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Employees

It is still important for businesses to protect their employees from Covid

Infections have been climbing again thanks to new variants and reportedly cases have risen by 29% in the UK in the last week.

The NHS is also struggling with large caseloads at a time of year when it usually has a respite.

Yet reportedly one in four people who have Covid are going to work.

While it is understandable that businesses facing a perfect storm of rising costs, supply chain issues and recruitment difficulties may be reluctant to let people take time off work, there is still much they can do to protect people.

Firstly, after two years of survival during lockdowns by using remote working, businesses can still allow people with Covid to return to remote working.

While regulations regarding Covid may have been removed, businesses should still be ensuring their workplaces are as safe as possible.

This means ensuring there is plenty of fresh air circulating, providing hand sanitisation stations and asking people to wear masks to protect themselves and others, especially in customer-facing roles.

Given the current difficulties in recruiting staff it makes sense for a business to demonstrate that it has employees’ wellbeing at heart.

Our Board Briefing is still worth a read.

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Employees

Keep your valued employees by giving them a stake in the business

The numbers of employee-owned businesses have more than doubled in a year, according to the Employee Ownership Association (EOA).

There are now more than 1,000 Employee Owned businesses in the UK, it says, compared with 500 in 2020.

As trading conditions become increasingly difficult thanks to a combination of factors, including the war in Ukraine, post-Covid supply chain disruption and the difficulty in recruiting skilled people, employers have turned to EOTs (Employee Owned Trusts) as a way of both spreading the risks in business and in keeping and rewarding staff for loyalty during the pandemic.

There are also tax benefits from turning a business into an EOT.

But there are a number of things to consider in structuring and formalising an EOT and it is important to understand exactly what a business is getting into.

The questions, according to accountants Price Bailey include:

  • What is the commercial purpose of an EOT?
  • Is it suitable for my business?
  • Who will be the controlling party?
  • Who will manage the EOT?
  • What is the market value of the company and what are the value of shares to be sold?
  • How will the share purchase be funded? And if the company is going to fund it, over how many years?

Businesses that have successfully converted to EOTs reportedly say that it improves social responsibility and keeps staff informed and engaged. It can also improve productivity.

If you are struggling with managing your business might an EOT be the way forward?

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Employees General

Are there situations where process automation produces a worse result?

A shortage of candidates amid a high demand for staff has for some time been a complaint made by businesses.

The competition for suitable people has led to their offering higher starting salaries for new staff.

But the question has to be asked: how are they going about the recruitment process?

For several years now, candidates have been assessed using AI (Artificial Intelligence).

This method has become increasingly sophisticated as candidates are now being asked to answer standard interview questions in front of a camera while the software behind it notes thousands of barely perceptible changes to posture, facial expression, vocal tone and word choice.

Some companies selling AI recruitment tools even offer a reactive, AI-powered chatbot that will conduct the entire interview process.

But there have been examples of eminently qualified people being rejected at the first hurdle by these methods and in one recently-reported case and employee with a long track record of work with various high profile publications dis covered his application had been rejected because he had not reached the required score in a test that seemed to bear no relation to the skills needed for the position.

He queried it unsuccessfully and after filing a claim with the Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK was awarded £8000 in compensation. In his view the fault was in the software that was “weeding out good candidates”.

There have been reports of candidates who scored highly on most tests but found themselves excluded perhaps because of age, or an employment gap of longer than six months or because they were missing just a couple of skills from a very long list.

It must be remembered that software is written by human beings and human beings have inherent biases of which they may be unaware, not to mention that they can make mistakes.

At the moment there are no standards for checking whether an AI-based selection process is fair and unbiased although there are reportedly plans in both the UK and USA for bringing in national standards.

In the meantime, while the use of AI tools in the recruitment process may be useful at some stages potential employers should think carefully before applying them too widely.

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Employees

Taking the longer view

Could taking on apprentices be a better business solution to the staffing crisis during the current economic uncertainty?

It is understandable that following the easing of all the Covid pandemic restrictions businesses should be keen to go all-out for growth and therefore recruiting qualified staff.

But recruitment itself is currently a problem and in the face of all the other pressures including supply chain issues, rising energy prices and of course the Ukraine war, perhaps a slower, steadier approach would be more sensible.

Consolidating the current business and planning ahead would ease some of the pressure and this is where taking on apprentices may be a better way forward.

For businesses that are below the threshold of a £3 million payroll there is no apprenticeship levy and there is financial help for both taking on and training apprentices. There is a £1000 incentive payment for taking on an apprentice.

Then, depending on the size of your business, you pay just 5% towards the cost of training and assessing an apprentice and the government will pay the rest up to the funding band maximum.

If you employ fewer than 50 employees, the government will pay 100% of the apprenticeship training costs up to the funding band maximum for apprentices aged 16 to 18 or 19 to 24 with an education, health and care plan provided by their local authority or has been in the care of their local authority.

You must pay them the national minimum wage for their age group but if they are under 25 and on an approved Government apprenticeship scheme you don’t pay NI.

The FSB has a lot of useful information on its website to help smaller employer considering the apprenticeship route.

Thinking longer term could be a good way of protecting your business and preparing it for future growth.

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Employees

The post-Covid restriction dilemma for bosses and employees

Restrictions may have been lifted but Covid levels in the community are still high and this can cause problems for both employer and their employees.

If someone contracts Covid the advice still is to self-isolate for at least five days.

However, this could result in employees losing three days of the statutory sick pay available from the Government, leaving them with just two days sick pay if they abide by the rules. SSP in the UK is just £96.35 per week.

To make matters worse, lateral flow tests are no longer free, so there is also a risk that someone with mild symptoms that are similar to a cold may not test themselves at all, carrying on working and risking spread of the illness to other colleagues.

In a previous post we advised employers to complete a health and safety risk assessment that includes the risk from COVID-19, provide adequate ventilation, clean more often and to ask people with COVID-19 or any of the main COVID-19 symptoms to stay away and enable them to work remotely.

But is there more employers can do to protect their businesses and their workforce in this situation?

Here are a couple of suggestions:

Firstly, employers can protect their workforce and help individuals to isolate if necessary by buying stocks of Lateral Flow Tests and making them available to employees.

Secondly, if they have a workplace sickness scheme, it may be worth introducing sickness pay from day one in the specific case of a Covid infection.

The benefits are obvious albeit you may have to pay a little to reap them.  

It will encourage employees to do the right thing while protecting their income.

It will protect the rest of the workforce and ensure minimal disruption to production and at the same time will send out a message to employees that you do value them and care about their welfare.

Given the difficulties businesses are having in recruiting and retaining staff, it will help you to keep loyal employees.