The retail industry and the exit strategy from Covid-19

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19 January, 2021

Andrew Halpin

As we settle in to our third lockdown it might not be easy for businesses to think about the future and plan their "exit strategy". However, could this latest lockdown provide a unique opportunity for businesses to think outside the box, critique the way they operate and how they utilise their workforce in a different way?

In the first lockdown in March the Country ground to a halt, almost overnight. Roads were empty, towns and cities deserted and long queues outside the local supermarket seemed to be the only sign of life as the Country tried to come to terms with the "new normal".

The second lockdown in November, and the current lockdown we are experiencing, have been entirely different affairs. Businesses have adapted and found ways to stay open. Retail has had to adapt in an attempt to keep their business afloat.

It appears that the last ten months has sign a rise in contactless payment, click and collect and home delivery. Consumers have adapted and it appears that retail is also going to have to do so if it has not already. With any change to how a business operates, may result in amendments to the terms and conditions of staff. Therefore, what considerations should you be mindful of when considering change?

Varying an employee's duties

An employer can usually make reasonable amendments to an employee's duties if they have the power under the contract, the employee agrees to the change or if the employee's representative (usually a Trade Union) agree to the change.

If an employer does not have the contractual power, then it would be worthwhile having a conversation with the employee to explain your intentions. This would be to ensure they are aware of your intentions and to make sure there is transparency in the process.

Undoubtedly as time moves on, we will see employers asking employees to do differing roles and potentially at differing locations. Therefore, an employer needs to be clear on what it is they are proposing and what it is they are trying to achieve before having these discussions.

Business is changing and therefore asking an individual who may ordinarily work on the "shop floor" to now work as part of a newly formed "click and collect" team may be achievable but ensure you have the power to do so and be clear on your business reasons.

Varying an employee's place of work

As with a change of duties an employer may adjust how they utilise their property portfolio. Businesses are now fast-tracking plans to centralise management functions, such as finance and HR. additionally they may now some sites as a warehouse or a "shop front" which does not allow customers physical access to the premises.

If you are considering asking an employee to move locations, then once again you should check what power you have under the contract. If you have a mobility clause then, within reason, you may have the power to look at moving an employee's place of work.

However once again it is important that an employer has a business case and is clear on its intentions before broaching this with staff. Members of staff are more likely to be amenable to these sorts of changes if the intentions are clearly explained.

Training of staff and Furlough

If your business is currently closed or limited in what it can do then time may be of the essence. Staff may be on Furlough and you may be concerned about how you can upskill or retrain staff. Thankfully, Government guidelines provide that employees can undertake training whilst on furlough. Therefore, this provides you with an opportunity to upskill or retrain areas of your workforce that you have identified.

As we continue in these uncertain times you should bear in mind the potential adverse effect of another lockdown is having on the mental health of staff. We recommend keeping in contact with staff who are working away from their normal workplace. This good communication is not only beneficial for the individuals but also ensures a good line of communication remains open.

For more information contact Andrew Halpin in our Retail department via email or phone on 01772 220239. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

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