How to avoid COVID-related Employment Tribunals in 2021

Employment Law claims caused by the impact of the Coronavirus are undoubtedly on the rise, and experts predict a further increase in 2021 if employers don’t follow guidelines. 

The knock-on effect of the rise in single claims has subsequently meant that the number of outstanding Employment Tribunal cases has increased to 31% (37,000 cases) between April and June 2020. Issues around the Government’s furlough scheme, handling the redundancy process correctly, health and safety concerns and the rise of flexible working are all common traps that employers fall into which could lead to employment tribunals.

To help avoid falling prey to these common mistakes, we highlight 10 COVID-related issues that you need to steer clear of in 2021. 

  1. Reducing an employee’s pay to furlough them

The guidance on the extended Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme states that employers must “have confirmed to their employee (or reached collective agreement with a trade union) in writing” that they have been furloughed, but “the employee does not have to provide a written response”.

However, the guidance also states that employers must “make sure that the agreement is consistent with employment, equality and discrimination laws”. 

If employers are reducing an employee’s pay to furlough them, they should obtain the employee’s explicit written agreement, as this constitutes a variation to their terms and conditions of employment.

2. Selection for furlough 

How you select which employees are to be furloughed may come under scrutiny in 2021. Choosing which employees to furlough should be as fair and objective as possible. Where possible, you should prioritise a small group of people who may be caring for their parents and are struggling to maintain the working balance with their caring responsibilities and those who may need to shield and classed as ‘vulnerable.’

3. Selection for redundancy

With many employers having to make quick and large-scale redundancies, employers still need to follow a fair selection process. This should include a collective consultation process for 20 or more employees from a single location over a period of 90 days or less. Failure to comply can result in a protective award of up to 90 days’ pay for each affected employee.

4. Health and Safety obligations toward pregnant employees

Whilst also ensuring that your workplace is safe to work in throughout the coronavirus pandemic to reduce the spread of infection, employers also need to also ensure that risks to pregnant employers are assessed regularly. This could include: 

  • additional safe working adaptations that would allow the employee to work safely while pregnant;
  • the transfer of the employee to an alternative role during their pregnancy, if such a role is available (which might include a role that allows the employee to work from home rather than attend the workplace); and
  • as a last resort, the employee’s suspension from work on full pay on health and safety grounds.

For employers making use of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, furloughing expectant employees on full pay may also be an option to consider.

5. Workplace health and safety – refusal to work in dangerous environment 

A common scenario has been that the employee feels their employer has not done enough to promote a ‘safe’ working environment and refuses to come into the office.  

Employees are protected against detriment or dismissal where, in “circumstances of danger” that they reasonably believe to be “serious and imminent”, they:

  • leave their workplace (or any part of it);
  • refuse to return to their workplace (or any part of it); and
  • take appropriate steps to protect themselves or others from the danger.

However, there must be actual “circumstances of danger” – there is undoubtedly a danger during the COVID-19 pandemic of contracting the potentially deadly virus. 

Coronavirus-related employment tribunal claims for detriment or dismissal following a refusal to attend work are likely to revolve around whether or not the claimant’s belief in “imminent and serious” danger was reasonable, depending on the safe working practices the employer put in place. 

6. Whistleblowing: employer’s conduct 

Raising concerns about how an employer is handling workplace issues during the coronavirus pandemic would count as a disclosure. To be protected under whistleblowing legislation, the employee must be making the disclosure in the reasonable belief that they are doing so in the public interest.

The term “furlough fraud” is likely to be used more in whistleblowing proceedings in the next few years, relating to an employee who is dismissed (i.e put to the top of the list for redundancy) or subjected to bullying because they have raised genuine concerns about how their employer is handling safe working practices and bringing a whistleblowing claim.

7. Managing flexible working requests

Employers are likely to be seeing a shift in their employees’ expectations around flexible working. Turning down requests for flexible working requests could see themselves justifying their decisions in an employment tribunal. 

Employers who have previously been reluctant to agree to significant changes to working arrangements, such as allowing homeworking some or all of the time, may need to rethink their approach.

8. Handling disciplinaries and grievances

How employers handle disciplinary and grievance procedures is likely to be put more into the spotlight. This might include: 

  • disciplinary action where employees refuse, or fail, to comply with the employer’s COVID-19 rules put in place to reduce the risk of transmission;
  • the handling of any non-COVID-related disciplinary action that is continuing, or commencing during the pandemic; or
  • the handling of other processes, such as grievance and capability procedures.

This could see the Acas code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures to be interpreted in new and unusual ways in the future.

9. Making reasonable adjustment for disabled workers

The number of disability discrimination claims reaching an employment tribunal could substantially increase in 2021. They will be assessing how employers handle their disabled employees’ requests for flexible working, particularly when it was reasonable to allow the employee to work from home and what equipment was provided to help with this;

A number of disability discrimination claims have focused around mental health. For example, did the employer do enough to help employees experiencing mental ill health during the pandemic? Cases could revolve around what support was given in stressful working environments (such as the NHS) and to employees who may have been left isolated and facing an uncertain future (for example those on long-term furlough).

10. COVID as a ‘disability’

Managing employees with “long COVID” is likely to be an important issue for employers in the next few years.

The long term effects of COVID can include feeling fatigued all the time, persistent pain, headaches, ongoing breathing difficulties and long-term loss of smell and taste.

In 2021, employment tribunals could face difficult questions about if, and when, an individual’s long COVID symptoms meet the definition of a disability under the Equality Act.

If you would like support and guidance to help avoid these issues and prevent you from going through lengthy and costly employment tribunals, contact us for expert advice. 

How to onboard employees remotely in 2021 and beyond

Hiring a new employee during a global pandemic when most people are working remotely can present new challenges for both the manager and the new hire.  You want to be able to give them a warm welcome to your team and ensure they are up to speed with your systems, processes, goals – all with minimum face to face contact. 

It’s no easy feat! We’ve got some tried and tested ways to successfully onboard your new employees remotely so you can have the peace of mind that they’ll hit the ground running and feel part of your team quickly.

Develop an onboarding plan 

If you don’t already have one, we highly recommend you create one to ensure the onboarding process goes smoothly.  It should include certain milestones that can be used to measure how a new employee is progressing through the process, including what is expected of them by the end of the journey.  

Your onboarding plan may need adapting to include more remote sessions and collaboration and to postpone things such as the office tour until everyone is back working from the physical workplace. 

Create opportunities for virtual collaboration 

Collaboration with the rest of the team remotely, by inviting your longer standing members of the team to train new hires on systems such as how to save and store documents, and other business critical tools via Zoom or Microsoft Teams. 

This gives it a much more personal touch than watching recorded videos. This gives them a chance to get to know those who are training them, and how they use the tools on a daily basis, and they can also reach out to them whenever they have any questions. 

Regular check-ins

Checking in regularly with a new employee can help them feel more engaged and motivated.  It helps to create a sense of team spirit, despite the fact that people might be working from different locations.  

We also recommend assigning another team member to check in with them on a regular basis too, as this removes the obvious barriers that come from an employee/manager relationship.  It makes it much more friendly and personal and helps them feel as though they are part of a team. 

Arrange an in-person meeting after the first week

Arrange for them to come into the office after their first week to meet key team members. This gives them an opportunity to ask questions and talk through any issues with their manager in person, as well as give you feedback about how they’ve found the onboarding process so far.  

If you want to be more successful in the onboarding of long-term remote workers, it is critical that adjustments are made to create a remote-friendly workplace so that everybody feels included and up to speed, irrespective of where they work.

We’ve recently helped a company create an effective remote onboarding process to give their new hires the ability to have regular check-ins, reach their targets quicker and feel part of the team.  If you would like help with your onboarding process, contact us to implement an engagement app to help with that regular and important check-in.  

5 creative ways to reward remote workers

Being thrusted into the world of remote working like we have this year can bring its challenges for both managers and employees; including the way in which we recognise and reward performance whilst working from home.  

The rewards system that you had in place pre-covid may no longer serve you (or your staff), so it’s time to reinvent them and find creative ways to praise, encourage and reward your staff when they deserve it. 

Here are five creative ways you can easily implement as a business that will keep your staff engaged, rewarded and motivated whilst they work remotely. 

  1. Home deliveries 

There’s nothing better than receiving an unexpected home delivery of treats that you didn’t order yourself.  These could include wellbeing benefits such as veg boxes, a pamper gift set or healthy home snacks to help people get through their working day at home. 

Focusing your gift box on employee health isn’t just a nice gesture, it’s also good business. Companies who invest in health and wellness actually save money in the long run by reducing absenteeism and productivity-loss due to illness. 

2. Virtual Awards Evenings 

Being able to publicly recognise outstanding performance is a great way to motivate and inspire your team. Whilst we may not be able to get together in person, we can still acknowledge employees with virtual awards evenings. 

We recommend keeping these short and sweet as more people are suffering from “Zoom fatigue.” 30-minute monthly team virtual social meet ups that recognise your top performers for the month is a nice way to say thank you and motivate others too.

3. Digital Rewards Platform 

Sign-up your business to a digital rewards platform such as Reward Me Now, Perk Box and Reward Gateway that offer your staff discounts to UK retail and hospitality brands once they reach certain targets. This gives your employees access to their very own rewards scheme with a digital leader board that provide invaluable peer to peer recognition and a happier, more motivated and productive workforce. 

Managing reward through software also makes it easier for managers to understand the effectiveness of reward budgets and which reward types are most popular amongst employees. 

4. Spotify Premium or Apple Music subscription

Reward your employees with a premium account to their music streaming service of choice where they can create their own playlist and share it with your team. 

5. Health and wellbeing rewards

Employee wellbeing has never been more important, particularly as people need some incentive to keep healthy and active.  Some companies are introducing daily health and fitness targets such as walking a certain number of steps each day and rewarding them when they reach certain targets.  

Working from home can be an isolating and disorienting experience for your employees who are used to seeing their peers every day at the office.  Introducing creative rewards gives them another reason to stay motivated and focused on goals that are important to your business, and that don’t rely on face-to-face contact.  

Have you downloaded our HR guidance documents to help with engagement and communication yet? They map out some of the areas you can focus on to assist in improving your employee engagement and why it is important to do so.   


12 days of cHRistmas

1. Remote Christmas Party

So, Christmas parties and staff parties might not be able to go ahead in their usual format, but let’s not allow Covid and the restrictions to stop us from enjoying a night out. Instead of giving up your Christmas party altogether, you could have a virtual Christmas party and have a night in.

Our seasonal tip is to supply each of your staff members with a Just Eat voucher so they can get themselves and their partner a take away of their choice and you could all get together and have a nice meal virtually. Alternatively, you can order food hampers for each person to prepare at home ready for the virtual event.

You could arrange some entertainment, a music quiz or even a game like Mr & Mrs, a comedy act, virtual cocktail making, or a magician are some of the ideas we are starting to see. Why not throw in some awards and celebrate some of the achievements of your employees throughout the year.

If you can go out and you choose to have a little celebration or do something in your office, just be mindful that ultimately, it is an employer’s responsibility to ensure the health and safety of employees so undertaking a risk assessment would be worthwhile.

2. People strategy for the year ahead.

So have you really wanted to get more from your people, promote the right person and really make a difference?

Well without any goals or objectives how will you get there and if you do how do you know you have achieved it?

So why not start planning your people plan for 2021, this may already be in place but does it reflect your values and overall business strategy?

Get your staff involved and ask them where they want to be within their career if they are happy then great but if they want to improve in something look to see if it’s achievable and plan it out.

Contact us for a consultation

3. Alternative Staff Activities

2020 has been a difficult year for many. Even if businesses have survived and even thrived, it hasn’t been easy for a lot of people not being able to see family and loved ones and having the challenge of homeschooling. However, we all know how good it feels to have something to look forward to so why not end the year by setting some fun plans for next year so people come back feeling motivated and inspired for the year ahead. You can get your employees involved in the planning and find out what they would like to see. You could look at things like:

a. Charity event
b. Bring your dog to the office days
c. Pool or darts board for the office
d. Weekend treats for your people
e. Business charity event
f. Sports day
g. Free fruit in the office
h. A bake-off challenge
i. A wellbeing voucher
j. Social event for team building

4. Benefits

for the next year can you offer a purchase some extra holidays for the next year. Not only is this a great benefit to offer it can be a good tax benefit for your employees.

5. Secret Santa

Who doesn’t love a pair of socks, a spa day for 1 or some cheap wine wrapped up and having to guess who it was from. Now secret Santa has been going for a while as isn’t original but you could donate your gifts to a local charity or help out a charity to give back to the community. But if keeping it traditional it can add a little bit of fun in the office, keep the value low for extra fun.

6. An end of year message

From the owner or MD can have real impact to your people. Nothing says it better from the leader than from themselves, this can be live in the office, on a conference video call or you can record a special message. Saying thank you goes a long way and your people will appreciate it if you add a personal touch and thank them for the year.

You could go the extra mile and do personal messages to each team member this may not be feasible in very large organisations, but with a bit of planning it can be pulled off. Our top tip is add a personal message to each person.

7. Half-day for Christmas shop/Christmas events

Some of us may be working a little bit more flexible compared to usual, but this doesn’t mean that our people won’t be working harder than normal and there is a lot of pressure to get organised. So if you can why don’t you offer the ability for your staff to take a half-day to get themselves organised, or see a virtual children’s show for example. Little gesture like this can mean a lot to some and they will forever remember the benefit.

8. Be ready for the new immigration system

The end of the Brexit transition period means that there will be a new points-based immigration system in place from 1 January 2021. EEA nationals arriving in the UK from 1 January will need to comply with the same visa requirements as other non-UK nationals.

Employers should understand how the new system will affect their recruitment and should consider whether they will need to apply for a sponsor licence.

They should encourage their existing EEA employees to apply for settled or pre-settled status, if they have not already done so.

European nationals already in the UK before the end of the transition period have a grace period until 30 June 2021 to apply under the settlement scheme. Employers will need to understand the rules on right to work checks during this period.

9. Staff award ceremony

Who doesn’t like to be recognised for long service, or for going above and beyond? Now here at 1850 we believe that all your staff should be recognised and looked after as they will repay it with productivity. But why not show them your gratitude with a little award for the best email of the year, for going the extra mile, for bringing in more work than they were meant to. You don’t have to be normal and the same like long service for 40 years within your business you can give an award for the staff who brought in the best biscuits :).

10. Salary reviews and bonus

If you usually offer an end of year bonus this year you may not be able to do this due to the current restrictions. So the best policy is to communicate this if you can let your people know if you cant please again communicate this. Also check your employee terms and conditions as you don’t want to be in breach of any conditions.

If you choose to pay only some employees and not others, make sure you have sound reasons for the selection of individuals. Be wary of any potential discrimination issues that could fall out of your selection.

11. Staff gifts

Recognising your team for the year. Its been a long year and if you can make a gesture to your staff for the appreciation for the year then this is a real mood booster. Be mindful of the gifts as not everyone would want a bottle of alcohol, our top tip is a high street voucher that can be used in some major stores and online or even a voucher for a supermarket.

Or even a hamper for your staff or their family’s, now this can be a bit old fashioned but they can be well received and welcomed as you can get some really nice hampers and unique hampers so your people could have a nice little surprise.

12. 1-2-1

Planning out your 1-2-1 for the next year – Train your staff on how to deliver them

Our other tip is to provide a little gift to a family member or provide a virtual santa for your staffs children.

Want to further develop your employees health and wellbeing in 2021, contact us to help you get the best out of your team.