Covid-19 brings significant change to many aspects of workforce operations.
As an employer, you may want to review the options going forwards. Change to employee roles, working hours, working patterns or workplace may all be on the agenda. Could staggered hours help employees come back to the workplace safely? If homeworking has been a success, could you use it long term to cut property costs? A degree of reorganisation may make sound business sense, enabling you to build for the future.
But any adaptations, permanent or temporary, require you to tread carefully, with due regard to relevant employment law. Change to terms and conditions of work is essentially change to the employment contract. Some contracts contain a flexibility clause, allowing you to vary terms, but are unlikely to permit a fundamental change to hours or pay. In the absence of a flexibility clause, look to agree any change with your employees. Express employee (and in some circumstances trade union) agreement to the proposed change is advisable in most cases. Simply trying to force change through can open the pandora's box of claims for breach of contract and the risk of legal action by employees. It is also important to step back and look at the bigger picture. Which individuals are being asked to accept change? Are you confident that you have closed the door on any question of discrimination? That you can show that no one has been selected because of a characteristic protected under the Equality Act 2010, such as age or disability?
Change can be agreed verbally or in writing, but where change affects something included in the written statement of employment particulars, it must be notified to employees in writing, within a month of the change being effected.
Any change to the small print is best done through dialogue and employee engagement. And as businesses emerge from lockdown, workers are likely to need particular reassurance about plans for the future. At this point, make regular two-way communication with your workforce a priority in order to carry them with you. The Arbitration and Conciliation Service provides guidance on how to go about changing employment contracts https://bit.ly/2Cz6we9. We would, however, strongly recommend professional advice tailored to your own circumstances. Please do not hesitate to contact us for help reviewing your options.