Law firm’s warning to businesses over HR challenges

Influential law firm Blanchards Bailey LLP has warned employers that they must meet staffing challenges head on or face consequences that may damage their businesses further down the line.

The advice comes at a critical time for businesses which must deal with the easing of Covid-19 lockdown regulations and face an associated host of complex human resources (HR) issues surrounding health and safety, furlough and redundancy.

Jane Eldridge, the Dorset-based Legal 500 firm’s Head of Human Resources, said that with many businesses reopening and staff being asked to return to work, some matters which may have been left in abeyance since March are now also coming to a head.

She said: “By meeting employment and HR issues head-on, and being transparent with employees, business can avoid making the return to this ‘new normal’ more difficult and also put themselves in good stead for the next quarter of trade.”

Jane, who has 30 years’ HR experience, said that while some queries received by Blanchards Bailey were about the flexible furlough scheme introduced this month, more clients needed advice on carrying out proper Covid-19 compliant health and safety audits, how to end furlough and, in some cases, how to effect redundancy.

She added that Blanchards Bailey is seeing a marked increase in instructions relating to compromise settlement agreements - the contract often put in place to end an individual’s employment with a business on agreed terms – as demand for its specialist services grows exponentially in such uncharted times.

Jane said: “Administering redundancy is never easy and it is important that businesses meet challenges swiftly, honestly and compassionately.  Delaying the process only makes it more difficult for all concerned and now makes it more costly as employers will have to start contributing to furlough leave payments from August 1.

“Equally, if you are reopening your business and bringing staff back from furlough, it is vital to ensure that you have the proper health and safety checks in place and that staff are kept as safe as customers and clients. Indeed, there is a legal obligation on employers to ensure this is the case.”

Jane added that businesses which are reopening may need to change some employees’ current terms of employment – a potentially risky area that would certainly need strong legal advice.

She said: “Also, while there is a tendency in some sectors to rely on the furlough scheme as long as possible (it is due to end on October 31), with businesses reopening and consumer confidence on the rise, now seems to be the time for businesses to act.

“Keeping staff on furlough may be a double edged sword – businesses need staff back to help get work ‘through the door’ and without more staff, many small business owners will find themselves chasing their tails in managing the day to day operations.

“Remember, the flexible scheme now allows staff to be brought back on part time hours and be paid furlough leave for the remainder of their contractual hours.

“Lacking staff can obviously affect a business’s ability to generate profit and without profit this quarter, many businesses will find themselves struggling come October and the end of the furlough scheme. This would likely bring a second wave of redundancies.”

Blanchards Bailey has bolstered its HR and employment division by taking on an expert employment law specialist to meet demand as business continues to grow.

Solicitor Stephen Woodman, who has 14 years’ experience in the field, has joined the Litigation and Disputes team to work for both employers and employees from the firm’s head office in Blandford.

Stephen, who has been advising clients throughout lockdown, said: “I feel privileged to be able to offer my advice to Blanchards Bailey’s clients throughout Dorset and beyond as they adapt to a very challenging new world – and help them understand and act upon often complicated national directives.” 

Blanchards Bailey

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