By Helen Astill, MD Cherington HR Ltd.

Employers have seen their businesses turned upside down by the impact of coronavirus, altering the way we all work for the foreseeable future. Many businesses in the sector have been told to close by the government, meaning you will probably be trying to understand the complexities of the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and attempting getting your head around the frequent changes to the new Furlough rules.

However, there will be a lot of businesses who are somewhere in the middle with some employees furloughed, some working on site and others working from home (WFH). And in amongst all that, you may have had employees off sick, struggling with childcare or worried about elderly or vulnerable relatives, whilst you are trying to work out if you are eligible to claim any of the other government funded finance schemes.

The difficulties have been immense, but things are now starting to settle as the first furlough payments have appeared and there is talk about how to restart the economy. Businesses will need to embrace a new way of working and you need to be ready to move forward as soon as the situation allows. So, what can you do?

Look after your employees

Firstly, you need to look after your staff – I know you will have been worried about your business, but they will be worried about their jobs and families too, so keep in touch with them regularly. Even if they are furloughed and unable to do any work, there is nothing to stop you checking in on them as a friend to make sure that they are OK; that they are not feeling unwell (and if they are what to do about that). You can also tell them how things are going and what your plans are. Treating staff well will encourage them to support you as you restart your business.

Plan ahead

It is important to think about how you can start to open up your business again. What will social distancing mean? Will you have to make more adjustments to the layout of your premises, the cleaning routines or access for staff and customers? Be creative – remember you can invent new ways of doing things and this will be an opportunity to put in place things that you may not have tried before. There have been lots of businesses who have introduced new services, for example some hotels have started delivering cooked meals. Think about whether this could become the “new normal” rather than simply reverting to what you did before.

Think about training you can offer staff

Whilst staff are furloughed, they are not allowed to work such that it would generate an income for you, but they can undertake training. There are lots of free online courses available and this could be the opportunity for you to get staff primed for your revised offering. Even if it is not directly relevant, it could be motivating for staff to be encouraged to learn new skills. For example, see those being offered by the Open University. Just bear in mind that if you are asking staff to do training for your business, they must receive the National Minimum Wage (NMW) whilst doing it. If they are at or near the NMW for their age band and you are paying them a furlough rate of 80% you may need to top that up for the days that they are training.

Look at your staffing

Will you need all the employees you currently have? Sadly, if that is not the case think about how many posts you may have to lose. If it is 20 or more, you must submit a form HR1 to the government. And there are specific timescales and rules for consultation to observe before making redundancies. If there are fewer than 20 posts affected, you can consult with the individuals directly (which may need to be done by video conference). If they are furloughed, it may be possible to use some or all of that time as their notice period, but you may need to top those up to 100%, so would in effect be paying 20% of their wages once you have received the furlough grant. Any statutory redundancy pay would need to be paid when they leave. You cannot claim for that, but it would not normally be subject to tax or National Insurance.

No matter your situation, talk to a reputable HR Adviser to evaluate your options, as there are probably more than you think!