Given the number of legal and social changes over the last year it stands to reason that, for many, our way of working is going to have changed. Have you changed your working practices in response to Covid?

Many employers are now offering more flexible working options, if that’s you, then you will need to consider updating your contracts of employment.

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Here are our top tips on ‘things to consider’

Place of work. Your contracts of employment need to include a place of work. Do you now have employees working predominantly from home? Or do you have a hybrid model of working? You need to consider whether your current contracts are a true reflection of your working practices.

Hours of work. Similar to the above, flexibility in working hours has gained popularity since the Covid pandemic and, driven by the need to retain and engage talent, many employers are now offering much more flexibility. Have you introduced core hours of work, condensed working weeks or absolute autonomy over when work is carried out? If you have, then you will need to consider updating your contracts to reflect these changes. You will also need to review your flexible working and absence policies, as well as any guidance for managers.

Confidentiality. What do your contracts say about confidentiality? With increased flexibility comes increased risk to confidentiality. You may have people working from home with their partner doing the same – what if that partner also works for a competitor or you deal in particularly sensitive information? And what about working from that trendy new ‘open space’, coffee shop, or even at the beach? Ensure your people are clear about what they are responsible for and understand their obligations when it comes to confidential and/or sensitive data.

You may also need to look at your IT security to ensure it is fit for new working practices.

Annual leave. Are you allowing employees to use accrued annual leave over a two-year period due to the Covid pandemic? Has the way you need to calculate annual leave entitlement changed in light of more flexible working practices? If you have answered yes to either of these questions, check that your contracts, processes and policies are up to date.

Even if you have returned to the same terms of employment that you had pre-Covid, there are still things you need to consider. Have you thought more broadly about your policies and procedures? Here are a few you may need to consider:

Working from home. If you are allowing your employees to work from home some or all of the time, what do your policies say about the environment they are working from? Do you have any stipulations about ‘distractions’ such as childcare/caring responsibilities during working hours? Is this something you now need to consider introducing?

What about expenses? Do you need to update your policies to reflect what people can claim expenses for when they are working from home? Has the way people can claim mileage changed? Or does it need to change?

Health and Safety. With flexibility over place of work comes added complexity with regards to ensuring workstations are appropriate and are not going to lead to long-term health issues. How are you fulfilling your responsibilities for your employees’ health and safety? Consider your policy on the provision of equipment – will you supply a second screen for homeworking? What about a desk and chair? You will need workstation assessments for anyone working from home.

You also need to consider your health and safety training – have you introduced new mandatory training in Covid control, for example – do your policies and procedures reflect this?

We have also seen an increase in mental health-related absences since the pandemic – what are you doing to help your employees access sources of support and how are you detecting potential cases early? What are your obligations and what ‘sits’ with the employee – is this clear in your policies?

Leavers. How are you tracking the equipment your leavers have, particularly if they are working, or have worked, from home? What do your policies and procedures say about the return of any such equipment?

What about your exit interviews, if you carry these out – when was the last time you reviewed what you are asking? Do you need to include new questions relating to new working practices and/or how supported your employees feel? Are people leaving to gain more flexibility or indeed because they prefer a bit more structure?

Sickness. What do your policies say about Covid? Do you require regular testing and if so who fits the bill? How are you managing that process and what if people test positive? Do you require them to stay away from the workplace? Do they need to work from home if they can? And what happens to their pay if they can’t? What if it’s not them who tested positive but someone in their household?

How are you managing employees with long Covid? Is this covered in your existing policies? And do they offer enough information on what people should be doing? Are they fair?

Clinically vulnerable persons. Do you have any clinically vulnerable people working for you? What have you agreed in terms of their working arrangements and do you need to update any contracts or policies as a result? What measures do you have in place to protect workers and/or your customers? Again, do your policies and/or procedures need to be updated?

Harassment and bullying. Finally (and congratulations on getting this far!), make sure you have the appropriate processes, procedures and policies in place to protect you and your employees – Isolation, ostracism and exclusion are subtle signs of bullying at work that could be exacerbated by remote working and those returning to the workplace post a covid infection risk being stigmatised, harassed and even blamed for anything from covid outbreaks to increased stress on those picking up their work. Ensure your employees are aware of your policies with regards to bullying and harassment.

Now I appreciate the above provides an awful lot of questions and the reality is that your answers to the above will be unique to you and your business – unfortunately, there is no ‘cookie cutter’ solution – what’s right for a hospitality business will be very different to the solution for an accountancy practice for example.

Hopefully what you do have, having ploughed your way through the above, is some food for thought, some things to consider, and a greater understanding of the impact Covid may have had on your contracts of employment and your wider working practices.

If you need help reviewing your contracts of employment and, or, your company handbook in light of Covid (or even in light of more general legislative changes), don’t forget the team at MAD-HR are always on hand to help. Apply for a “health check” review of your employment contract and handbook from MAD-HR.