With the first nine months of 2020 changing the local and national employment landscape it’s time to ask yourself: are my staff employee contracts post-COVID ready?

 

Employment contracts and business policies have been tested like never before during this global pandemic.

The ‘old norm’; a typical 9-5 office job looks set to be relegated to history.

Vast swathes of the working population in Northern Ireland are either working from home, furloughed, losing their jobs or working staggered hours.

In light of this, now is the climate for Northern Ireland businesses to set aside time – and hire professional legal advice if you don’t have any within your business – to go through employment contracts and business policies with a fine-tooth comb.

Here are some things to keep in mind.

 

Are your contracts of employment drafted in such a way to allow you and your staff flexibility?

This year will go down as the year that changed everything, particularly in employment.

The impact COVID-19 has had on the way we work and on the number of employment related changes is significant.  Whilst for years the concepts of flexible working and remote working existed, in reality only recently have these concepts become the practical norm for the majority of the population.  Added to this, we have had the entirely recent ‘new’ concept of furloughing.  The list of colossal employment changes appears endless and who knows what more is to come.

As a consequence, all employers need to ensure their contracts of employment allow them sufficient flexibility to make tough decisions – whether that’s temporarily laying off staff or reducing hours of work – that are necessary for the survival of their business.

For example, when you employ somebody, unless it is explicitly stated in their contract that they can be laid off then – regardless of COVID-19 pressures on your business – you cannot lay them off!

Instead, you might have to start a lengthy and costly redundancy process.

 

Should I consider adding ‘lay off’ and ‘short-time’ terms to staff contracts?

Usually, laying a staff member off means asking them to stay at home or take unpaid leave if there isn’t enough work.

Short-time working is a reduction of work hours.  Together Lay Off and Short Time, are commonly known as ‘LOST’ provision in an employment contract.

And while there’s no limit on how long you can lay an employee off or put them on short-time – although the employee does have certain rights if the LOST situations exists beyond certain limits – in order to operate the practice, it needs to be stipulated in the contracts of employment.

If there’s no mention of it in their contract, your main option is to go down the redundancy route.

The take away message is that, legally, if an employee is fit and able to go to work and it is you as the employer who is preventing them from doing so 9for whatever reason) they are entitled to their full pay unless their contracts state otherwise.

 

What should be my next steps?

Follow these steps:

  1. Read and understand what minimum statutory rights are in Northern Ireland by clicking HERE and HERE.
  2. Understand what areas in your relationship with your employees that you can reach a contractual agreement on.
  3. Examine all contracts of employment to check if they allow sufficient flexibility that they, or you, might need in all eventualities.
  4. If you need help or advice, contact one of our specialist legal advisors to guide you through the process.

 

Do you need help with your employment contracts and practices?

Find out more by contacting Granite Legal Services today: click HERE.

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