contracts of employmentemployment lawhealth and safetylay offpay reductionsredundancyshort-time workingtermination of employment

Crikey! The world is changing before our eyes. Only a few weeks ago, a typical commute to work on the train was an environment full of people in various states of boredom, tiredness or, alternatively, being noticeably transfixed with their phones or Kindles. Now, in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, it is a place of tension and anxiety, where the smallest cough by an individual (this morning by a frail-looking elderly lady) draws dagger-like stares and instant seat shuffling.

On sight of the most recent medical guidance, it seems near inevitable that things will get worse before they get better (to put it rather mildly) and that the new few months are going to present innumerable challenges to businesses, employees and the overall economies of the UK, Europe and beyond.

Obviously, I’m going to leave the medical stuff to the Doctors but, even within the bubble of employment law, it isn’t hard to see that this outbreak will cause terrific hardship at all levels within the UK. From the sporting event that is cancelled and the loss of revenue for the stadium and surrounding hotels and restaurants, to the laying off (or future redundancy) of staff at the stadium, hotels and restaurants, to the airline cancelling 50% of their flights due to low demand, to the staff members going home on temporary lay off (with minimum, if no, pay) and having nothing to pay the mortgage with, to the remaining staff members who may have coronavirus but will try to ‘soldier on’ and attend work because they can’t afford to be on SSP whilst on the breadline, thereby putting their colleagues at risk.

The list of potential examples is endless and, whilst measures to prevent the spread of the virus, on the most part, shouldn’t be criticised, it is hard to avoid sight of the human suffering it will cause on a financial and mental health-based level.

So, what is a potential ‘worst-case scenario’ within the next 4 weeks within the UK? Well, it doesn’t take too much imagination to see the following events becoming more and more likely:

  • Businesses seeking to ‘lay off’ staff (or reduce their contractual hours) in an attempt to try and avoid permanent redundancies
  • Staff increasingly ignoring self-isolation advice because of the fear of receiving SSP pay only
  • Workplaces learning of a staff member having a positive coronavirus diagnosis and having to decide on whether an active precaution is to close the workplace and/or try to enable staff to work from home
  • Nurseries struggling to remain open if schools close for a considerable period of time and requesting financial help from the Government
  • Businesses without infection having to decide whether to ask staff to work from home to avoid them travelling to work on public transport
  • Supermarkets coming under criticism for reported stories of staff members being unwell with cold- or flu-related symptoms but being told to come in because of the increased strain caused by panic buying
  • Companies adapting meetings to be held by Skype or conference call rather than face-to-face
  • Potential rules or guidance being put into place by the Government in relation to older staff members (particularly those working within customer-facing roles)

Some of the above will definitely happen, whilst some are very likely. Overall, however, the hardest thing for employers and employees alike to adapt to are the challenges that can’t be predicted in advance. For now, I hope everyone stays safe and, if you are one of our employer (or employee) clients, please don’t hesitate to contact us for up-to-date guidance and legal advice on any coronavirus-related issues.

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