Preparing for Alert Level 2
The transition from Alert Level 3 to Level 2 will represent only a small change for some employers, but for others there will be a lot to do to prepare.
Staggered returns and shift/hours changes to allow physical distancing
Due to physical distancing requirements and decreased workflow, only a few employers have been in a position to have all of their staff return to site at the same time on the same hours as before the lockdown.
If you re-opened at Level 3 with a skeleton staff which will ramp up under Level 2, or if you are not able to open until Level 2, here’s what you need to know if you want to stagger your teams’ return to work:
- You must establish a fair selection criteria for deciding who will return to work and for what hours:
- Firstly, what are the roles that are required?
- If there is more than one person in the same role, you may choose to base this on tenure (longest standing employees given the option to return first), or you may rotate – week about or some other practical arrangement.
- You must then communicate with all employees regarding the proposedplan for their return to work. This letter should outline your plan, include the rationale for what you are proposing, and include a feedback form where the employee can accept the proposal and/or provide comment (ideally allow 24 hours for feedback). The letter should include all proposed changes to terms and conditions, including:
- The payment arrangements for each employee. Consider what you will propose for people able to work full-time hours, people working reduced hours, and those still unable to carry out work – bearing in mind that if you received the wage subsidy, this must be passed on in full, regardless of hours worked or not.
- Will you be requesting or directing (with 14 days’ notice) people to take their Annual Leave entitlement?
- You may, for example, want employees to take one day per week, with half the team having a Monday off and the other half Friday off
- Are you proposing a temporary change or reduction in hours? This may be to allow for physical distancing, a reduction in workflow, or both.
- Are you proposing a change in role responsibilities? You may be able to re-deploy people into different roles or re-distribute work. Your operation may have changed to look quite different under Alert Level 3, which will change employees’ duties.
- After allowing your employees to respond to your proposal, you must consider any feedback received
- Confirm your final decision in writing and implement the plan
High-risk employees – to return or not to return?
At this stage, the recommendation at Alert Level 2 is that high-risk people should stay at home where possible. However, like at Level 3, the Covid-19 website outlines that high-risk employees should agree alongside with their employer whether they return to work or not. Our recommendation is that, if it’s practicable, allow your employee to make the decision and then build a plan around their preference. If they are returning to work, extra care should be taken to ensure that they are safe. Involve the employee themselves in the process of coming up with a plan that works for the business and the employee.
Planning and communicating for new work practices as a result of Covid-19
Good communication has always been vital and key to a successful business. It is even more crucial during times of change and adversity. We recommend that you:
- Sort out your communication channels – ideally use as many as possible to ensure you reach everyone in a way that works for them. While meetings will be limited in size and frequency, use phone calls, Zoom, Whatsapp groups, emails, memos, letters and whiteboards/notices in the kitchen or work areas.
- Remember that good communication is a two-way street – ask for feedback, ideas and responses. Take feedback on board and let the team know that you are making adjustments based on what you’ve heard from them
- Finding ways to get the team to contribute is especially important in matters of Health and Safety and is a key requirement under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. If you don’t already have a H&S committee, now is the time to get one going. Your employees are the experts at what they do day-to-day and you will get a lot more buy-in when the messages come from within and not above.
- Don’t just rely on training and memos – use signs and notices to communicate new ways of working as people take on new ways of working and break old habits. Consider language barriers and use multiple languages and pictures where required
- Celebrate the bright spots and the wins. Consider instating (or re-instating) employee of the week/month, company newsletters and other ways of sharing good news stories. This is how you can reinforce your new work practises.
For those that have been working from home, we must consider if/when/how they return to office environments
Under Alert Level 2, we are still asked to work from home wherever possible. If you need the team to return to the office, think about how you can safely achieve this. It could be that people work from the office every second work day or for half of the week. These arrangements may be in place for some time, so before making a decision, seek feedback and ideas from your team.
Reducing hours, pay and carrying out redundancies
Despite best efforts, unfortunately many employers will need to look at pay/hours reductions and redundancies as a result of Covid-19 and the economic fallout. We’ve shared this before, but if you missed it, here are the steps:
- First, you will need to write a business case for why you believe change is required. Include important details such as sales figures and projections.
- Next, write a communication plan – who is potentially impacted by this proposed change and how will you communicate with them? Individually, team meetings or a company-wide briefing? Will anyone be on leave during this time? How and when will you communicate with them?
- Finally, get your ducks in a row. Review Individual Employment Agreements, read Job Descriptions, pull payroll information to double check details such as current pay, titles and hours. Run a risk assessment for each – is the role you are considering to be disestablished similar to another role in the business? If so, do both employees need to be included in the consultation process as two positions becomes one?
Draft up letters for all affected employees. The letter must:
- Explain the proposed change
- Outline the proposed impact to their particular role
- Give the reasons for this proposed change
- Say what will happen to them if the change goes ahead
- Include the details for how the employee can submit feedback and the deadline for this
- Either propose a time for a meeting to hear feedback, or offer the opportunity for the employee to book a meeting if they want to ask questions or provide verbal feedback
- Emphasise that no decision has been made, and that this won’t happen until you have received their feedback
- Give details of a proposed timeline. Seek feedback on this as well
- Hold your consultation meetings.
- Ideally, where only a small number of people are impacted and redundancy is a possibility you will hold these face-to-face. You can set this meeting up ‘informally’ by simply inviting the employee to a meeting, but we recommend that you let them know that what you need to discuss may impact their role, and that they are welcome to bring a support person – allowing them time to arrange this. In large company-wide restructures, and with the Covid-19 restrictions, this ‘heads up’ will not always be possible.
- Read through or summarise the letter
- Answer initial questions, but try not to get into receiving feedback in this meeting
- Hold feedback meetings. Often questions will be raised at these meetings. If you don’t know the answer, commit to coming back with it as soon as possible. You must remain open, honest and communicative throughout. If you take too long to respond to questions or do not answer them at all, you risk an argument that the deadline for feedback should be extended.
- Consider Feedback
- It is important to consider feedback in good faith. If, as a result of the feedback, you want to make changes to the proposal you need to decide whether to go back and consult on the new proposal.
- Give yourself time to adequately consider feedback – usually 48 hours
- If you’ve received a lot of feedback from numerous employees, group it into themes and write out your response to each ‘thread’ and any changes to the proposal made as a result
- Having considered any feedback and made a decision, you need to draft up a second letter outlining your decision. This should include:
- A summary of feedback received and your response
- Any changes made to the proposal as a result of the feedback
- What your final decision is, and the outcome for the employee’s role, including timing. If applicable, you may include details around final pay
- If redeployment is an option or a selection process will follow, provide the details for this
- Consider what outplacement support you can offer and outline this in the letter – this could include career coaching, assistance with writing a CV, an interview technique workshop, and financial planning resources.
Note: If you have applied for the wage subsidy for an employee, you must retain them for the 12-week period of the subsidy. You may consult with the employee during the subsidy period and confirm your decision, but the last day of employment must fall after the wage subsidy ends. Otherwise you will be in breach of your obligations and will be required to pay the wage subsidy back.
Every business is different and, as such, will have different employment issues and concerns presented by COVID-19. Positive People is available to help. Call us on 09 445 1077 or email firstname.lastname@example.org