Written by Heidi Wadsworth

Here we go again… Following the Government announcement on Monday 5th January 2021, England has moved into another national lockdown seeing school closures across the nation and more employees being told to work from home.

As a result of this you may have questions about how to best support your teams while minimising any impact on your business.

We thought it would be useful to share answers to the HR questions we’ve been asked most frequently, around topics such as managing employees working from home, supporting staff who are shielding or now have children at home, and how to support staff wellbeing.

You’ll find these in detail in our free factsheet –  but here is a preview of some of the topics we cover.

Managing remote employees

Now, more than ever, it is important to build and nurture relationships with your team members that are based on mutual trust and confidence. Line managers should be available for advice and consultation, and provide support through regular contact, but resist the temptation to supervise their employees’ work and working patterns too closely.

Don’t place too much value on the number of hours and minutes a day your teams spend remote working. To monitor performance, line managers should focus on achievement or outcomes rather than working hours.

Supporting employees who have children at home

The new situation means that many employees will find themselves balancing work commitments and childcare or home schooling once again. Work with your teams to understand their difficulties and explore solutions that work for them and you. This might be agreeing a temporary change in work pattern, perhaps to include core hours, reduced hours, or weekend and evening working, so they can complete their work at times to suit them (whether from home or onsite).

Furlough, holiday and unpaid leave

All UK businesses are eligible to participate in the furlough scheme even if they have not used the scheme before.

But remember that an employer cannot place a worker on furlough purely to cover their planned holiday. You will need to demonstrate that there was a need to furlough that worker because of the impact of the pandemic. However, where employees are furloughed because of the impact of the pandemic, then they can request to use their holiday entitlement in the normal way.

If an employee is unable to work because they need to care for children at home or a vulnerable individual in their household, they can be furloughed. You do not have to agree to furlough requests but you should consider them carefully, especially if no alternatives can be found.

An alternative might be to approve a request to use holiday entitlement so your employee can care for their children or agree a period of unpaid leave if the business can accommodate the absence. Employees may request parental leave, which is the statutory right for a working parent to take unpaid leave to look after their child. Employees must have one year’s continuous service with the Company to qualify, and they may take a maximum of 18 weeks’ parental leave up to the child’s 18th birthday, although a maximum of just 4 weeks per year is allowed. Find more detail on Parental leave in the factsheet.

Extremely vulnerable employees

The Government has again advised Clinically Extremely Vulnerable people to “shield” and so stay at home and not attend their workplace. If their role means they are unable to work from home, and you cannot offer them any other work to do from home, then you can furlough them if they meet eligibility criteria. If your employee lives with a clinically extremely vulnerable person, they themselves are not required to shield but are advised to carefully follow the guidance on social distancing. We would advise you to talk to your employee, try to be flexible and understanding, and allow them to work from home wherever possible.

If you have any questions that are not covered in the factsheet, or need further advice, please feel free to contact our team who will be pleased to help you.