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Staffing shortages in a pingdemic

Posted on 06th August 2021 in Employment

Posted by

Stephen Jennings

Partner and Solicitor
Staffing shortages in a pingdemic

Many businesses – especially those in hospitality – are suffering from dire staff shortages.

Whilst a measure of relief is in sight with news that the criteria for being pinged by the NHS app have been relaxed and the easing of rules on self-isolation from 16 August for those who have been double-jabbed or who are under 18, it seems clear staffing is likely to be a problem for many employers for some time.

Some employers have seized on the fact that notifications by the NHS App do not give rise to a legal obligation to self-isolate. While this is true, allowing employees who have been "pinged" by the app to attend work when they should be self-isolating may put other employees in the workplace at risk of catching COVID-19. This may amount to a breach of the employer's obligations under the working safely guidance and/or its general health and safety obligations. Any employer should tread very carefully before instructing employees not to activate and use the app while in the workplace (particularly since employers are encouraged to facilitate and support employee use of the app within the workplace wherever possible), although NHS guidance for England does suggest there may be some limited circumstances where employees should be pausing the contact-tracing feature e.g. when working behind a fixed Perspex (or equivalent) screen and fully protected from other people, or certain health / social care workers.

For employers looking to mitigate staff shortages, there are a few options to consider beyond the sort of headline-grabbing pay offers that have been reported recently. These include:

  1. Keeping lines of communication open; if employees are unhappy, you ideally want to know before they leave so you can do something about it. If employees leave, hold exit interviews to find out why.
  2. Where possible, accommodate individual preferences on working hours and times. It may well be better to have employees who are only prepared to cover some of the hours you need covering rather than fewer employees.
  3. Think about preserving full pay for employees who are required to self-isolate. If you can’t do that, do encourage employees to look into whether they may be able to claim financial support under the English test and trace support payment scheme (more information here)
  4. Give recognition to employees who are continuing to perform (and often covering for absent colleagues) in very trying circumstances. Making employees feel respected and valued is crucial.
  5. Make sure you have robust COVID-19 safety measures in place that give employees confidence to come in to work. Engage employees in this; if they have concerns, listen carefully to them.

Of course none of this helps if an entire team is told to self-isolate. However, looking beyond absences which should only last for a few days, the balance of power has shifted in favour of employees in sectors experiencing shortages, so our advice to employers is to act now to keep your best employees happy.

How can Tozers help?

For further information or specific advice on this topic, please contact the dedicated employment team.

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