Making employee decisions during these times may be a low legal risk but the reputation risk can be high!
I have had numerous discussions with employees who have felt extremely aggrieved by an employers decision in the last 3 weeks since the effects of the coronavirus have started to be felt in the UK.
Complaints have included:
- My employer has terminated my employment rather than furlough me.
- My employer will not furlough me and I am worried about the risk to my health.
- My employer will not furlough me and I am worried about the risk to my family member who is high risk.
- My employer has furloughed my colleagues but not me.
- My employer has furloughed me but will not pay me as they say we do not qualify for the government scheme.
I have also seen and heard reports of various employees who have posted things about their employer / former employer online and on social media.
How you handle employment matters and employee rights at this time is crucial to your reputation and the future success of your business now more than ever. It is a highly emotive time, people have more time on their hands and are online for longer periods than ever.
Whilst you might be quite rightly concerned about whether you can pay the bills and whether there is going to be a business in the future it is important to think long-term and what is going to be happening when we come out of this.
Everybody is feeling the stress and strain of what is happening in the country at this time. The impact of the decisions you make in relation to how you deal with staff could be huge and have significant ramifications for your business and personal reputation.
I have seen instances where businesses have made decisions legally and legitimately, following the correct HR procedures, but have done so without considering how the decision looks to their staff and their customers.
Of course there may come a time when difficult decisions need to be made, for example how long you can afford to keep paying wages whilst you wait for the furlough scheme refund, but the key to managing the impact is about communication. Now more than ever you need to be open, honest and completely transparent about the reasons for your decision making.
Currently employees will just see that the government have stepped in to contribute 80% of pay in order to save jobs and prevent redundancies. Therefore if you are making redundancies or just dismissing staff, inevitably people will see that as being something negative. They are not going to understand why you have done it unless you explain.
A good Solicitor/HR adviser will explain to you not only the legal risk, but they should also discuss the commercial reality and talk to you about the reputational risk. You can then make a decision based on all of those factors, not merely what the correct legal process is.
If you do need to make critical decisions at this time and you cannot hold off for a couple of weeks until things have settled down then it crucial to ensure you explain exactly why you made that decision.
By way of an example you may have seen in the news the stance that the Wetherspoons owner has taken in relation to his employees and this is causing significant negative publicity for him and I am sure many customers in future will question whether they use the pubs and importantly, when it comes to looking for staff no doubt future potential candidates will also have in mind the way in which he has treated previous employees.
We must not forget that before this crisis occurred one of the main significant difficulties for employers was obtaining good quality staff and no doubt this will continue once the crisis is over and the economy starts growing again.
Undoubtedly there are difficult times ahead in the next few weeks and difficult decisions to be made in the forthcoming months but you need to have in mind the bigger picture when making these decisions including the potential risk to your reputation by the actions you take in the way that you treat people now.