Life after covid, what should businesses be considering?

Expert Insight

Following the relaxation of the government’s approach to managing Covid-19, many businesses are now looking at how they can “live with” the virus and get back to something that resembles business as usual again.

Some of the changes created by the pandemic are more permanent than others, in particular the shift towards more flexible ways of working, which impacts both existing employees and new recruits.

Here we look at what businesses should be considering from an employment perspective, to help get their operation and their teams back on track.

Vaccination and policy

Despite the vaccination programme being largely successful in the UK, there are signs that the take-up in lower income and some ethnic minority groups remains low. Although vaccinations are not legally required, businesses do have an obligation to provide a safe and healthy working environment.

Employers can play a vital role in helping to promote vaccination, which is not only in line with government guidance, but also supports their responsibility in reducing workplace risk. Sharing information about the facts, allowing time off for appointments and sharing vaccination experiences can all help.

Our advice on vaccination policies is always to make them voluntary rather than mandatory, as there are potential discrimination risks and data protection issues involved. Plus, vaccinations are not suitable for everyone.

Workplace location

The enforced homeworking rules during lockdown resulted in many offices and workplaces not being used for a long period of time. This unprecedented event highlighted to some businesses that they can continue to operate successfully without being on the premises all the time.

A more flexible approach to working has quickly become the norm since then, leading employers to consider whether a workplace is still required, and if so where and on what basis?

Closing or relocating the workplace may save costs and support more flexible working, but it does require some form of consultation with employees, even when there is a mobility clause in the contract of employment. It’s also important to consider that a significant change in location can lead to a place of work redundancy, which may be an unwanted consequence.

Flexible working

Hybrid ways of working are now becoming more common after many of us were required to work flexibly during lockdown. This can mean a change of days or hours being worked or working from more than one location (home and the office).

When thinking about recruiting and retaining the best talent, employers need to ensure that they can continue to offer flexible ways of working that strike the right balance between meeting business requirements and supporting home life.

Employers should check and update their contracts of employment and policies to ensure they provide the level of flexibility needed to support the business plan and provide clarity to employees on what’s expected of them.

In cases where flexible working is difficult due to the nature of the work or customer requirements, employers should be clear on what they can and can’t offer and the reasons for that. The legal obligations to consider flexible working requests should still be taken into account, along with the need for reasonable adjustments to support employees with a disability.

Objectives and appraisals

Physical time away from work during lockdown inevitably made it more difficult for employers to manage their employees and review performance in the usual way. It may also have been difficult to carry out appraisals effectively and set objectives for the future with so much uncertainty during this period.

Business objectives may also have changed, and employers now need to focus on managing and incentivising their employees and making sure they understand what is expected of them. Now is a good time to review those objectives and re-communicate them internally. Performance management documentation should also be reviewed to ensure individual targets are well aligned with business goals, especially if they have changed.

Consider what objectives, if any, have been set for the coming months; are they clear and up to date? Also, whether appraisals have been put in place to re-establish the review and feedback process.

Recruitment for growth

Signs are that business is recovering well from the pandemic, and as a result the spotlight will return to recruitment. In any recruitment drive, employers need to carefully consider the current needs of the business and the role, and use all the tools available to select the right candidate from a skills and cultural point of view. It can be an expensive activity if you get it wrong!

Our advice is always to invest time making sure the contractual documents are well drafted. Focus on making probationary periods as effective as possible for both the employer and new employee. Equipping your new starter with clear information on what they need to do to pass the probation and providing a detailed induction will ensure they hit the ground running.

Where resources are difficult to find, consider ‘growing your own’, volunteers, interns and apprentices and flexible working options for students are all a good source of new talent. If recruiting options are limited within the UK, it’s worth taking specialist immigration advice before recruiting from overseas as the rules are complex and a mistake can be costly.

Covid safety measures

Covid cases are still widespread with new variants emerging, but government guidance on what it expects from employers and employees is now very limited. In our view it makes sense to make a statement to employees about what action is expected of them in terms of testing, isolation and return to work.

It’s also important to communicate how covid-related absences will be treated from a time off and pay perspective. A risk assessment is still recommended, and individual circumstances still need to be considered for those who remain especially vulnerable or unable to be vaccinated.

In our experience now most employers are only requiring employees to take a test if they experience symptoms, and to remain off work only after a positive test. The general view is that the five-day isolation period from the onset of symptoms or a positive test is sufficient, but employers are divided on whether two negative tests are required before returning to work.

Given the recent change in the availability of free tests, employers should also think about whether they are prepared to pay for testing or whether they expect employees to cover this cost themselves. Employees should be encouraged to be responsible for their own decision making, but a balance needs to be struck between employee health and safety needs and getting back to business as usual.

Our team are on hand to advise and support you on any of the above-mentioned areas. We can also offer a more complete outsourced HR solution if you don’t have your own team in-house.

For a free, no-obligation chat contact:

Ann-Marie Pugh on 07899 936239 or email

Emma Neate on 07834 413249 or email

Written by Ann-Marie Pugh and Emma Neate, Employment Solicitors & Directors, Neate & Pugh

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