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With the world looking to the future and how to get things back on track, we need to start thinking about what that might look like.

In the last 8 weeks we’ve worked from home, home schooled children, stayed inside as much as possible, changed our shopping habits and even had home haircuts (some more successful than others). So, what comes next?

Normal obligations

It’s inevitable that some of your employees will have children. Having children might mean that at some point there might be an issue with childcare (but don’t assume this to be the case).

Normally these issues are things like sickness, school closures or nursery placement issues. All of which might be resolved in a few days. This normally means that employees in this situation will take dependants’ leave (1-2 days of unpaid leave).

At the moment, we don’t know when schools will be open, when nurseries and childminders will be able to operate as they did, or even when you’ll be allowed to let other family members look after the children.

Can I furlough people if they have childcare issues?

Short answer is “yes”. The scheme allows people to be furloughed if they can’t work due to a situation related to Coronavirus. Schools being closed does fall under this. So, as long as your employee is eligible for the scheme anyway (look at their start date etc.), then you can furlough them.

What other options do I have?

You may have employees who are single parents, have shared parental responsibility, or whose partners are working opposite shifts to them. While, under normal circumstances your employees may take dependants’ leave or annual leave to cover any days where there are issues with their childcare, you need to remember that this situation is anything but normal.

It’s time to start thinking outside of the box. Offering employees to continue to work from home, where possible will help them to ensure that there’s no gap in their childcare. You can even go one step beyond this – look at different working hours. Allowing increased flexibility might be good for the business and really helpful to employees juggling many hats. These arrangements don’t have to be permanent (like they normally would under a flexible working request). Until we all know when normality is likely to resume it is really about being as flexible as possible right now.

Flexible working requests

With the changing work environment you may start getting flexible working requests coming in from your employees. The key thing to remember when dealing with these is that you should treat each one as an individual application. Just because you have previously approved or declined a similar application, does not mean that this new one needs to have the same outcome. Things do change.

Previously, you may have said no to employees working from home as you weren’t sure how to manage them, monitor their work, support them, or even get the right equipment to them. But now, we’ve been thrust into a world where working from home has become more normal. Our clients are telling us that productivity has not suffered, in fact in some businesses the productivity of teams working from home has increased.

Each application should be given fair consideration. Don’t fall into stereotyping traps. By this we mean that you should give a flexible working request from a man the same priority that you would a woman. While history and statistics has shown us that women often do the lion’s share of childcare, this actually might be changing.

Planning for their return to work

All employers will need to undertake risk assessments before bringing employees back to the workplace. You will also need to communicate with your employees with regard to the measures you have taken towards their safety.

If you are looking to get your pregnant employees back into work you’re going to need to do a pregnancy risk assessment. With the risk that the pandemic has brought, all we are doing here is adding another section to the risk assessments you already have in place for pregnant employees.

There’s a lot of information on how to reduce risks for things we’ve known about for a long time, but there’s not that much about reducing the risk of infection from Coronavirus. Follow the guidelines from the Government and remove any other risks that you identify.

I’m looking to bring people back off furlough

If you’ve furloughed some of your employees and they have children, then they will have created new routines and they might not be thinking about work.

When you are in a position to start bringing people back from furlough, you need to look at your business requirements alongside people’s personal situations.

You may want to look at things like:

  • Staggering start and finish times to avoid lots of people being on public transport / arriving and leaving at the same time;
  • Providing more parking so people don’t have to get public transport;
  • Highlighting alternatives to public transport, such as the Cycle to Work Scheme;
  • Offering a temporary flexible working option;
  • Staggering shifts to reduce the amount of people in the workplace.

These options can help your employees to come back to work and also help to assist them to manage their childcare responsibilities.

Communication is key!

While you’ve done all of these lovely risk assessments in the background, made changes, and removed as much risk as possible, it’s no good unless you actually tell your employees what you’ve done.

In the eyes of the law, if the EMPLOYEE thinks there is a risk and takes appropriate steps to avoid that risk, such as not coming to work – and you dismiss them, they can make a claim to an Employment Tribunal. Unfortunately, whether you agree with their opinion or not, doesn’t really come into it. BUT, to avoid things like this, tell your employees what risk assessments you’ve carried out, what risks you’ve identified, and how you are changing things to reduce or remove these risks. That way, the information is there for them to show that you’ve done everything you can.

As with most situations, having a chat about things can make a massive difference. There’s nothing worse than not knowing what’s going on.

Risk assessments really are key to getting people back to work when it is safe to do so. Some preparation on that now will stand your business in good stead.

If you would like to chat to us about risk assessments or you would like some assistance with putting risk assessments together for you, please contact our Operations Manager Dafydd Lloyd. or his mobile number is 07814251297

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