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Home | coronavirus

As long COVID has recently been ruled as a disability, we consider the implications for your workplace sickness management processes. 

Although we are approaching two and a half years since the pandemic hit the UK and living and working with COVID has become routine and common-place, long COVID remains a relatively new condition, with its effects still being properly researched. For employers this is likely to be a cause for concern, given the potential impact on the workforce.

In research conducted by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Simplyhealth at the beginning of 2022, 46% of surveyed organisations had employees who have experienced long COVID in the last 12 months. Whilst this number will continue to fluctuate, it is potentially a significant number of employees who will be trying to work whilst coping with long COVID symptoms. 

There is an expectation that more long COVID cases will come to tribunals, following the recent preliminary ruling in a Scottish tribunal case that long COVID did meet the definition of disability.  

What Is long COVID?

It is described as the persistence or development of symptoms attributed to COVID-19, lasting more than twelve weeks after initial infection. 

Common symptoms include: 

  • extreme tiredness, difficulty sleeping
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain or tightness, heart palpitations
  • problems with memory and concentration
  • dizziness
  • joint pain, pins and needles
  • depression and anxiety
  • tinnitus, earaches
  • nausea, stomach aches diarrhoea
  • loss of appetite
  • a high temperature
  • cough, sore throat
  • headaches
  • changes to sense of smell or taste
  • rashes

People can experience the effects of long COVID for weeks, months and even years. Symptoms can come and go over time, sometimes getting better and sometimes getting worse. This means it can affect someone’s ability to work and/or cause them to have higher rates of absence.    

With the potential to last beyond twelve months and to have an adverse effect on day-to-day activities, this is where the question of disability comes in. Long COVID has been found to more severely affect older people, ethnic minorities and women.


Effective Steps for Employers

With inconsistent performance and increasing absence, it’s easy to see how an escalation to capability processes could happen for an employee suffering with long COVID. 

As with any complex sickness issue, it’s important to seek expert medical advice before rushing into a management decision. This is where an occupational health referral can really help but ensure that you ask the right questions:

  • Is there an underlying medical condition?
  • How might it affect the individual’s performance of their duties?
  • What reasonable adjustments could be made in the short or long term? 
  • Whether or not the individual is likely to be covered by the Equality Act?

For this last question, the advice may not always be conclusive but the focus here should not be on determining whether an employee’s condition is a disability, but on getting them back to working at their best. This is where the reasonable adjustments – such as changes to hours and responsibilities, place of work – can really help.  

An Individual Response

With individuals being affected in different ways by a vast array of possibly fluctuating symptoms, a ‘one size fits all’ approach to absence management is unlikely to be possible. It’s therefore important to look at each case individually.

As well as considering and discussing any occupational health recommendations, employers should engage with individuals directly to understand what support they need during any absence and in their return. 

Ensure regular meetings – both during their absence and once they return to work – to provide an opportunity for them to raise any concerns they may have. Checking in regularly upon their return will not only provide positive dialogue and focus on their wellbeing but will also allow you to table any concerns re. workload and productivity early. Along with any adjustments this will demonstrate the support put in place by an employer.

What Else Can Employers Do?

Review existing absence management policies for employees with long term health conditions to ensure these are flexible to respond appropriately. Policies provide guidance but it may be necessary to tailor these to individual situations, for example considering the viability to revise absence thresholds. 

Utilise occupational health assessments as appropriate to discuss how and when an employee can return and what reasonable adjustments can be put in place to support their return, such as hybrid working, flexible hours, adjustment to responsibilities.

Consider refresher training for line managers on absence management processes, in particular the  use of occupational health referrals. Don’t assume your managers are confident in dealing with these situations as some may have had little or no experience of them and may be anxious about getting it right.

Similarly, you might want to provide awareness training for managers to increase their understanding of long COVID and its potential impact on employees and linking this up with absence management processes.

Looking Ahead

The number of people experiencing ongoing symptoms following a COVID-19 infection will likely increase over the coming months and years, and with that a possible increase in unfair dismissal claims. The argument for proactively supporting individuals to return to, and remain at, work is therefore strong. 

How employers deal with such cases could impact not only dismissal claims, productivity, recruitment and training costs of replacing exiting employees but also employee engagement. With competition fierce for skilled employees, employers who demonstrate supportive and positive management of employee wellbeing, including long COVID, will have a better chance of managing turnover and retaining employees.

If you have any questions about absence management, occupational health referrals or other HR queries, please contact Sue Meehan Boyes in our team on 07384 468797.

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If you are responsible for GDPR matters in your workplace then you should take heed of recent guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) regarding the storage of COVID vaccination data.

The ICO, which is the UK’s information body set up to uphold information rights, has published guidance called ‘Data protection and Coronavirus-19 – relaxation of government measures‘. This is to help organisations and employers to comply with their data protection obligations following the Government’s relaxation of the rules relating to COVID-19.

Sharing Vaccination Data

Some employers may have checked people’s COVID-19 vaccination status historically. The ICO has outlined in this recent guidance some key things organisations need to consider around the use of this type of personal information.

Why Hold Vaccination information?

Employers may wish to seek voluntary proof of vaccination:

  • to track staff vaccination levels within the workforce and assess the risk of transmission
  • to ascertain an employee’s eligibility under any vaccination incentive scheme

If an employer has vaccination data it may help them with internal risk assessments and planning from an operational viewpoint.

What Is Your Purpose for Storing Information?

Now is the time to review your current practices in respect of collecting and storing this type of data. Employers now need to understand from a data protection viewpoint, what information they can request and record about their employees’ vaccination status.

An employer should consider carefully whether capturing this information can be justified, given the current position taken by the Government. Employees’ health information falls into the category of special personal data so employers must identify a lawful reason to request and process this data under data protection legislation.

The ICO guidance states that if employers collect vaccine information they must be clear what they are trying to achieve by doing so and demonstrate how it helps them achieve it. The use of data must be fair, relevant and necessary for a specific purpose.

There must also be a compelling reason for collecting this information and ‘just in case’ will not be good enough. The intention of using and processing this vaccination data must also be transparent from the employer and should not provide any risk to the employee or any detrimental impact to them.

How Long Should an Employer Retain Vaccination Data?

If you have vaccination data for your employees you should review it and ensure that it is still reasonable, fair and appropriate for you to retain this data going forward. You should safely dispose of this data if it is no longer relevant or required. If you need to store vaccination data you should do so for only as long as is necessary and review regularly.  

For specialist support on managing your employee vaccination data, please contact Helen Couchman in our team on 07799 901 669.

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The effects of COVID-19 on your workforce may have been far reaching with the consequences not yet fully known. Such effects have no doubt been compounded by Brexit – so much so, that in many cases it may be difficult to conclude whether it’s COVID or Brexit that is responsible.

One thing we can be sure of, is that there is a lot of uncertainty in the workplace right now.

While the Government’s furlough scheme helped to prevent redundancies across various industries, the ending of the scheme in September 2021 left some businesses still having to make difficult decisions. Lack of certainty can very quickly lead to unmotivated employees and for this reason, it is important to foster a positive working environment where staff don’t feel ignored or unseen.

One of the ways you can create this environment, is to ensure your workers feel involved in your decision making, and able to contribute to the success of your business. Recognition and appreciation of peoples’ achievements really does go a long way, as does extending trust to your employees so that they feel empowered.

The easiest way to do this is to talk to your employees one to one. Determine their short term goals, and come up with a plan together as to how they can achieve these.

Showing empathy and support is also key. Whether or not your employees are voicing their concerns, management should take an active role in showing understanding for the impact uncertainty may be having on individuals.

For further advice on how to support your employees at work, please contact Sarah Martin on 07799 136091.

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From 11 November 2021, care home staff working in a Care Quality Commission registered care home would be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Catch up our previous article for more information on who this includes.

On 9 September 2021, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) published a consultation on whether this compulsory vaccination requirement should extend to other health and care settings, and whether it should also include mandatory flu vaccinations.

What Was The Result?

The DHSC has now published its response to the consultation and confirmed that individuals carrying out CQC-regulated activities in the health and social care sector whose roles involve direct face-to-face contact with patients and service users must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This will include front-line workers such as receptionists, ward clerks, porters and cleaners, and will apply whether the regulated activity is delivered through agency workers, volunteers, trainees or contracted parties.

For individuals who are exempt, they must show evidence of their medical exemption before they can deliver care. Employers should be reminded that only those with a medical exemption will be able to perform regulated activities without being fully vaccinated. Until 24 December 2021, such individuals may use the self-certification procedure, but after this date, they must apply for proof of their exemption.

The mandatory vaccination requirement will be implemented via amendment to the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014 (SI 2014/2936) and will come into force on 1 April 2022. There will be a 12-week grace period to allow time for the employers and workers to meet the new requirements.

The DHSC has decided not to include flu vaccination as part of the mandatory requirements.

If you have any questions, or are concerned about the implications of the new legislation, please contact Caitlin Anniss on 07909 683938.

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As we tweeted last week, the Chancellor has announced a new Job Support Scheme (JSS), which will take over from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) when it closes at the end of October. The stated intention of the JSS is to protect viable jobs where businesses are continuing to face a lower than usual demand.

HM Treasury have now produced a factsheet setting out some further details about the ‘caps and caveats’ that will apply to this new scheme.

Key Facts

  • The JSS will open on 1 November 2020 and will run for six months, with employers being able to claim online through gov.uk site from December.
  • The JSS is not limited only to those employees that have previously used the CJRS, BUT employees must be on PAYE payroll on or before 23 September 2020.
  • Aimed at SMEs – ‘large’ businesses (not yet defined) will have to meet a financial assessment test demonstrating the drop in income as a result of the pandemic.
  • Employees must work at least 33% of their usual hours.
  • For every hour not worked, the Government and employer pay 1/3 each.
  • Government contribution is capped at £697.92 per month.
  • JSS will not cover Class 1 NIC’s or pension contributions – which remain payable by the employer.
  • Employees cannot be made redundant or put on notice of redundancy during the period that the grant is being claimed.
  • Employees must agree the new working arrangements and changes to the employment contract must be notified in writing.

The factsheet sets out a useful example of how the new scheme will work in terms of possible government grant. It clearly demonstrates that the employer will take on much more of the cost than is currently the case under the CJRS.

Hours Employee Worked33%40%50%60%70%
Hours Employee Not Working67%60%50%40%30%
Employee Earnings (% of normal)78%80%83%87%90%
Gov’t Grant (% of normal wages)22%20%17%13%10%
Employer Cost (% normal wages)55%60%67% 73%80%

Employers will need to have confidence that their business will recover sufficiently from next spring in order to cover the increased cost of retaining staff. For many businesses, there remains too much uncertainty about future viability to warrant this additional financial burden and redundancies are likely to remain inevitable.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with any of our team for practical support and guidance through any restructuring process. Here’s how we can help.

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Narrow Quay HR runs a series of HR Clubs throughout the year and the most recent is summarised in this article. If readers want to sign up to the next session, the link is set out below. 

Narrow Quay is an HR consultancy, which is part of the VWV group.

The latest Narrow Quay HR Club looked at ‘How Organisations Can Thrive in the New Normal’ with guest speaker, business performance psychologist Graham Mitchell discussing the vital role that employee engagement has to play, in order to build back up organisational performance in the context of coronavirus (COVID-19) and the impact on workplaces. 

Narrow Quay HR – Caitlin Anniss

Caitlin Anniss from Narrow Quay HR opened the event by reflecting on the current position and the continuing impact of COVID-19, reminding us that in early Spring, it was clear that something called COVID-19 was going to have an impact on our daily lives and it was on 23 March 2020 the nation went into lockdown shortly before the furlough scheme was announced on 26 March, entitling eligible employees to be furloughed from work and receive 80% of their earnings. 

Whilst Caitlin described the gradual easing of restrictions throughout July and August, she referenced the huge logistical challenges faced by employers in achieving a COVID-19 safe return to the workplace, alongside the additional concerns such as employees who are shielding, those who can’t work their full hours because of childcare issues and quarantine arrangements when returning from a number of countries. She referred to the CIPD’s helpful guidance to employers on the issue of employees returning to workplaces; is it essential that staff return to work? Is it safe? Is it mutually agreed?

Narrow Quay HR has been working with clients throughout the lockdown period and beyond as they try to work out the best options for their businesses, whether that was utilising the furlough scheme or working out how to get their staff back into workplaces safely and, more recently, working with organisations who are having to reorganise or consider redundancies. Caitlin mentioned that many businesses are reviewing how they work given the changes they have had to make, and considering newer, more flexible ways of working which may benefit both them and their staff. The Government’s change of position on employees returning to the workplace will no doubt produce further conversations.

It is clear now that the impact of COVID-19 is not going to be short-lived and neatly tied up within a matter of months as we first hoped. We are having to continue to learn to live with the impact of the pandemic in both our personal lives and our working lives.

Guest Speaker – Graham Mitchell

Graham started off by looking at two key areas – what employee engagement actually is and then considering the wide ranging impact and benefit of engagement. Graham’s stressed the importance of harnessing employee’s ‘discretionary effort’, often thought of as ‘going the extra mile’ or moving from ‘what I have to give you’ to ‘all I have to give you’.

Graham was clear that it was important for organisations to ensure that all employees were walking that extra mile in the same direction towards organisational objectives. This ensures an increase in overall performance at an organisational level, which is particularly relevant right now as businesses seek to build back financial performance.

Four ‘Pillars’ of Effective Engagement

Graham discussed the four ‘pillars’ of effective engagement being:

  1. Vision and strategy – discussing the importance of having a clear vision and a sound strategy.
  2. Engaging leaders – taking the time to let staff know how they fit into the bigger picture.
  3. Stakeholder ‘voice’ – not only communicating effectively in relation to steps taken, but also taking the time to explain why decisions have been made not to take certain steps.
  4. Cultural integrity – the importance of an organisation that keeps its promises and lives up to its own cultural values.

Helpfully, Graham provided sustainable strategies and practical guidance to ‘align the arrowhead’ to ensure all the people within an organisation were aligned to the same purpose, underlying the importance of everyone moving in the same direction towards the desired organisational outcomes. 

It was notable that both Gareth Edwards and Graham were of a similar mind in terms of the importance of clearly communicating the reasons behind a business need to embark on a restructuring/redundancy exercise. Graham additionally underlined the importance of maintaining the last of the four pillars, cultural integrity, during a restructuring process, stressing the importance of communicating the purpose behind the decision.

Considered a Staff Engagement Survey?

Well now might be a good time to conduct a survey with your staff. This will give you a clear view of where the organisation is right now, with no doubt many employees continuing to work remotely for the foreseeable future and place a spotlight on the areas that you need to focus on.

Narrow Quay HR would like to thank Graham Mitchell for taking the time to share his experience and expertise. If you would like to discuss anything further with Graham, please do visit his website.

Upcoming Online Events

For HR support for your organisation, please contact Caitlin Anniss on 07909 683 938.

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We discuss some of our top tips for effective remote performance management whilst working at home.

In this podcast, we discuss:

  • Reinforcing your organisation’s values
  • Open Communication
  • Recognition and trust
  • Goal setting and feedback
  • Development opportunities

How Can We Help?

Our specialist HR consultants can help your organisation by:

  • providing support with your day to day HR issues
  • auditing your HR policies and procedure to identify problems and suggest improvements
  • training for your staff
  • practical support with consultations and other HR projects
  • carrying out investigations into grievances, disciplinaries and other matters

Related Resources

If you require specialist HR support relating to carrying out workplace investigations remotely, please contact HR Consultant Caitlin Anniss on 07909 683938.

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We consider the challenges of carrying out a workplace investigation remotely during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

In our podcast, we discuss:

  • Planning for a virtual workplace investigation
  • Practical steps to consider 
  • What to do if an employee refuses to participate
  • Can furloughed staff participate?

How Can We Help?

Our specialist HR consultants can help your organisation by:

  • providing support with your day to day HR issues
  • auditing your HR policies and procedure to identify problems and suggest improvements
  • training for your staff
  • practical support with consultations and other HR projects
  • carrying out investigations into grievances, disciplinaries and other matters

Related Resources

If you require specialist legal advice relating to carrying out workplace investigations remotely, please contact HR Consultants Caitlin Anniss on 07909 683938 or Sarah Martin on 07799 136091.

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On Friday 29 May, the Chancellor provided new details about the extended Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), which he had announced on 12 May.

We already knew that he had listened to industry bodies and was planning to introduce the ability to bring employees back on a part-time or reduced hours basis. But that can now take place more quickly than expected, on 1 July. Employers need to note however, that this new, flexible scheme will only be available to those employees that have already been furloughed for the minimum three week period. This means the deadline for furloughing new staff is 10 June.

Whilst Sunak had already made it clear that employers would be asked to contribute during this extended period, he has now set out what those contributions will look like. In addition, he has announced that the self-employed income support scheme, which was due to end last weekend (30/31 May), will now be opened for a second and final round in August. In line with the changes to the furlough scheme, the grants will drop to 70% of earnings, up to a maximum of £6,750 for three months.

The Timeline

10 June

The final date on which employers can furlough staff in order to ensure they will qualify for the new scheme.

1 July

Employers are able to bring back furloughed staff on a part-time basis.

1 August

Government contributions of 80% of salary (up to a maximum of £2,500) continue, but employers will have to pay employer’s National Insurance and pension contributions and cannot claim these back.

1 September

The Government contribution under the CJRS will drop to 70% of salary (up to a maximum of £2,190), but employers will need to top up to 80% (or whatever higher percentage has been agreed with the employee).

1 October

The Government contribution under the CJRS will drop to 60% of salary (up to a maximum of £1,875), but employers will need to top up to 80% (or whatever higher percentage has been agreed with the employee).

31 October

The furlough scheme ends.

The HR consultants at Narrow Quay HR are available to chat through any queries you may have related to new work arrangements under coronavirus (COVID-19). Please contact our HR specialists Caitlin Anniss on 07909 683 938, Sarah Martin on 07799 136 091 or Simon Martin on 07834 813076