Coronavirus has highlighted an issue that’s been present for years: employees are concerned about being negatively judged for needing working adjustments to accommodate their children. But what will the knock-on effects be and why do we need to act now to support working parents?
We take a look at the ongoing issues that working parents face, outline your legal standpoint and discuss what ‘reasonable’ adjustments can be made as society faces a modern-day childcare crisis.
UK Childcare Crisis
Childcare has been a hot topic since schools shut in March – exposing a lack of support for over 13 million working parents in the UK. That’s about 40% of the working population.
However, this is an ongoing issue. With entire year groups having to isolate and schools being forced to shut, this isn’t a problem that’s going out of the spotlight any time soon. So, why should employers get on board?
The UK is experiencing a childcare crisis – with a recent survey revealing that a lack of childcare played a role in almost half of female layoffs since the pandemic hit. Furthermore, even our keyworkers felt the strain with 67% forced to reduce their hours due to a lack of access to childcare.
It seems unlikely that any working parent will avoid childcare difficulties at some time over the coming months. So, let’s take a look at some of the issues contributing…
Issues of being a working parent
Lack of support for working parents
Have you ever felt concerned to admit to childcare issues or felt worried that you’d be met with a negative response? Well, you’re not the only one.
In fact, of those working mothers that did experience a lack of childcare during the pandemic, overhalf reported that they were met with negativity from their employer. Moreover, it’s likely that this fear will increase as we head into a recession and the peril of redundancy grows within society.
The lack of support goes beyond the employer, however. At current, accessing support is more difficult than ever. Whilst grandparents may be isolating or friends are unable to mix bubbles and pitch in together, many are looking to paid support in the form of nurseries or childminders.
Yet, they’ll be met with a nasty struggle – as many working parents may have found. Only 56% of local authorities have enough childcare for parents working full-time, meaning that childcare spaces are hard to come by, especially at such short notice.
Despite the need for childcare to be seen as economic infrastructure, the investment simply doesn’t match and prices for childcare are snowballing out of control, as one of the most highly-regulated sectors push prices up year-on-year.
However, parents are left to brunt the cost of this regulation. In 2020, parents are paying an average of £6,800 for a part-time nursery place. That’s 5% more than last year – well ahead of inflation which sits at 1.50%.
Therefore, with childcare costs becoming an increasing strain on the family unit, it’s concerning to see that families are opting to reduce their groceries in favour of childcare, or feel forced to cut their hours to access tax-free support.
A backstep for equality
The role of a mother has shifted from a stay at home mum to working a triple shift – looking after the home, the family and a job.
As the primary caregiver in the UK, it appears that working mothers are perhaps the worst-affected by the childcare crisis, with a recent study revealing that 72% have been forced to reduce their hours (capping their earning potential) due to a lack of childcare.
But what will be the long-term affects of a mother having to put her career second?
Higher levels of female unemployment
Less women in senior roles
Increased gender pay gap
With 46% of working mothers stating that childcare was a deciding factor in their redundancy since the pandemic broke, this issue cannot be ignored any longer.
Therefore, in order to avoid taking a step back into the 40s, we must act now to support working parents as a whole.
An employee is entitled to take reasonable time off as “dependants leave” but only in specified circumstances. There is no statutory obligation on employers to pay the employee for the time off and what is “reasonable” is not mandated.
An employee also has a separate entitlement to take unpaid parental leave of up to 18 weeks (per child), at any time until the child is 18; but advance notice must be given (whereas time off for dependants is designed to deal with emergency situations). One type of leave could transition into the other.
For more information about the rights surrounding work and childcare, download our detailed 9-page explainer in our Return to Work Toolkit.
In addition to dependants leave and unpaid parental leave, anyone who has worked for 26-weeks continuously has the statutory right to submit a formal flexible working request.
The request can include possible changes to work arrangements, such as:
Reduction or variation of working hours
Reduction or variation of the days worked
Working from a different location, eg home.
Employer Support – Going The Extra Mile
With all that said, what can employers do above the legal minimum to make the lives of working parents better? Well, here are just a few things to consider:
Normalise Working Parents
Everyone knows THAT news segment where the toddler broke in during an interview on BBC. But, have you seen how they handled the more recent interview with Dr Clare Wenham and her toddler’s unicorn? Normalising parenting can go a long way to reducing anxiety around childcare.
As with all change, ensure your leadership get on board and lead by example – being a parent and being a professional should not be a paradox.
As the pandemic escalates the shift away from ‘traditional’ ways of working, it’s important to carefully consider your employee’s requests and try to be as accommodating as possible. Failure to do so will likely push them towards a decision of ‘work or home’ – meaning that you could lose out on quality talent.
Download our free flexible working request form and flexible working methods explainer here.
Simple and effective: showing compassion and understanding to working parents can reduce the fear surrounding this widespread issue.
In such stressful times, employers should be making it as easy as possible for working parents to follow the rules and government guidance. For example, if an employee is concerned that they will lose their job if required to care for children forced to isolate, they may be encouraged to illegally break the isolation period to hide issues from their employer. This will put your workforce as a whole in jeopardy.
To combat the negative experiences of many, we must establish a safer, more understanding environment where employees are able to be transparent about the issues they face – without fear of an adverse reaction.
Putting formal policies in place to protect both the employee and employer can help establish a more collaborative approach to problem-solving. For example, by having a homeworking policy in place, employers can feel in control of individuals who seek to work from home on a more permanent basis.
Do you have employees from the EU working within your business? Changes to the law may mean that they have to reapply to secure their residency status with the new EU Settle Status.
To make this transition period easier, we’ll be stepping you through what you need to know as an employer to support the welfare of these employees in such indefinite times.
What is the EU Settle Status?
On 31 January 2020, the United Kingdom officially left the European Union. Although no official deal has been agreed upon yet, changes have started to slowly filter through – one of the largest being ‘Settled Status’.
But what is settled status and why does it matter?
Settled status is the term for being a resident in the UK without any immigration restrictions on the length of your stay. There are two types of status in the EU Settlement Scheme:
EU citizens who are granted settled status are permitted to stay in the UK as long as they choose; they can also apply for a British citizenship if they are eligible.
Pre-settled status – which is usually granted to those who have not lived in the UK for five continuous years – allows inhabitants to stay in the UK for a further five years from the date they are granted pre-settled status. After this period, individuals can reapply for full settled status.
Before beginning the application process for settlement status, applicants should have ready proof of identity and residency. It may also be worth double-checking that applicants have not already received pre-agreed settle status here.
What does this mean for employees?
Citizens of the EU, EEA or Switzerland can apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to continue living in the UK after 30 June 2021. Without confirmed settlement status, these citizens will not have the assumed right to:
Work in the UK
Use the NHS for free
Enrol in education (or continue studying)
Access public funds, such as benefits (if eligible)
Enter the UK without a visa
Employees that do not have settled status face the potential risk of having paperwork refused, being unable to work legally in the UK and even deportation – uprooting their family, career and life.
Therefore, it is important to support your EU workforce through their application to ensure there is no disruption to their legal right to work or live in the UK after this deadline.
How can employers help?
Importance of application:
As employers, there is no legal requirement to inform your workforce of the impending deadline but it’s a good idea to ensure there are no legal hiccups (and it also feels like the right thing to do).
Employers do not require proof that employees have applied but getting status through the scheme will protect their future rights, so it is very important that they apply if you want them to continue working for you.
There are a few practical steps you can take to encourage your employees to apply.
Why not start by sending a letter to all your EU employees? It doesn’t have to take much time with letter templates already drafted up and ready to go. You can also ensure visual cues help prompt their minds by displaying informative posters.
Remember: although you can encourage people to apply, as an employer, you cannot ask them whether they have or about the outcome.
Supporting the process itself:
The process itself was designed to be as seamless as possible. However, with the added complication of coronavirus, a few spanners have been thrown in the works.
Due to many businesses being shut for a number of months and international travel complications, employees may have struggled to renew expiring passports. Therefore, workers may require flexible hours or additional holiday days to address this before their application.
Further, it may be useful to make your facilities available for support. For example, at this time, many printing shops and internet cafes are shut due to the pandemic. Therefore, pre-granting access for your employees to use your scanner, printer or work phone for their application may aid their progress.
Finally, although it is not standard procedure, if the employee requires any documentation to support their application then provide this in a timely manner; holding this process up will cause additional stress for the employee, distracting them from their work and prolonging indecision.
The uncertainty formed in the last few months has had an impact on everyone. However, we must consider those who experience further doubt about their rights within the country compassionately.
Managing stress and keeping a close eye on employees is essential at all times. Look out for key indicators of deteriorating wellbeing, such as:
Where possible, refer employees for additional support and be compassionate towards their situation. It may be worth considering ways you can support employees with stress outside of work with flexible working, duvet days or even a shift in the workplace culture.
The charity MIND has some great, free resources to help individuals manage stress – at work and home. Could sharing some of their best resources equip your taskforce with more resilience?
Considering your current employees is a great first step, but what about future employees?
If you are planning on recruiting before the settlement deadline, it’s important that you don’t sit on your hands.
Speeding up your recruitment process will allow your business to:
Beat the deadline;
Widen your search for talent;
Allow the successful candidate (if from the EU) to apply for settlement status in time.
As an employer, you have a duty “not to discriminate against EU citizens in light of the UK’s decision to leave the EU as both a prospective and current employer”.
That means that you cannot make an offer of employment, or continued employment, dependent on an individual having made an application. However, consideration should not stop here; ensure you address workplace discrimination at all levels for a safe working environment for all.
Checking your processes and procedures for bias
Educating employees on how to report discrimination
Including EU citizens in your diversity reports
Reminding employees of the fine line between ‘banter’ and discriminatory harassment
Ensuring you have the processes in place to address hostility appropriately
Right to work checks:
It has been confirmed that there will be no change to right to work checks until 1 January 2021. That means that job applicants can continue to prove their right to work using any of the following:
their valid passport or national identity card if they’re an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen
their valid biometric residence card if they’re a non-EU, EEA or Swiss citizen family member
their status under the EU Settlement Scheme using the Home Office’s online right to work checking service.
You will not be required to undertake retrospective checks on existing EU employees. Therefore, changes will only apply to applications in the new year.
We are living in very strange times and it is not the first time I have said that…
Who would ever have thought 3 months ago that we would all be cooped up in our own homes for days at a time, let out for an hour, having to queue for our shopping, fretting about toilet roll and tinned tomatoes, baking banana bread and relying on a thing called Zoom we had barely even heard of? Some days, I feel like we’re trapped in some weird apocalyptic Netflix drama – but maybe that’s just because I’ve spent a while watching that too – Tiger King and White Lines anyone?
Moving Forward – HR in a Post-Lockdown World
However, lockdown didn’t keep us down for long. We adapted surprisingly quickly, kept going and it’s starting to feel like we’re finally coming out on the other side.
That’s the reason for this blog to be honest…
My raison d’etre is to help small businesses navigate the intricacies and plain madness that comes from employing staff, so I decided to make things easier for you all and put together a pack with all the common questions I am being asked by you about the ‘BIG RETURN’ – along with some guidance, information and resources that should help ease your concerns.
The amazing Helen Fleet will also be contributing from a financial standpoint (we are all in this together).
So, you want to open up and start the BIG RETURN, what should you do?
Firstly, you need to think about what your organisation needs to look like; i.e. will it be the same or will you need to pivot and change?
Do you need to bring people back into the office or keep them working from home for a while or for the foreseeable future?
Have you furloughed staff you need to bring back or are you keeping them on furlough or a bit of both?
Will some staff be returning at all?
Bringing People Back
What should you be considering before you bring people back? Making these considerations is a great place to start…
1. The big first tranche of returnees will occur in July where the furlough rules are changing to allow employees to be furloughed on a part-time basis. If you need to take employees off furlough, it is advisable to write to them to have it confirmed. In our COVID support kit, we’ve crafted a brief returning from furlough letter template to make this an easy task.
2. You need to do a Risk Assessment for each returning employee. Unfortunately, the only COVID specific risk assessment I could find is from the Northern Ireland HSE but its great and I highly recommend you use this as a basis for your risk assessments. You can view it within the risk assessment pack of our toolkit here.
3. You need to get your offices ready so that the appropriate level of social distancing can occur. It’s also a good idea to deep clean the office if you can and provide plenty of hand sanitiser, soap and notices from the HSE around hygiene and safe practice. Encouraging good hygiene practice will help to keep to kill the virus.
4. You also need to think about your employees’ journeys to work. Does this put them at risk?
5. It may be worth considering staggering and extending hours, and whether working more flexibly could help your business get back quicker. Check out our Flexible Working Policy within our pack for more information on this.
6. Do you even want your employees in the office at all – or would you prefer they worked from home? If so, we’ve also created a Working from Home Policy to help you formalise and control this agreement.
7. You may want to restructure.
8. You may need to consider redundancies.
These are just some of the considerations you may want to make before rushing back to work.
When They Return
Mental health, divorce, feelings of anxiety and displacement, pure joy and relief – these are just some of the things you must prepare to face on your return.
But don’t worry, CrosseHR are here to help and we have you covered. Our comprehensive Return to Work Toolkit has been drawn up by experts and our team. It’s designed to help provide you with everything you need to get started, including:
Information on Ending Furlough
Return to Work Letter Template
Information for Directors
Health and Wellbeing Policy
Sickness and Isolation Support
Health and Safety Guidance
Changing Terms and Conditions
Childcare and Returning to Work
Conducting Return to Work Interviews
Flexible Working Policy
Flexible Working Request Form
Flexible Working Methods
Stress Awareness Template
Supporting Employees – Debt
Energise – Tackle Business Finances with Helen Fleet
Supporting Employees – Divorce
So feel free to download it, it’s on us! And, if you want to chat further, we are always delighted to help.
It can be hard to keep on top of the latest advice and regulations at the best of times when you’re spread thin and busy with deadlines – let alonein the middle of a global pandemic.
Understandably, many of our clients feel overwhelmed by all the information outthere. Especially with so many opinion pieces and inaccurate assumptions, it can be hard to know what to trust.
To help you cut through all of this noise, we’ve collated some useful resources to help address your most pressing concerns.
This article outlines some of the key changes that you should be aware of and points you in the right direction for more information and support should you need it.
We hope it helps in this stressful time.
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
It is well reported that HMRC will reimburse 80% of furloughed workers’ wage costs up to a cap of £2,500pm. This is part of their plan to support businesses during the coronavirus outbreak.
Who counts as a furloughed worker?
A furloughed worker is someone who is still employed but not working, perhaps due to a lack of work. The purpose of this scheme is to help businesses to continue paying employees that would have otherwise been laid off by putting them on temporary leave.
Furloughed employees must have been on your PAYE payroll on 28 February 2020, and can be on any type of contract, including:
Employees on agency contracts
Employees on flexible or zero-hour contracts
If you have made employees redundant since 28 February 2020, you can rehire and cover these employees under the scheme too.
What will it cost the employer?
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is open to all UK employersfor at least three months starting from 1 March 2020. In addition to the 80% grant covered by the government, businesses must also pay:
Employer National Insurance contribution
Minimum enrolment employer pension contribution
Where a company is being taken under the management of an administrator, the administrator will be able to access the Job Retention Scheme.
If you’re self-isolating because of COVID-19, you are entitled to receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) of £94.25 per week.
When can I claim SSP?
New legislation has been brought forward to give you access to SSP from the first day you’re self-isolating and cannot work. This new legislation came into action on 13.03.20 and overrides the previous 4-day caveat.
In light of the coronavirus creating business uncertainty and high levels of stress, the Treasury confirmed that they would postpone IR35 for another year.
This means that businesses now have until April 2021 to address the reforms necessary. These changes will drive major change in the contracting industry.
What is IR35?
IR35 is designed to combat tax avoidance by “disguised employees”. Under new rules, every medium and large private sector business in the UK will become liable for setting the tax status of any employee that they hire – including contract and temporary workers.
The new rules will apply to businesses with either:
An annual turnover of over £10.2 million
With many companies already reviewing their policies and contracts in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, now is a great time to address IR35 so that you’re prepared when the changes come in next April.
As of April 2020, The Good Work Plan comes into place. This is a plan that sets out the government’s vision for the future of the UK labour market. It seeks to “reward people for hard work” in a bid to boost productivity and earnings in the UK.
The new plan details how to address issues in our labour market, such as:
The implications of new forms of work
The rise of digital platforms
Impacts of new working models
The Good Work Plan also draws on recommendations about:
Typically, your employee’s largest financial outgoing will be their monthly mortgage payment.
Taking a break from their mortgage – with a mortgage holiday of up to three months – can act as welcome financial relief. In this unsettling time, if you are having to cut or reduce hours, it may be worth providing some resources for your employees to access this aid.
Am I Eligible?
Whether you are eligible to take a payment holiday, for how long, and the conditions you must meet depends on:
Your mortgage contract
Your financial circumstance
It is best to advice that your employee contacts their bank directly to discuss a mortgage payment holiday. However, please do make them aware that this will make their payments go up afterwards.
What About Those Who Rent?
The government has announced a package of measures to protect renters that may be affected by Coronavirus and a subsequent loss of earnings. The emergency legislation means:
You cannot be evicted from social or private rented accommodation while this national emergency is taking place
Landlords can take out a mortgage holiday on their Buy to Let mortgage
If you are still unsure about how you should be responding to the COVID-19 outbreak, please refer to GOV.UK platform here. It is frequently updated with the latest information and advice.
For further guidance for employees, employers and businesses, please visit the government websitehere.
It is well recognised that isolation and the stress of the outbreak may be triggering for many, leading to a decline in mental health.
In order to help you address this, we’ve attached some useful resources that help you become aware of your own mental state and some handy tips that may help you look after yourself during this difficult time.
Discover how you should be looking after your mental health during the Coronavirus outbreak here.
The mental health charity, MIND, have also released some support and resources to help you during this time. You can access this here.
Working from Home
If you’ve recently transitioned from office to home, the resources below may help you settle into your new work environment more seamlessly!
Tips for creating a positive environment to work from are available here.
Top tips for working from home are also availablehere.
We also appreciate that it is especially hard for those who are working from home whilst simultaneously juggling homeschooling. If you’re looking for some advice about working from home with children, you can find some tips here.
If you have any concerns or questions about the latest changes in legislation or how they may affect you, please do not hesitate tocontact us online or email email@example.com and we will try our best to point you in the right direction.
Thrive and Survive is a community created by a collective of business people who are coming together to help you overcome the current financial crisis and come out of this with a stronger business.
I recently shared my thoughts on the HR implications of COVID-19 in a webinar that covered:
How to deal with 3 scenarios of people ‘out of the business’ with COVID-19 related reasons
Furloughing workers – who’re eligible, what are the rules and how to do it
Common questions on partial furloughing
Advice on keeping in touch with staff, engagement, and productivity
Lots of chat on the positives arising for business and the opportunity when this is all over
Please excuse the noise in the background – we can thank the joys of remote working in a busy city for that!
Hopefully, it’s not too distracting and you find it useful.
[PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR LATEST UPDATE]
Since recording this webinar, a lot has changed. It seems that every day new data comes to light, so we just wanted to drop in a little more information to support you with the HR implications of COVID-19.
Since the government briefing on 10.05.20, lockdown restrictions are beginning to lift for certain businesses – but this doesn’t mean you should be too hasty in heading back to work. Let’s take a little look at why…
Health and Safety:
It is important at this point to remind you that it is your moral responsibility to protect the health and safety of your colleagues. Before rushing back to work, ensure you address some primary concerns, including:
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Cleaning, including providing ample hand-washing facilities
Before inviting your employees back into the workplace, ensure you follow the guidance of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). As well as directing you towards some useful resources, including industry-specific support for certain work settings, they are regularly updating their website with guidance to help your safe transition back to work.
Talking to Your Employees:
In this stressful time, we must not neglect our duty to check in on our employees.
This high-stress environment is unsettling for everyone, especially those with vulnerable or shielded loved ones. Ensure you communicate with empathy as you seek to return to normal and make reasonable adjustments where possible.
Return to Work Interviews
If you have had members of staff on furlough for a number of months, it may also be worth considering whether a return to work interview would be of use. This short, informal meeting may help you address your workforce’s concerns and facilitate a successful transition back to the office. If you need a little guidance, why not lean on our slick and consistent process here?
Involving Employees in the Process:
By consulting and involving your employees in the steps you are taking to manage the risk of coronavirus in your workplace you can:
Explain the changes
Illustrate the safety practices in place
Make sure changes will work – their operational input may be vital
Hear their ideas and address their concerns
Continue to operate your business safely during the outbreak
It is also recommended that you share the results of your risk assessment with your workforce. Where possible, publish the results on your website (note: the government expects all employers with over 50 workers to do so).
If you are unsure where to start with this, HSENI has released an example COVID-19 risk assessment to help you on your way. You can download via their website.
Need some advice?
If you have any questions about the HR implications of COVID-19 or you’d like to discuss how to run return to work interviews, please do get in contact. We hope this has been of use during this stressful time.
One of the most common questions I get asked is ‘What shall I put in an employee reference’?
It’s all well and good if everyone got on, there were no problems and the employee in question left on good terms, that does not tend to pose any questions.
It’s the iffy, ‘I was well rid but really don’t want to say so’ references that cause the dilemmas.
In short, you can give a factually based reference for everyone, the good, the bad and the indifferent.
These are the key details to confirm:
Start and end date of employment
Short disclaimer at the bottom
That way you cannot be accused of discrimination in any form as you are treating everyone the same. Steer clear from personal opinions because they are exactly that – personal and can cause all sorts of issues.
Keep it short and to the point. For guidance simply download our How-To Guide, which contains a sample reference policy and wording here or call us on 0330 555 1139.