Guest Blog from Jacob Demeza Wilkinson, employment law consultant for the ELAS Group.
The ongoing issue with KFC having to close a number of stores due to a lack of chicken has raised an important question for employers; what are my rights if a similar issue occurs within my business? – Jacob Demeza Wilkinson, employment law consultant for the ELAS Group.
There will always be occasions where an employer cannot offer work to their employees for a short period of time. This could be due to circumstances within their control e.g. the workplace undergoing refurbishment or external circumstances beyond your control e.g. the amount of work dropping for a period of time, perhaps during a slow month, or – as in the case of KFC – when a delivery falls through.
As an employer it’s important to put protections in place in case this happens to you. KFC have committed to paying their staff during the closures but not every business can afford to do this. In fact the majority probably can’t. The reality of the situation is if you don’t have the right provisions in place, you may have no choice but to fork out full pay should you find yourself in this situation.
It is essential to include a short-time working and lay-off clause in your contracts of employment. This clause will allow you to either reduce the working time of your staff, or lay them off completely where there is a temporary reduction in the work available. Whilst employees are laid off they are only entitled to statutory guarantee pay of £26 per day, for a maximum of 5 days in a maximum 13 week lay-off period.
However, there are some important considerations.
Firstly, if you look at implementing short time working, this needs to be done fairly. You cannot simply reduce one employee’s hours if there are other people in the department – any reductions need to be made evenly across the department.
Secondly, layoffs should only be considered for a very temporary drop in work, lasting 13 weeks at the absolute maximum. If it lasts any longer than 13 weeks, the employee(s) can claim redundancy. Laid-off employees can claim for redundancy after only 4 weeks but if you can show evidence that the lay-off won’t last longer than 13 weeks then this can be rebutted. It is important to act quickly and, if necessary, take advice if you receive a request for redundancy as there are deadlines in place, which need to be responded to correctly.
It is also important to ensure that any short-time working and lay-off clauses are worded properly so it’s advisable to seek assistance on this.
Whilst it is possible to ask employees to take holiday during unexpected closures, there are a few things that need to be considered. Firstly, you need to provide a minimum of double the amount of notice to the employee of the amount of holiday you would like them to take e.g. if you are asking employees to take 2 days of holiday then you need to give them 4 days notice.
Furthermore, you need to be reasonable with what you are asking your employees to take. If an employee only has a week of their holiday entitlement left then it would not be reasonable to ask them to take that whole week as holiday for something like this, as they may have plans for some or all of that holiday. If you have a lay-off clause and exercise it, there is a chance that employees could request to use holiday time to save them from potential financial difficulties as a result of being laid off. In that scenario, you can accept those requests.