Scientific and medical experts have warned that this is a very real risk and have urged planners to put in place supporting accordingly, most recently in a letter to the leaders of all of the UK’s main political parties.
Verb Marketing offers some practical advice to help employers prepare for a potential second wave of coronavirus.
There are many practical steps employers can take to make sure that they are prepared in the event of a second wave of the virus and cannot expect that the government, staff, clients or customers will respond to another wave of coronavirus in the same way as they did in the first.
They may expect two noteworthy differences in particular:
- It seems highly unlikely that the government would introduce a new scheme in the event of a second wave, should the second wave hit before the end of the current scheme.
- There would be less tolerance of COVID-related disruption by staff, clients and consumers. The initial wave of coronavirus was genuinely unprecedented and generally, everyone was very accommodating and understanding as a result. Businesses cannot realistically expect the same degree of forbearance or flexibility in the event of a second wave.
It is vital therefore that companies have contingency plans in place to make sure that they are as well-prepared for a second wave of coronavirus as possible, even as they preparing themselves for a gradual return to normality.
Preparation for a second wave:
Make sure that there are sufficient support networks in place for those required to work from home again. The mental health of staff members is at risk particularly during lockdown and the impact of a new lockdown may be disproportionately high where they had thought a return to normality was in touching distance. Therefore, it is even more important to make certain staff are as well-supported as possible in the event of a second hit.
There are additional considerations which can be taken into account regarding working from home, especially for those businesses where this was not relevant prior to the initial lockdown:
You may need to introduce a formal working from home policy, or at the very least review your existing one. In addition to dealing with day to day practicalities, this should also cover other important issues such as GDPR.
Reflect on the first wave, as some of the content should be dictated by issues encountered during the current lockdown, so that lessons are learnt and not wasted.
Review your guidance on display screen equipment compliance rules for anyone working from home.
Guidance from the HSE (UK Health and Safety Executive) on, ‘temporary’, working from home provisions is currently under review and further obligations may arise where employees continue, or resume, home working.
In advance, prepare for employees who may not be able to get childcare and cannot easily work from home. This is one specific area where many employers have, ‘muddled through’, however, a more considered approach should be adopted for the longer term.
Make sure that IT equipment and systems are optimised so that any further enforced home working is as smooth and efficient as possible.
Manage employee expectations when bringing people back. Managers should be as transparent as possible about any contingency plans that are being put in place so that if or when these need to be implemented, they will not come as a surprise.
Create or involve employee forums in any planning process, as this will make implementation of the plans simpler.
Ensure that you have a detailed redundancies plan in place in case the impact of a second wave is such that they are unavoidable. This might include the setting up of staff fora for collective consultation purposes, if you don’t already have one.
Consider any other cost saving measures you can instigate in the event of a second wave, and make sure you have the flexibility to implement these measures, if you can’t do them, don’t set them up. Many of these measures might mirror some of the steps taken during the first phase. Again, managing staff expectations will be crucial.
Always keep your coronavirus risk assessment and standard operating procedures under review to ensure that the proper control measures are in situ.
More local variation may be necessary if restrictions are introduced in more specific geographical areas in order to address spikes. Monitor closely how any control measures are working in practice, and consult with staff regularly.
For anyone who would still be required to attend work in the event of a second wave, make sure that you are in a position to implement measures to minimise any risk to their health and safety.
As well as it being the right thing to do, managers should be aware that Section 44 of the 1996 Employment Rights Act, gives staff a right not to attend work if they reasonably believe that doing so would pose a, ‘serious and imminent’ risk to their health and safety.
There will be an expectation that employers are much more ready and prepared during a second wave than may have been the case during the initial wave.