• Some businesses are now starting to plan for returning to the workplace after the coronavirus pandemic.

    The Government’s recent guidance encouraged a return to the workplace for those sectors which could not work from home. For example, food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research in laboratories. This excludes sectors who are required to remain closed such as the hospitality and non-essential retail sectors. Workers who can work from home should, however, continue to do so.

    Read on for an overview of leave which may be requested by employees who are returning to the workplace and our top tips for managing this.

    Annual leave

    Currently, employees are either on furlough leave, sick leave, providing services as a key worker, at work (or returning to work) or working from home. In each of these circumstances, employees are likely to have a substantial amount of annual leave outstanding.

    It has now been confirmed that employees can take holiday during furlough leave. ACAS guidance also states that employers can request employees take leave during this time, subject to the usual notification requirements.

    Top tips

    We recommend that employers consider how they are going to manage requests for leave, particularly when employees return to the workplace and social distancing rules are relaxed.

    Now is a good time to ensure policies and procedures are up to date on how to book leave and make amendments to leave requests.

    Annual leave on return

    The Government has introduced a temporary amendment to the Working Time Regulations. The amendment allows a worker to carry over up to four weeks annual leave into the next two leave years. This is where it is not reasonably practicable for them to take this annual leave due to coronavirus.

    The regulations do permit an employer to refuse leave on particular days where they have a good reason to do so.

    Top tip

    It is important that businesses consider if there are likely to be periods where annual leave would cause issues and whether they are able to refuse leave at this time.

    Time off for dependents and parental leave

    It is currently not certain when schools will be returning, although it is expected that this will be done in stages. If your business returns to work before schools go back, this may present difficulties for staff with young children.

    Top tips

    Eligible employees are entitled to take 18 weeks’ statutory unpaid leave for each child up to their 18th birthday. This may therefore be something that employees seek to utilise. However, given that parental leave is unpaid (unless your business provides for paid leave), employees may benefit more from using any outstanding annual leave first. It is important to have these discussions with employees.

    Employees may also be entitled to reasonable unpaid (unless your business provides for paid leave) time off where they need to deal with an emergency involving a dependent. This may be a child but could also be, for example, an elderly relative. A number of employees may currently have care responsibilities for elderly relatives that are self-isolating. An example of when time off for dependents may be relevant is if the relative starts showing symptoms of the coronavirus and needs medical attention or assistance.

    These types of leave are not regularly used but are likely to be more so now. Businesses should ensure they understand when these types of leave apply and ensure staff know the relevant procedures for taking such leave.

    Maternity and paternity leave

    There is currently an interesting live petition which argues that paid maternity and paternity leave should be extended given the current circumstances.

    Top tip

    While this has not yet been considered by parliament, it is something to keep an eye out for any further developments on.

    Sick leave

    It is possible that staff returning to work may start to show symptoms of the coronavirus.

    Top tips

    It is important that company policies take into account current law and guidance around sick leave and isolation for employees who show symptoms of the virus or are living with someone who shows symptoms.

    Managers should also receive training on the symptoms and how to discuss this with staff. We recommend that you ensure to keep a record of any training provided.

    Further support

    For support on the issues outlined in this article, contact our Employment team today.

    This content is correct at time of publication

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    Take a look at our Employment & HR page for useful information, resources, guidance, details of our team and how we may be able to help you

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