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Tips for HR Leaders in Times of Workforce Crisis

The outbreak of COVID-19 has pushed businesses in an unprecedented situation. Here are a few tips for HR leaders to navigate the workforce crisis. 

The impact of COVID-19 has been devastating on businesses. Board across the industry and chief executive are looking to stabilize their company operations amid slumping global share prices and persistent move towards remote working. This unprecedented situation has now called for emergency board meetings and workforce crisis strategy, where HR leaders are expected to provide a people-focused strategy and deliberate good decision making and championing the principles of good management.

In this time of impending workforce crisis, it is imperative for HR leaders to work with business leaders and plan for times ahead. All this while leaders focus on business-critical areas, which internal stakeholders or external clients would need to know about to make quick decisions.

Job retention and furlough 

The UK recently announced a job retention scheme. The scheme will apply to all UK companies and will allow employers to access financial support to continue paying their employees’ salaries who would otherwise have seen redundant.

Furlough, however, is new in the UK workforce and employment law. Therefore, it is unlikely to be found in employment contracts or employee handbooks. The term is taken from the U.S where it is more pertinent. Regardless, the UK employment law principles will continue to apply in the country.

The newly-minted job retention scheme will support employers of all sizes including the private sector, charitable, and not-for-profit organizations. Further, the chancellor will attempt to ensure that employers are able to contact HMRC for a grant to cover salaries of employees who are not working, but are furloughed and are still on their company’s payroll.

The government will cover up to 80% (2,500 pounds) of an employee’s salary. This above the country’s median income level. Additionally, Employers can top up the employee’s salary. However, this will require the employer’s discretion and will be subject to internal decision making and financial planning.

Tips for being objective and non-discriminatory

No doubt, the selection of employees in a re-organization or change process can be challenging, especially in tough times like the present. In this scenario, HR advisory should be objective, level-headed, and non-discriminatory in the selection process for furlough.

 Here are a few tips on how CHROs can be objective and non-discriminatory in their process:-

  • All decisions should be proof-read to ensure that the decisions are not discriminatory. For instance, the decision to furlough all female employees, so that they can accommodate child care needs is s strict no.
  • While making a selection for the same ‘business-critical roles, asking furlough volunteers could help with the decision.
  • The selection for furlough should be made on the basis of what roles will be redundant during reduced or zero operation. For instance, customer-facing roles are currently not required at coffee shops, while management sight will be required.
  • When employees are furloughed, you can’t expect them to do odd work. This is applicable to working from home, answering odd queries, providing services, or generating revenue. If employees do any work, your company will need to repay the government grant.
  • Rotate employees on furlough if you need to. As long as each employee spends a minimum of three weeks on furlough, things will be fine. Employers have the flexibility to rotate employees. For instance, one group can stay on work, while others can be on leave. Similarly, when the first group is furloughed, the second group can work.
  •  HR leaders must focus on reaching employee agreement. Clear and clear communication has never been more important than now. Employees should ideally have daily communication with HR leaders while furlough decisions are taking place. Plus, employees should be encouraged to give feedback for better redressal of the situation.
  • While furlough is in process, be mindful that employees will return to work after furlough leave, when the crisis is over. Therefore, employers should ensure that selection, agreement with employees, communication with employees, the return of employees should be well managed from business reputation, and people’s critical point of view.

All in all, the complete process of reaching an agreement on furlough leave should be fair and involve consultation with employees. CHROs and other leaders should ensure that furlough leaves are not imposed without consent. Most employees are likely to accept furlough leave with the understanding that other options – redundancy or reduction in contracted hours are more damaging in the long term.

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