Senior HR Online Forum – Covid-19

  • Thought Leadership

In response to the Covid-19 Health and Developing Economic Crisis FWB Park Brown (FWB PB) is working closely with the Scottish HR Leadership Group to provide constructive support which also includes discussion forums and Q & As.

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Alix Meekison (Director, FWB Park Brown & Secretary, The Scottish HR Leadership Group) agreed with the Scottish HR Leadership Group Board that she would act as a central point for queries the Covid-19 Health and Developing Economic Crisis.  She agreed to answer what she could based on information available to her, refer to the Leadership Board where possible and post any questions she couldn’t answer to the wider Leadership Group see if anyone else had any thoughts or recommendations.

The purpose of this forum to allow Senior HR Leaders to share their own experiences and gain further insight, thoughts and idea and to allow more connectivity within the HR community given the evolving global Covid-19 pandemic.

Following are the areas where we have received specific queries (to date):

  • Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
  • Annual Leave Entitlement
  • IR35
  • Employee Wellbeing
  • Technology

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

The announcement from the Government regarding the 80% payment has been helpful however organisations now feel that they need to communicate something to staff over the course of the next couple of days. If your organisation has furloughed so far how have you dealt with the below.

  • How did you consult and what have you put in writing to employees?
  • Is anyone aware of any guidance around whether employees will continue to accrue annual leave?
  • Are zero hours contractors with a pattern of work eligible to be furloughed? If so what would the average weekly wage be based on?
  • If during the consultation process a staff member requests that they be made redundant how are employers responding to this?

Whilst some employers were waiting for more clearly at the time, some were  intending to furlough in phases , beginning from this week. Again at the time of speaking , the details of the scheme were not as clear as they are now and some employers had questions around whether they can rotate groups of staff. The rules around this and now much clearer.

It was also discussed that a number of employers were at the time more likely to pursue a discussion with unions regarding income stability and have discussions around informal annualised hours.

It’s worth repeating that even on Thursday the government had not as yet published much written guidance on the job retention scheme. Although employers had started to make some preparations should they decide to go down that route (which many clearly have done so now). It may be of less relevance now but I attach a sample template letter for furloughed workers which was produced from within our group. There were clearly a lot of initial discussions taking place last week which will now have resulted in specific actions.

The second part of this question around whether employees will continue to accrue annual leave is we suspect of more relevance as there is less specific guidance here.

The view of our group last week was that this is potentially a long haul and that people were being encouraged to take some holidays to recover/recharge. It was not clear at the time how furlough leave will interact with other forms of leave. It will be clearer now.

We also discussed the subject of redundancy requests during this process and some said at the time that it is likely that they will allow it, although most felt that ‘furlough first’ was the best option for them at this stage. The role of consultation was also not clear at the time of talking and you will no doubt have more clarity on this now.

Where a business relates to animals, Can furloughed employees return as volunteers for the purposes of animal welfare?

While it is important to take independent advice for any queries – the guidance is very clear that furlough only applies where there is no work to be done.  If employees then return as volunteers for animal welfare this suggests work is available (albeit on reduced hours).  In these circumstances the employer would need to look at an employee’s contract of employment to see what is allowable for temporary reductions in pay.

Annual Leave Entitlement

How is your organisation planning 2020 annual leave entitlement for the remainder of the year? Is there any guidance on employees accruing annual leave?

Again these thoughts will have been further shaped by greater guidance but interestingly the responses at the time ranged from :

  • “Anyone with annual leave booked will need to go through normal authorisation procedures to cancel. We will therefore end up with a lot of holidays at the end of the year – but will have to live with that.”
  • “It’s likely that our people will carry over. We are asking employees to continue to take the leave they’ve planned as they need to continue to have time ‘away’ from work.”
  • “We may ask employees to plan to take 2/3 of their leave by September to minimise the impact on the business during Q4.”
  • “Where people have bought extra holidays – maximum 10 – we will allow them to carry forward.”
  • “For normal leave we will allow five days to be carried forward. Anything additional needs to be agreed by the line manager.”
  • “In terms of annual leave for 2020 we will be asking employees to take leave up to their proportion and entitlement up to the 31st of May.”
  • “Holidays already booked cannot be cancelled. We are trying to ensure people get a break as we are all spending too long on our laptops at home, so although we are mandating holidays there is a genuine wealthier role to ask people to switch off for awhile. This is going to be a marathon not a Sprint, so trying to get people to pace themselves!”
  • “Currently everyone can carry up to 1 week of leave to the next year, for this year we can agree for up to 2 weeks to be carried forward to 2021.”
  • “For those who purchased additional annual leave in January (or since then if they joined us recently) we will give people the option to reverse this purchase.”
  • “bank holidays will continue to take place as normal. The office will close on these days and anyone who normally works on these days will be on leave. We should protect these days To ensure that everyone gets a well earned break.”
  • “We don’t know exactly how long this way of working will last and so we need to think about when we are back to normal that we don’t all request leave at the same time, e.g. everyone requests larger blocks of leave in Q4. Please therefore consider how you and your teams can best use your leave and spread it across the year to help us continue to deliver great client outcomes when we are back to normal.”


IR35 to continue or not?

While IR35 changes have been postponed to 2021 and a few of our members have shelved their current plans. The overwhelming message from the group has been to continue, there have been five months of pain to get to this point, keep going and finish.

As the public sector began IR35 earlier than the Private sector they have found very little push back on this and are urging colleagues to continue.

Employee Wellbeing

What are other organisations doing around contributing to employee wellbeing both physically and mentally as we go further into ‘lockdown’ and isolation?

The great feedback is that employers understand and are focusing on mental and physical wellbeing.  There were some great ideas

  • “Sending weekly updates and top tips about look after wellbeing. NHS has some great resources that you can point people to.”
  • “We have done a lot so far on reminding people what services we offer (EAP, Mental Health First Aiders, our partnership with Samaritans etc.) and talked a lot about it in the comms.”
  • “We sent a specific mental health email today, sharing a video of one of our Directors speaking openly about his battle with depression and it was messaged in the way ‘we want to open up the conversation’.”
  • “We’re talking to our leaders about ensuring they are checking in with their teams and keeping connected with as many people as they can to offer support.”
  • “We also sent out a survey asking what more people would like in this area and are exploring online webinars, yoga classes etc.”
  • “We’re sending Leadership guides to help in managing remote teams, managing new starts remotely, the importance of ‘checking in’ (ie be genuinely interested in asking after people’s wellbeing) and we’re encouraging leaders to set up optional online ‘coffee break chats’ for people to join and see a friendly face to catch up but no necessarily talk about the work.”
  • “Setting up e-learning resources, issuing hints and tips and having wellbeing briefs that signpost to EAP, OH Support and Mental Health First Aiders.”
  • “Using Yammer to post videos and chats to on-line groups. The programme of resources is mapped out for the next 4 weeks.”
  • “Encouraging daily calls between all teams to maintain social contact.”
  • “We have sent a poster-style document to staff about looking after their mental health during isolation. Tips include ensuring they do something enjoyable every day, separating their work area from their living space and speaking to a company mental health first aider if they are struggling.”
  • “We are asking team leaders to have daily contact with everyone in their team, and remember the importance of one-to-ones as some people may not open up in a team meeting.”
  • “For physical health, we are preparing another poster document. The HSE have some guidance about making the most of your temporary home work set up. E.g.”


Which pieces of technology are working well and not?

Video Conferencing facilities are proving very popular in the current climate both for internal and external meetings.  There are so many different options out there with just some of those people are using being. Microsoft Teams, Skype, WebEx, Zoom, Yammer, etc…

Microsoft Teams appeared to be particularly popular especially as it is great for document sharing and collaborative working internally within the business.

Organisations are also making use of intranet systems too.

For a downloadable copy of the above article please click here.

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The Scottish HR Leadership Group

Primarily the Scottish HR Leadership Group will focus on the advancement of the profession in Scotland plus have a development and mentoring framework.  Our aim is to ensure an interesting, diverse and experienced group of senior practitioners across all sectors who can develop talent and as business leaders contribute and influence the broader societal agenda.

The purpose of this forum is to allow Senior HR Leaders to share their own experiences and gain further insight, thoughts and ideas and to allow more connectivity within the HR community given the evolving global Covid-19 pandemic.

Summaries of the discussions will be posted on our news section and also on LinkedIn.

For further information about any of these forums please contact us via:
Alix Meekison
Director, FWB Park Brown & Secretary, The Scottish HR Leadership Group
t. +44 (0)131 539 7087

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