HOT HR TOPICS - What is everyone talking about?
1. COVID Vaccination – What can we do about those employees that refuse to have it?
I consider this issue to unfortunately be a minefield for employers. The guidance keeps changing and Public Health legislation doesn't give employers the ability to mandate vaccinations. There are human rights arguments as well as potential discrimination claims to consider.
We do of course have the recent Allette v Scarsdale Grange Nursing Home Limited case in which a dismissal for conduct (failure to obey a reasonable management instruction) was found to be fair. Each case will need to be decided on its merits and employers can't presume all conduct dismissals will be regarded as fair, especially if the employee is exempt from taking the vaccine.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has warned that blanket policies that are applied inflexibly are likely to be unlawful due to the vaccination not being suitable to all and because some employees will have disabilities preventing them from taking the vaccine. Health & Safety aspects such as protecting staff and members of the public will need to be balanced with any disadvantage caused to the employee that may be dismissed. All other options such as re-deployment and unpaid leave should be considered fist.
Employers should also be mindful of potential conduct issues, where colleagues may act inappropriately towards their colleagues who are choosing not to be vaccinated.
We are finding that Judges are employer friendly when it comes to Covid and vaccination issues but ultimately, there are many factors which make it difficult to offer advice that will be suitable for all situations. I therefore encourage employers to seek guidance and legal advice on each individual case and be wary of approaches like "no jab – no job" as they can't be implemented without significant risk.
2. Workforce Retention – Why are so many employees resigning?
During the pandemic we have certainly seen an increase in people changing jobs which may be surprising when there has been so many unfortunate redundancies and just generally a lot uncertainty out there. In addition to many employees leaving, employers are also finding it hard to recruit replacements.
High levels of stress and what has been described as a lack of support and care from managers, seems to be at the top of the list for why employees start looking for other jobs. I think it is safe to say that we have all felt stressed and weary over the pandemic and some have seen an increase in their workload whilst others have been furloughed and become disconnected from their jobs. Having to deal with the impact COVID has had on the workplace has been a huge ordeal for management teams who are also trying to do their day jobs; so it is no wonder that they may have become less available.
There are of course many factors that result in employees leaving. I believe communication and engagement is key. Staff want to feel appreciated and respected and know that they are valued and cared for. Flexibility is also essential.
When it comes to recruitment, you may want to think about your employer brand. Individuals are doing far more research into companies before even accepting an interview. Your culture, company mission and initiatives around diversity are important. People want to know what your employees are saying and will look for videos or reviews (sites like Glassdoor) before making a final decision. So, sharing events and employee views on social media may be a good place to start!
If you are faced with someone leaving and want them to stay, talk it through and see if a solution can be reached. Employees leaving can be unsettling for their colleagues and lead to further resignations. Organise team events. Don't let your appraisals slip by. Keep in regular contact with your staff. Show them you listen and that you care.
3. Working from Home – Can we insist employees return back to the office?
As we know, the pandemic forced organsiations to change their working model and some didn’t realise it was even possible to have everyone working from home. I appreciate this option was not available to all businesses but certainly office based companies had to embrace homeworking in order to deliver their service. But now businesses are facing some reluctance from their staff in coming back into the office.
In a nutshell, if homeworking was introduced as a temporary measure because of the pandemic, then there is no reason why employers cannot expect everyone to return to their usual contractual place of work – the office. But! There is always a but - could there be negative consequences?
Even pre-pandemic, flexible working was considered one of the most important benefits to workers, producing a positive impact on productivity, worker retention and quality of work. But homeworking isn’t for everyone and can lead to people feeling disconnected and less motivated, so there is a balance to be struck. Trusting employees to get on with their work but in a flexible manner that allows them to deal with home life (without having to book holiday or ring in sick), has in my view, resulted in huge benefits for all. Problems with overcrowded offices and car parks have been eradicated, less overheads and a reduction is absence are few of the positives employers have experienced. Having more time and reduced travelling costs is of course a bonus to workers.
Businesses and workers have seen firsthand that flexible working patterns and home working doesn’t prevent the job from being done or negatively affect the quality of work. Going back to being stuck in an office 9-5pm, 5 days a week with long commute I believe, will lead to resentment and ultimately resignations.
Please also be mindful of flexible working requests and potential discrimination claims. Asking individuals to return to how they used to work is different to dealing with an individual request to alter a working pattern. Seek advice in the event this happens, to firstly ensure it is dealt with in accordance with current legal requirements but does also not open you up to indirect discrimination claims.
I understand that everyone being back in the office is a preference for many employers. People do want to reconnect and have a presence. If you are experiencing a refusal from anyone to come back to the office, seek advice on how to manage the situation. There could be grounds to discipline depending on the case.