Business continuity plans (BCPs) have been put under great strain by Coronavirus. Where a BCP considered a ‘worst-case scenario’, this is unlikely to have been a pandemic affecting global and national supply chains and the entire UK workforce. Since the introduction of social distancing, many businesses have adopted new modes of working but may have also archived their business continuity plan. There are good reasons why this is ill-advised.
The duty of care that a business must show to its employees continues, wherever they are working. Employers must safeguard their workforce’s health and safety and continue to carry out and review risk assessments, even if employees are working from a multitude of locations. It is not a case of out of sight, out of mind.
There is a legal background to this. Employees could, at some future point, claim an employer’s lack of care led to an injury, physical or mental. Whilst legal experts feel it would be difficult for a Coronavirus-infected employee to definitively prove that a breach of employer duty was to blame for infection, claims relating to poor working practices could be successful.
It is recommended that BCPs are reviewed and remain fit for purpose, with ‘continuity’ considering employee welfare. Employers are strongly encouraged to keep abreast of every new Coronavirus development daily. They should also look to ensure all Government advice on self-protection and employee rights surrounding furloughing, sick pay, maternity/paternity pay and holiday leave are passed on.
Communication with employees is a key part of business continuity. Many will be isolated, so using technology, to keep in touch through one-to-one sessions and team meetings, is a pro-active step.
A ‘good’ plan may also address the impacts on employees caused by the absence of sick or furloughed workers. Training needs should not be overlooked, ensuring adequate assessment and no employee should operate machinery if they have not been trained in its use. Review the roles essential to the business in the plan, and link the employees with the transferrable skills to work in them.
If staff are asked to work longer hours, there must still be compliance with the Working Time Regulations 1998, which govern daytime working hours, night shifts and rest breaks.
If shorter working weeks have to be introduced, however, there should be effective communication with employees, to explain why.
All steps taken in the BCP’s review should be documented. Future claims could arise from under-strain workplaces and some insurers have established HR help hubs, to provide policyholders with the best legal advice on key aspects of employment law. Check whether your policy is offering this and if you suspect a claim may occur, discuss this with us too, as policies such as Management Liability, Errors and Omissions or Cyber Insurance often require that anticipated claims are notified during the period of insurance covered by the policy.
If you have queries about existing insurance protection or want to know how purchasing cover now could possibly protect you in the future, have a conversation with us sooner rather than later. Covers as mentioned above, and Employment Practices Liability Insurance, could protect against future actions, even though the cover will not protect against situations that have already occurred. Build liaison with your broker into your BCP and you should get a much clearer picture of where you stand.