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Employment Considerations in the Hospitality Sector

To say that 2020 was an annus horribilis for the hospitality sector is an understatement.  The impact of Covid-19 saw restaurants, bars and hotels massively restricted and in many cases mothballed altogether.  Those that remained open had to show incredible agility to change their offering; those who did or could not have operated on close to zero revenue for many months.  With a fifth of hospitality jobs lost in 2020, without the furlough scheme, Government grants and changes to tax rules there would have been many more, alongside the significant number of businesses in this sector that have gone to the wall.

Although Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on the vast majority of businesses, hospitality’s reliance on venues for gatherings of people has seen it subject to the harshest of restrictions.  Given the need for workers and customers to return to these venues, it is clear that the industry’s recovery is massively reliant on a successful and efficient vaccination programme.  While there is light at the end of the tunnel, it is unlikely that we will reach that point until the summer at the earliest.  How can the sector use the next few months to prepare for this?

Unfurloughing and getting up to speed:

It is improbable that hospitality operations will increase from virtually zero to full capacity immediately following the lifting of restrictions.  We are likely to return to a tiered system so hospitality will reopen gradually.  Employers need to plan now to bring back their workforce in a measured manner to respond to increasing demand. 

  • Which roles will be needed straight away, how many of these and where? 
  • Will employees be brought off furlough and return full-time? 
  • Will furlough be rotated among employees? 
  • Will you increase hours gradually and use part-time furlough for hours not worked?

Taking time to think about this in detail will benefit rational business decision making and reduce the risk that any decisions are perceived are discriminatory or based on poorly evidenced assumptions.  From an employee relations perspective, employers need to make sure that they are acting as fairly as possible – this helps avoid complaints from employees who feel overlooked or harshly treated.  Consider the continuing impact of Covid-19 on staff – some may have unavoidable caring responsibilities and may be eligible to be furloughed for a little longer.  Above all, make sure that you communicate clearly and openly with staff.

Covid Security:

It is of paramount importance that working and hygiene systems are in place, refreshed, and ready to go.   The hospitality industry poured a tremendous amount of time, effort and expense into this before summer 2020; it is worth revisiting these arrangements to make sure that the provisions put in place then are still relevant and useful now.  Increased footfall will increase risks.  It is crucial to maintain the confidence and trust of employees and patrons alike.

Testing:

The Government has now launched a service to allow employers to order Covid-19′ rapid lateral flow’ testing kits for their employees.  Employers registered in England and who have 50 or more employees who, critically, cannot work from home, can apply online to receive testing kits for asymptomatic workers.  Those who display symptoms of Covid-19 are encouraged to stay at home and order an individual PCR test themselves through the Government website here.

Give some consideration to whether testing of asymptomatic employees is worthwhile in your business.  On its face, this gives added confidence, allowing those with Covid-19 to be identified before they can spread the virus to their colleagues and customers. 

While the availability of testing does not equate to an obligation to test asymptomatic workers, it does make it easier for employers to do so.  Although we know some individuals and communities may object to vaccination for various reasons, there is less of a clear objection to testing.  Employers who decide to make testing compulsory will be less likely to see push back from their workers and take advantage of the increased confidence that testing gives.

Consider how testing will be your operation and if you think it will, which employees (and in which roles) should be tested.  Well thought-out decisions made in advance and based on a robust assessment of the facts are, without exception, the best way for employers to approach this kind of decision.

Recruitment post-Brexit:

Many employers in the hospitality sector will, unfortunately, have had to make some redundancies over the past year.  To get back up to full capacity, to what extent do you have to undertake recruitment now?  Can the existing, trimmed back workforce work in a more efficient way that avoids the need for further recruitment? Do you have a talent gap and if so how are you going to fill it? Will you have to look at becoming a sponsor to recruit the people you need?

If not, employers should be mindful of the changes to the recruitment of EU nationals post-2020.  The EU Settlement Scheme permits individuals to apply for settled or pre-settled status by the end of June 2021.  To qualify, the individual must have started living in the UK before the end of 2020 (although there are some exceptions to this).  Any non-UK recruits not living in the UK by 31 December 2020 must go through the new ‘points-based’ process, both costly and quite time-consuming. 

Of course, there remains a large number of migrant workers in the UK who have applied for settled or pre-settled status available to be recruited as usual.  Home Office guidance on right to work checks has changed recently, and employers should make sure that they lawfully conduct themselves.   Remember that employers cannot compel a candidate to show evidence of settled or pre-settled status before the end of June 2021.  However, they can still use their passport or National Identity Card until 30 June 2021, so the risks here should be relatively straightforward to avoid.

LexLeyton’s free Right to Work guidance for employers provides some useful information and an easy to follow process map to help your business navigate the recruitment challenge. We are passionate about the hospitality sector and proud to work for many inspirational companies in this space.

If a free consultation with one of our team to soundboard any challenges you anticipate having in the weeks and months ahead would help you to prepare to get your business back on track, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at legal@lexleyton.co.uk

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