What should happen to new starters over the coming months – clarity from Oliver McCann, Partner at Napthens Solicitors

I have held several conversations over the last few weeks with clients who earlier this year were over the moon in securing, and full of anticipation for welcoming, their new executive hire in the spring / summer.

Although intentions have not changed, and contracts and start dates have been confirmed, in the intervening time since the hire was made, the whole world has changed; albeit we hope just for a temporary period. This has resulted in me fielding queries from clients about how a new hire is going to start and also calls from the candidates themselves on changes to their own personal situation, often including the increased need to offer support at home with childcare etc, and concerns over how this will affect their being hired.

In most situations this has led to the client confirming that little has indeed changed, although acknowledging that added flexibility will be needed from themselves, and that there is still the need and motivation to get this important hire started. Indeed, this hire is part of a clear business need, which once this current period of uncertainty is over still needs fulfilling.

Through one of our long-term relationships with a building products client, I was introduced to the Partner and Head of the East Lancashire Office of Napthens Solicitors, Oliver McCann.  Having specialised in retained employment law solutions for businesses for over 20 years, I thought he would be a great person to speak with. Here is a snapshot of his views on the subject:

Mark:  These are clearly unprecedented times we find ourselves in Oliver.  What advice can you give to an employer who has confirmed a start date with a new hire and has received signed contracts, if they now do not know what the situation will be with “business as usual”?

Oliver: Firstly, do not make any rash decisions. Finding and retaining top talent is not easy and given the current climate, is likely to be even more difficult. Communication both ways is critical. So, unless your need for that new recruit has diminished completely, then you need to communicate with the new hire and Collingwood, to explain the challenges you face and try and identify a solution. Currently, government guidance suggests that anyone commencing employment on or after 1st March 2020 would not be eligible for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (“CJRS”).  So theoretically this is not a resolution to the issues, but this could change – indeed, HRMC in a recent Webinar and subsequent Q&A, indicated that the scheme was open to all employees regardless of when they started. So, another reason not to make any rash decisions. Be patient, we expect full guidance on CJRS within the next 2 weeks. Absent the ability to use CJRS, other solutions could include:-

  1. Agreeing a temporary reduced salary – with or without a temporary reduction in hours
  2. Agreeing a deferral of part salary for the first few months until through this crisis, and to be repaid in instalments thereafter
  3. Delaying the start date by agreement

The key is to talk.

Mark:  And conversely, how would a candidate best approach the situation with a prospective employer if they have handed their notice in with their existing employer and are due to start imminently, but now find themselves in the situation of having to support at home during portions of the week?

Oliver: The candidate was hired for a reason – the business needs their skills. There is a common goal here and in fact, both candidate and employer have challenges. The employer may have desire to reduce its labour costs during this period, and so a conversation with the employer around reduced hours on a temporary basis or taking dependent care leave (unpaid) to look after kids may in fact assist the employers temporary need to control costs. Even if the employer is not looking to reduce or control costs and ideally would like the new hire full time, the fact is the business selected them as the best candidate and this is their opportunity to take positive steps to show loyalty to their new recruit and build their employer brand as a supportive employer. As such, consider a potential range of solutions that could work for you and the employer and then start talking to them.

Mark:  What if the work a business does is deemed to be non-essential and so people are exclusively working from home – where does both company and new hire stand legally having exchanged paperwork and should the new hire start as agreed?

Oliver: On the assumption the new hire’s job can also be performed at home, there is no reason why the new hire cannot commence employment as planned. Both employer and employee need to accept that the usual procedures for onboarding and induction will need to be flexed and delivered in a different way. There is nothing which prevents a new recruit from being inducted online and via video calls and I would actively encourage employers to ensure that they put extra effort in to onboarding new staff during these unusual times. Regular video calls (Seeing people face to face on video is more personal than a phone call) to support the new hire is key.

Ensure all the H&S and compliance issues that need to be part of an induction can be done via e-learning/online training.

Mark: I noticed on LinkedIn that you’re doing a lot of webinars for employers regarding the current situation.  What specific subjects are you covering and how can employers get involved?

Oliver:  Now more than ever we need to be visible. We have been doing weekly videos to summarise government announcements (and the “ins and outs”) on support available for businesses and individuals including the self-employed. We have just given a live webinar to over 175 delegates on the employment law issues arising from coronavirus including issues arising from self-isolation, shielding, homeworking and the new job retention scheme (for which there are many questions with no certain answers yet). The video link of the webinar can be accessed here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOLoDbIynKrJxXJXi4iKFPg

There is also a significant amount of information on our website for businesses and individuals on issues arising from COVID19, including advice for landlords and tenants, considerations for company directors, impact on M&A and T&Cs of business, as well as Wills and Estate planning. Link here:

https://www.napthens.co.uk/coronavirus-covid-19-in-the-uk/

 

For more information on the work Oliver and his team do at Napthens Solicitors, review Oliver’s LinkedIn page here or visit their webpage: https://www.napthens.co.uk/services-for-business/employer-protection-scheme/