James Davies and Amy Cooper: How are employers continuing to deal with Covid-19?

James Davies and Amy Cooper: How are employers continuing to deal with Covid-19?

The Covid-19 (Coronavirus) crisis presents businesses with multiple challenges, including how to continue to get the best out of their workforce while keeping them safe.

Many employees have had to juggle childcare and schooling responsibilities with working in makeshift home offices. The government’s furlough scheme has, meanwhile, helped preserve jobs where employers face a downturn in work or homeworking is not possible, but it features numerous complexities.

As the Coronavirus situation continues to evolve and lockdown eases, new challenges emerge. Debate has recently centred on what the ‘new normal’ might look like, and how to manage the return to the workplace.

Lewis Silkin has conducted a series of employer surveys since March, collecting information from HR and legal professionals in a range of businesses on how they are responding to the pandemic. The results of the latest survey, in early June, indicate that long-term change is upon us.

A fifth (20%) of employers participating did not predict opening their workplaces until September. A third expected there to be a gap between the end of the furlough scheme in October and the return to ‘normal’, with half of those predicting that redundancies might be necessary as they emerge from lockdown.

When asked about what measures employers might maintain in the longer term, increased homeworking arrangements and flexible start and finish times were the most frequent responses. Respondents to the survey also mentioned greater use of technology, reducing or re-working their office space and cutting down on travel.

Employers’ willingness to maintain some of these measures could be influenced by the fact that 53% reported productivity levels either staying the same or increasing during the period of remote working. They should not overlook, however, that employees’ mental health has, in some cases, been adversely affected; 27% of employers had seen a significant increase in reported mental health problems. That said, as we emerge from lockdown, employees will be relieved of some of the immediate challenges to homeworking such as isolation and the juggling of childcare responsibilities.

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At the time of the survey, 66% of respondents had not yet completed a Coronavirus risk assessment. It is vital that employers take time to carefully evaluate risks and consult with their workforce as they plan forwards. Employees’ needs must be balanced against those of the business when deciding which measures to implement, with health and safety being the overriding priority.

James Davies is a partner and Amy Cooper is an associate at Lewis Silkin.