12.5% of capped furlough pay from 1st July and 25% from 1st August until the Furlough scheme ends on 30th September.
  • The deadline for gender pay gap reporting, delayed because of the pandemic, is now 5th October 2021.

With all the changes ahead, businesses and their staff should tread carefully and seek specialist legal advice from the employment team at Axiom DWFM where appropriate.

Currently, our employment lawyers are instructed on a variety of different matters for clients including advice on IR35 and the settlement of disputes, the drafting of contractual documentation and settlement agreements and litigation before the Employment Tribunal for both Claimants and Respondents.

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