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A step forward: could we find a better work-life balance after Covid-19?

7 min read

Lockdown has taught many employers a valuable lesson: staff don’t need to be in the office to get things done. As a result, some major companies have even told their employees already that there’s no need to come back to the office until 2021.

Why are companies so enamoured with working from home? They’re hoping it will make their staff happier, healthier and more productive. No longer having to commute saves the average UK worker 58.4 minutes of their day and £146 a month on travel costs.

As well as losing the stress of squishing into a packed train carriage for example, Sport England says 33 per cent of adults are now finding more time to exercise, boosting both their physical and mental health. For those not working in frontline jobs, coronavirus has forced a much-needed slow down, and many are finding their new work-life balance quite appealing.

In New Zealand, prime minister Jacinda Ardern has gone as far as suggesting a four-day working week, which she says would encourage domestic tourism while maintaining productivity at levels similar to before.

Already, people are showing signs of making big lifestyle changes. Data from June shows that Manhattan’s population has fallen by 20 per cent as its citizens opt to work from more rural settings. Some may never return; a recent survey found that 69 per cent of New Yorkers working in tech and finance would consider relocating if they were allowed to work from home permanently.

In the UK the trend is similar, with Rightmove saying that 51 per cent of enquiries from Londoners are for homes outside of the capital, up from 42 per cent last April. This population shift could reinvigorate local economies and reverse the ‘brain drain’ that currently sees 38 per cent of graduates from the country’s top universities move to London.

Meanwhile, more of us are getting on our bikes or taking long walks, and government plans to transform this pandemic safety measure into a long-term “golden age of cycling” are already underway.

In Manchester, the Levenshulme area is at the beginning of a transformation to become the city’s first ‘active neighbourhood’. To prioritise streets for walkers and cyclists instead of cars, among the ‘quick wins’ planned is the idea of parklets: turning car parking spaces into mini recreational spaces with benches, games or greenery.

Getting back to work after lockdown

Some 9.2 million jobs were covered by the furlough scheme.

As businesses start to reopen their doors for the first time since March, employees are facing new uncertainty about returning to work.

Businesses have been forced to rely on Government hand-outs to stay open during the coronavirus crisis, as attempts to stop the spread of the disease forced them to send their staff home and close their doors.

Some 9.2 million jobs were covered by the furlough scheme, with 1.1 million businesses claiming a total of £22.9 billion up to June 21.

But the furlough scheme closed to new applications earlier this month, and employers will need to start making compulsory contributions to the scheme from August.

Here, we take a look at what you need to know about returning to work.

Can I still work from home if I want to?

While the Government has not recommended ending working from home, the reduced virus transmission risk might encourage employers to start calling workers back in.

Mr Johnson said “reducing the number of people in enclosed spaces, improving ventilation, using protective screens and face coverings” could all be deployed, on top of keeping a metre away from each other.

He also suggested shift patterns could be changed so staffs works in set teams.

While some firms have told staff they will not be returning to the office until September, others are encouraging employees to return sooner.

If you don’t want to go back to work, you could be asked to take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave, but your employer does not have to agree to this.

If you refuse to attend work without a valid reason, it could result in disciplinary action.

If you want to continue working from home, it is worth asking the question, but legally, your employer does not have to let you.

How soon could I have to return to work?

There is no legal requirement outlining how much notice an employer must give you before asking you to return to work.

But they are expected to be reasonable and experts suggest giving staff at least a week’s notice.

What if I don’t think it will be safe?

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, employers must ensure the workplace is safe.

Employers should undertake a risk assessment to identify what might cause harm and take reasonable steps to prevent it.

If you are concerned about returning to the workplace, you should speak to your employer about the steps which are being taken.

Could my hours be reduced?

An employer is generally not allowed to impose a pay cut or reduced hours without your consent.

But there is an exception if your contract reserves the right to vary your pay and hours.

If your employer decides to reduce your hours without consent or the right reserved in your employment contract, you could pursue a claim for constructive dismissal.

Can I apply for another job?

You might be able to get a different job while your current employer has put you on furlough, as this will not affect the grant they can claim to cover your wages – but check with your employer first.

If you are furloughed, you are not allowed to work for the company, even if you can or you want to.

Remember, your employer also cannot ask you to do work for another linked or associated company.

If this happens, you can complain to your boss in writing, or complain directly to HMRC.

What if I am made redundant?

It is important to be aware that your employer can still make you redundant while you’re on furlough or afterwards.

But your rights as an employee are not affected by being on furlough, including redundancy rights.

The statutory minimum notice period for redundancy is one week for every year you have been employed, up to 12 weeks.

For those aged 22 to 40, who have worked at the company for at least two years, statutory redundancy pay is one week’s wages for every year you have worked there.

This increases for those aged 41 or older.

Many firms have their own redundancy packages.

Can I be forced to take annual leave?

Employers can require you to take a period of annual leave, provided that they give you the required notice.

An employer could, for example, close for a week and tell everyone to use their holiday.

But the business must give you a period of notice which is at least twice as long as the period of leave it requires you to take.

For example, if your employer wants you to take one week’s annual leave, it must give you at least two weeks’ notice.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Asas) said the Government has also introduced a temporary new law allowing employees and workers to carry over up to four weeks’ paid holiday into their next two holiday leave years.

The law applies to any worker who does not take holiday because of coronavirus – for example if they’re self-isolating or they have had to continue working and could not take paid holiday.

Workers may also be able to carry over holiday into next year if they have been furloughed and cannot use it.

What if I am self-employed?

You can apply for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme grant, which is worth up to 80 per cent of average trading profits for those stuck at home.

It is designed to match the support being given to furloughed workers.

The maximum payment will be £7,500, intended to cover March, April and May.

HMRC will work out your eligibility by looking at your 2018 to 2019 Self-Assessment tax return.

Your trading profits must be no more than £50,000 and at least equal to your non-trading income.

What if I need time off to look after someone or I need to self-isolate?

Employees are entitled to time off work to help someone who depends on them in an unexpected event or emergency, such as coronavirus.

There’s no statutory right to pay for this time off, but some businesses might offer pay depending on the contract or policy.

But if you or someone in your same household gets coronavirus symptoms, you should receive Statutory Sick Pay at £95.85 a week, as long as you earn at least £120 a week and are not self-employed.

As of March 13, anyone who has coronavirus symptoms or needs to self-isolate is entitled to sick pay.  

People who have been told to “shield” or told to self-isolate by the Government should also receive sick pay.

Remember, if you are self-isolating, you still need to follow your workplace’s usual sickness reporting process.

Is this the end of lockdown, then?

Not fully. There are still restrictions in place but it is a significant easing and the new measures will allow people to socialise more than they have in months.

But the PM warned that local lockdowns, and even a clampdown affecting the whole country, could still be required if major Covid-19 outbreaks occur.

Links provided below if you need any advise on the following subjects

For all benefits related areas https://www.gov.uk/browse/benefits

For all tax related issues https://www.gov.uk/browse/tax

For all working and non working matters https://www.gov.uk/browse/working

For self employed and local business https://www.gov.uk/browse/business

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