Following lockdown measures implemented in March 2020 by the Isle of Man Government, all businesses with the exception of essential businesses (e.g. supermarkets, manufacturing, transport, pharmacies, utilities, wholesale distributions, key public workers and frontline support) were advised to close their premises to the public. Employees were to stay at home and employers had to enable the transition to remote working wherever possible.
Working from home
The impact of working from home has highlighted for many employers the importance of communication, technology, flexible working and physical and mental health. Employers have had to consider and manage issues such as setting up home offices, buying more remote technology licences and ensuring that IT support is available to remote work forces. HR concerns such as sick pay and holidays (particularly with the Isle of Man borders being closed for the foreseeable future), have been more challenging without face to face meetings being possible. Virtual working including meetings, training and communications are just some ways businesses have adapted in order to continue to provide their products and services.
Salary Support Scheme
The Isle of Man Government’s COVID-19 Salary Support Scheme (the “Scheme”) has been set up to help businesses retain staff by providing a contribution of up to £280 per week per full time employee. This Scheme is however limited to certain classes of businesses. Those businesses not able to utilise this Scheme have had to find other ways to keep staff employed and paid. Inevitably significant numbers of redundancies have been seen, across a range of business sectors.
Return to work
The next step for employers is focused at facilitating employees to return to work. This involves balancing many considerations in order to avoid grievances or whistleblowing issues. The current message from the Isle of Man Government is for businesses, particularly those in offices, to continue to enable staff to work from home, where possible, although this is expected to change in the near future. Employers must ensure a full risk assessment is carried out before employees can return to work. Adjustments such as reduced hot desking, one-way systems and sanitising stations may need to be implemented. It is important that employers comply with employment legislation and in particular, continue to address issues involving “protected characteristics” under the Equality Act 2017 throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Employers should consider how they can implement measures in order to ensure those in the vulnerable and high-risk categories are not disadvantaged by the new policies put in place relating to COVID-19 and the changing working environment.
In order to avoid redundancies Isle of Man employers have been exploring options, such as, reduced working hours, furlough, reduced salaries, encouraging sabbaticals or secondments, retraining or redeploying staff in different areas of the business and freezing bonuses or pay increases. In implementing these steps, employers must comply with Isle of Man employment law.