News

The Latest news from Dumfries and Galloway Chamber of Commerce -

Keep up to date with the latest news and stories from across Dumfries & Galloway.

 

British Businesses Look Set To Be More Flexible About Working From Home

British businesses look set to be more flexible about working from home in the future – with nearly half of bosses believing it will save them money.

 

WORK FROM HOME - BEDROOM (SWNS DIGITAL)

A poll of 1,000 employers in the UK found prior to lockdown, just 45 per cent were comfortable with staff working away from the office.

But seven in 10 are now considering changing previous rules and regulations, after being so impressed with how staff have reacted.

In addition, 57 per cent of business owners are already looking at adapting many of their usual practices moving forward.

The study was commissioned by Vision Direct, which is responding to the changing landscape following a surge in online customers during the month of April.

Ashley Mealor, from Vision Direct said: “Within a few weeks of lockdown we experienced a surge in new customers – the figure was 69 per cent up on the same time the previous year.

“We quickly identified a change in our customer’s behaviour, as they react to events around them.

“All businesses have had to adapt and respond quickly to the constant changing situation, and most are having to identify safer, quicker, more streamlined ways of trading for the future.

“We’re anticipating an even greater move towards online shopping, and we are exploring options for online eye tests, to cater for customers who either can’t get to the high street, or don’t want to.”

The study also found one third of businesses are planning to offer more online services, while a fifth will be reducing current office space.

For 13 per cent of owners, reducing team sizes in certain areas of the business will become necessary, as will downsizing for 14 per cent.

Just under seven per cent of those polled intend to bring manufacturing into the UK.

Eight in 10 employers say more meetings will take place over video conferencing rather than face-to-face, and staff who do have to meet others will do so in smaller numbers.

Staggered start times, professional cleaning services and the introduction of PPE are also being considered by many bosses – and some intend to give their staff the freedom to plan where they want to work, and when.

All measures will be reassuring for employees, who would like to see the introduction of more flexible working practices, to include a mix of home and office working, as well as remote meetings.

This could also lead to a rise in job opportunities for those not living in cities like London, if employers are more open to recruiting staff for remote working.

A further study of 1,000 workers currently at home, conducted via OnePoll, found many feel it is safer and more sensible to continue working from home, with as few people in the office as possible.

In addition to the safety factor, 35 per cent feel they are more productive in the comfort of their own home, while 37 per cent say their attitude to work remains unaffected.

More than half of those polled have maintained good business practice throughout lockdown, with 22 per cent continuing to dress in work attire and 51 per cent creating an efficient home office set up.

If encouraged to return to the workplace, 47 per cent want 2 metres between all desks, and 25 per cent would like Perspex partitions.

A ban on travel to bigger cities such as London and Birmingham is preferable for 16 per cent, while 35 per cent want to see shorter working weeks, with four days on and three days off.

Ashley Mealor from Vision Direct, added: “We’re bracing ourselves for tough times ahead, as while we’ve managed to maintain an impressive level of service throughout lockdown, we did see a 19 per cent drop of contact lens usage.

"However, this is already returning to normal as lockdown eases and more social interaction and activities such as tennis increase.

“Like many other businesses, we have adapted to working from home successfully, although still see a need for the office environment.

"With Zoom fatigue and lack of social interaction, we are conscious of the impact on staff productivity and overall well-being.”

TOP SAFETY MEASURES BRITAIN’S BOSSES PLAN TO IMPLEMENT

1. The option to work from home - 43 per cent
2. Desks set 2 meters apart - 32 per cent
3. The ability to conduct all meetings via video conferencing - 30 per cent
4. PPE - including face masks, gloves, hand sanitizer on decks - 30 per cent
5. Reduced number of people in meetings - 25 per cent
6. Professional cleaning daily - 24 per cent
7. Staggered start times - 22 per cent
8. Ban of external guests to offices - 19 per cent
9. Shorter working weeks - 4 days on 3 days off - 14 per cent
10. Shift patterns - 14 per cent
11. A ban on travel to cities such as London, Birmingham etc. - 11 per cent
12. Perspex partitions on desks - 11 per cent
13. Desks set out so everyone faces the same way - 10 per cent
14. Wider entrances - 4 per cent

Savour the Flavours Calls on D&G to Support Local Businesses as Lockdown Eases

Dumfries & Galloway’s food and drink brand, Savour the Flavours, is calling on people to continue to support local businesses as lockdown eases.  The call comes after Savour the Flavours launched its first industry consultation last night. Following a relaunch of the brand on Saturday, twenty three businesses met online to discuss emerging issues and challenges being faced by the industry.

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Liz Ramsay of Savour the Flavours said:

“Our region’s local businesses swung into action to meet the needs of our communities when lockdown hit. It was fantastic to see so many businesses going the extra mile to make sure that vulnerable people, particularly in rural areas, had deliveries of the products they needed. It must be remembered, when the big supermarkets closed their online doors to many people in this region – our local businesses stepped up and did an absolutely amazing job. 

“My big concern now is how exposed these businesses are. Businesses might look busy, but I can absolutely guarantee people that no-one is ‘benefitting’ from this crisis. Many of these businesses have changed their trading models completely, which has huge financial implications. Several have needed to source new equipment or staff to manage demand, and all will have experienced cashflow challenges.

“I know for a fact that several local businesses have put people ahead of profit by running at a loss to meet the home delivery needs of people in rural areas. Because that’s what we do in Dumfries & Galloway – we look out for each other.

“So we’re calling on the people of Dumfries & Galloway to now look out for our local businesses by, wherever possible, buying local and supporting local.”

Ronnie Graham of Barony Country Foods in Lochmaben was one of the business owners who took part, he said:

“This first meeting was a breath of fresh air after all the stress that small business owners like myself have been under. It was great to speak to other people who are going through the same, or worse, things than our company is, and there were a lot of ideas getting shared and that was really helpful.

“Emotionally what hit me the hardest was seeing our friends and customers in the industry look crushed.  I find it really upsetting to be honest. We are very, very lucky compared to most because we have been able to change our business and keep going. My heart goes out to every person running a hospitality business right now. 

“When this crisis hit it was difficult to know where to turn. As a small business you put so much of yourself into what you do, and when you think you’re going to lose absolutely everything it’s a terrible time. It’s actually difficult to explain just how hard that is.

“One thing I would say to local people is, please don’t forget about us when life starts to return to normal. A comment I’ve heard a lot recently is ‘we maybe can’t travel, but by god we can eat well’. So many people didn’t realise the quality of local food that’s available to them in this region. Food production is a real strength of our local economy, and we need local people to continue to support it.”

Roan’s Dairy is another local business who has continued trading throughout the lockdown period. After the meeting, Tracey Roan commented:

“Being able to bring so many producers and local businesses together virtually was great - I think it was just what we were all needing. You can get so much from just listening to others - this new type of networking is priceless. It was great to hear how we have all adapted to the challenging times we are in and just how important it is to share experiences and information, and I've come away from the meeting with some new ideas.

“Local businesses pride themselves on what they do, and our local food and drink businesses have a passion to make Dumfries and Galloway proud of what it produces. Tonight just emphasised the need for this type of networking and Savour the Flavours is just the ticket.  This is our opportunity to really shout about what we do here, many of us just don’t have the time to blow our own trumpet. But we are all in this together, so the more we can come together and do this as an industry, the better.”

The insights and business feedback shared during the meeting will now be consolidated and made available to industry partners and public agencies to help inform recovery planning. 

The next industry meeting will take place on Tuesday 2nd June at 7pm. Businesses can register to take part at www.savourtheflavours.co.uk .

Managing Holiday Entitlement During Coronavirus

ANOOP SODHI, HR Employment Relations Advisor works with DGChamber Protect provider - Quest Consulting, she's been advising the things you need to consider when it comes to managing holiday entitlement during coronavirus.

 

Since the introduction of Furlough back in March 2020, employers are now contemplating how to manage holiday entitlement. Though furlough is a temporary measure of leave from work, all employees will continue to accrue annual leave. Employers should check contracts of employment to see what holiday entitlements are, the statutory minimum entitlement is 5.6 weeks days. Government guidelines state staff can take annual leave during furlough.

ANNUAL LEAVE
As staff are at home keeping safe, can employers insist employees take annual leave? The government has introduced a temporary new law which allows staff to carry over a maximum of 4 weeks holidays over the next 2 years.

The government guidelines suggest that the 4 weeks roll over is applicable to employees who have been self – isolating or have been unwell due to Covid-19 crisis. Most importantly it is designed for those key workers who are unable to take time off due to work commitments.

Employers can manage holidays and request staff to take their leave, however they must be reasonable in this. Employers should enter into discussions with staff about why holidays need to be taken. Employers may also insist staff take their bank holidays during furlough.

THE WORKING TIME REGULATION 1998
Under reg 15 of the Working Time Regulation 1998, the employer does have the discretion to nominate dates on which some or all of the statutory annual holidays should be taken by giving twice as much notice, i.e. if the employer wants an employee to take 1 week holiday, the employee must be given 2 weeks notice.

For those who have already pre-booked holidays, the employer may insist that the employee continue to take them and not cancel the days.

It is important to note that any annual leave taken must be paid at 100%. Employers can use furlough payment (80%) but it must be topped up to equate to 100%.

If the full holiday entitlement has not been taken at the end of the holiday year, employers should discuss with their staff the roll over process and how it will be managed over the next following 2 years.

This is a very stressful time for all, it is wise for both parties, employer and employees to be flexible and to come to an amicable agreement.

Managing holidays during the current crisis is complicated and riddled with risk; we recommend you contact the advice line for further guidance with your DGChamber User ID. 

 

If you have forgotten this contact the DGChamber office on 07496 781 842.

Employees: Returning to Work

If you've been furloughed your employer may soon ask you to return to work.

Here we have answers to some of your questions...

 

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CAN MY EMPLOYER FORCE ME TO RETURN TO WORK?

Yes, they can. As an employee, you are governed by the contract of employment, and this will usually stipulate your usual place of work where you are required to work. Furthermore, an employer can issue a reasonable instruction to an employee, and the employee is obliged to carry out such reasonable instructions. Failure to return to work under these circumstances can be interpreted as a breach of contract by the employee and an act of misconduct. These could lead to disciplinary action with dismissal as a possible sanction.

Even if the job activities can be performed at home, an employer is not required to agree to home working. However, the employer is under a statutory duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (and various regulations made under it) to ensure that they provide a safe working environment and a safe system of work. To comply with these duties, the employer would be expected to adhere to advice issued by the government and Public Health England. The current social distancing and isolation advice is to stay at home, not to go into work unless the job can be carried out from home. Even if the job can be carried out from home, the employer can still require you to attend work, provided it is safe to do so.

WHAT IS THE EMPLOYER EXPECTED TO DO?

An employer should carry out a risk assessment to identify all the potential risks that employees could be exposed to when they return to work. This of course should include COVID-19. The employer should identify who is/could be at risk, how many could be at risk, how they could be affected, classify the risks as low/medium/high, and finally, identify control measures put in place to minimise the impact of these risks. Elimination of the risk is clearly not viable; thus, steps must be taken to reduce the possibility and impact of infection. Employers should consider whether working from home is possible. If not, will they be safe at work? Introduce a rota for working from the office,  introducing staggered start times, staggered shifts – minimise contact and the number of people in the office, setting up rigorous social distancing policies in the office (with nominated people responsible for monitoring and enforcing it), set up strict hygiene policies – provision of hand sanitizers at the main entrance to the premises, and generally everywhere on site, rigorous cleaning of door handles (especially to the doors leading to the toilet) and work surfaces and adequate ventilation. They could also check temperature on each employee on entering/leaving the premises. Where relevant, the employer must supply personal protective equipment.

Employers’ should be reasonably certain that having taken adequate safety measures, nothing more can be done to protect the safety of staff before allowing them in. If safety is in doubt, the employees should be kept away from work until such time when safety can be maintained. Unions are quite rightly very vociferous about their members safety, and they should b involved in any consultations and disputes.

Once the employer has followed PHE/Govt advice, and implemented safety steps into the workplace, it becomes very difficult for an employee to refuse to go into work.

WHAT IF AN EMPLOYEE HAS SAFETY CONCERNS ABOUT RETURNING TO WORK?

Staff should be informed and reassured that all appropriate advice has been taken, and steps taken in line with current guidelines and practices. If a risk assessment was carried out and control measures put into place, the employee should not have any legitimate concerns. But if they do, they should raise them with the employer.

In extreme cases, employees may feel very strongly that their safety is being prejudiced at work and so refuse to come into work. Willfully refusing to come into work is a very serious matter, and should not be taken lightly, as the consequences can be very serious. At the same time, employers should not rush into taking drastic disciplinary action. Instead liaise with the employee, and others at large, to see what the common concerns are, and what can be done to allay those fears. Employers should be mindful that any disciplinary or detrimental action against an employee due to or is influenced by a health and safety concern, could potentially be automatically unfair. This delicate situation must be handled very sensitively.

Flexible Furloughing

Details have now been announced around the flexible furlough scheme. 

 

Rishi Sunak

 

From 1 July, employers can bring employees that have previously been furloughed back to work for any amount of time and any shift pattern (subject to normal employment law provisions), while still being able to claim CJRS grant for their normal hours not worked.

The scheme will close to new entrants from 30 June. From this point onwards, employers will only be able to furlough employees that they have furloughed for a full 3 week period prior to 30 June.  This means that the final date by which an employer can furlough an employee for the first time will be 10 JuneEmployers will have until 31 July to make any claims in respect of the period to 30 June.

Wage and on-cost contributions are as follows:

  •         June and July: The government will pay 80% of wages up to a cap of £2,500 as well as employer National Insurance (ER NICS) and pension contributions. Employers are not required to pay anything (for normal hours not worked).
  •         August: The government will pay 80% of wages up to a cap of £2,500. Employers will pay ER NICs and pension contributions.
  •         September: The government will pay 70% of wages up to a cap of £2,187.50. Employers will pay ER NICs and pension contributions and 10% of wages to make up 80% total up to a cap of £2,500.
  •         October: The government will pay 60% of wages up to a cap of £1,875. Employers will pay ER NICs and pension contributions and 20% of wages to make up 80% total up to a cap of £2,500.

Further details are available at the usual link - Job Retention Scheme - Employer Guidance.