With “non-essential” retailers in England due to open on the 15th June, businesses are preparing for the next milestone in the easing of lockdown. We spoke to Obelisk legal consultant, Lola Moses, to find out what issues small and mid-sized companies of all sectors should be looking out for as we get back to business.
#1 Assess the risks of re-opening
You have a duty of care to your employees and a responsibility to your customers to make sure that you have carried out a full risk assessment of re-opening any premises. If this assessment identifies any practices that need to change, then you need to make sure you facilitate this, by for example, providing new equipment, providing staff training and communicating relevant information to employees, customers and suppliers.
#2 Prepare your policies
Your operating policies need to be reviewed to make sure they reflect all government guidance. In particular, make sure that your staff handbook has been updated with details of new practices you are implementing in response to Covid-19 and that any supporting policies it refers to have been updated.
#3 Review furloughed staff
The UK government’s furlough scheme remains operational until October, however employers must prepare to start paying a contribution to the wages of furloughed staff in August.
From July 1st, you can require furloughed staff to work for your business on a part-time basis – giving both you and them greater flexibility. As you prepare for employees to return to work, either on a part-time or full-time basis, you need to give consideration to:
- Their ability to do their job from home. If they can, government guidance at the time of writing is still for them not to travel to work
- Their health and safety at work if they are coming into your premises
- Managing their annual leave requests, as the UK government has allowed for holiday to be rolled over for longer than normal
- Providing any training in new operating practices, as above.
Each employee will have very different personal circumstances, so you need to make sure that decisions you make are reasonable, communicated fairly and supported by amendments to their contract of employment. Make sure that you document all your conversations and keep clear records. Again, you also need to make sure that appropriate policies are in place and up-to-date. For example, if a number of employees will continue to work from home, you may need a Remote Working policy and adjustments to your IT and Data Protection policies.
#4 Strengthen your supply chain
The pandemic has made us hyper aware of the importance of business continuity planning and supplier due diligence. As well as dealing with any current supplier disputes or failures, now is the time to review the contracts you have in place across your supply chain. Prioritise those who are most significant for your business and check:
- What protection do you have in terms of their failure to deliver?
- What force majeure clauses are in place?
- Is the contract recent, with terms that reflect the reality of your business or do you need to re-negotiate and update terms, such as delivery deadlines?
If you do have a dispute with a supplier that you are finding difficult to resolve through commercial discussions, involving a lawyer can be a useful tactic to reach a settlement more quickly.
You may also find it useful to review your own standard terms and conditions to see whether there are any changes you should make, in areas such as frustration of contract, for example.
#5 Protect your premises
If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to negotiate with your landlord. You may have realised that you can operate from a smaller premises, in which case you need to find a way to exit your lease early. Alternatively, you may need to agree or extend a rent holiday to help with cash flow over the weeks ahead. Again, if your initial discussions aren’t fruitful, taking legal advice may help you find new ways to reach a reasonable agreement.
This article offers general guidance only and is not intended as comprehensive legal advice. If you need help in any of these areas, Lola and other Obelisk consultants are available. Providing pragmatic advice in plain English, they can help you protect your business, without running up large legal bills. Get in touch with us on 020 3417 6590.