Most businesses have been hit and are working hard to find ways of making adjustments to ensure they can come out of this crisis the other side.
Employees are being faced with requests to agree to furloughing, temporary reductions in salary, reduced hours and salary deferrals.
The possibility of redundancies still loams large, but such concerns are more medium term. Employees are also faced with working at home issues – whilst a lot of businesses have had remote working policies, few have in reality been faced with putting them into action – with the unpredicted speed of actions having to now be taken, this has clearly put the resilience of businesses systems to the ultimate test.
Frustrations will occur, but it is how those issues have been managed which will affect how employees can continue to work. In short, in these times communication comes all the more to the fore.
If people are being furloughed, what are their employment rights?
If you’re furloughed, you’re not expected to work but you would be entitled to 80% of your salary up to the £2,500 per month cap (under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme). The concern for such people will be whether, in the event that redundancies subsequently become necessary, if they are being preselected for redundancy. The position is that is not necessarily the case. Additionally, just because someone is furloughed, they retain their employment rights. The furloughing does not give the employer carte blanche to do what they want with employees. Employees retain their unfair dismissal and other rights.
What about if you feel you’ve been told to go to work and you feel it is unsafe or you feel you could work from home in line with the advice?
If you can work from home, the Government advice is clear and you should be working at home. If the employer says they want you in the office, but you can work from home, then any reasonable employer would agree to this. Indeed, not agreeing could lead to an argument of constructive dismissal.
If an employee cannot work at home but feel it is unsafe, typically based on the social distancing guidelines, there is a dilemma for the employer. If an employee cannot work in the office, then they are entitled to be paid or, if the employer and employee elects, to be furloughed. If they can work in the office and cannot work at home, then it will take a strong employer to cease the employee’s pay.
Most reasonable employers are seeking to be flexible, especially with the myriad of differing circumstances, including for example that an employee is living with a person in the vulnerable group. The reality is that during this unprecedented time people are not looking to what claims they will have, but rather seeking to maintain the status quo in so far as that is possible; indeed, that is the wish of most employers as well.