The Pandemic – How Do You Really Feel – Part One

The Coronavirus pandemic has caused complete upheaval in all our lives. Not only have most of us been confined to the home for months, but many have also not even been able to work or have been working from home.

We recently carried out a survey at Blue Tree HR Solutions to find out more about how people feel about the pandemic and returning to work after lockdown. We wanted to get a better understanding of the concern’s employees have and whether they feel their employers have done enough to support them. We will discuss the responses, as well as any helpful tips we can offer as experienced HR professionals.

Returning to Work

According to our survey, 95% of respondents were not on furlough, suggesting that most were working from home. There was a very mixed response to the prospect of returning to the workplace, with an equal proportion (35%) stating that they were either dreading it or weren’t bothered either way, and 30% stating that they ‘couldn’t wait to return to the workplace.’

We get a lot of questions from both employees and employers about returning to work after covid and returning to work after furlough. Employers are concerned with how they should approach it and employees want to know what their rights are if they do not want to return. Many feel anxious about the possibility of being subjected to the virus or are just used to their ‘bubble’ and don’t particularly want to come out it. We hope this advice can give you some reassurance.

Advice for Employees

Firstly, the government guidelines, according to returning to work after covid, are to work from home until at least June 21st , so according to the law, your employer cannot force you to return before this date. If you are on furlough and are concerned about childcare or other concerns about returning in June, the scheme has been extended until September, so you should speak to your employer and request an extension.

If you are being asked to return to the office as your job cannot be undertaken at home and it is after June 21st, your employer has the right to expect you to return to your place of work, and disciplinary action may be taken if you refuse. If you simply don’t want to work from the office as you are enjoying working from home, and your work can be undertaken at home, we suggest speaking to your employer and reaching a mutual agreement. Talk to them about how you’re feeling and try to reach an arrangement, such as working from the office two days a week with the remainder at home or only attending meetings, as required.

Advice for Employers

You must not force employees to go into the office until after June 21st. The government messaging remains to work from home. After this period, we would suggest doing your upmost to try and be flexible with your employees, as it is extremely difficult to return to work full time after getting used to working from home. If they can work from home, our advice would be to offer them some flexibility, even if they must attend the office a couple of days a week. You must ensure that precautions are taken and that your employees are safe. Take a look at the government advice on making your workplace covid safe when your employees are returning to work after lockdown.

If you need some advice on this, whether as a concerned employee or employer, get in touch with us on or 01787 695084. We will be happy to take through your options.

Next week we will be discussing the general feeling about lockdown and we will offer some tips on how to deal with your mental and physical wellbeing.

Life as an HR Consultant during a pandemic.

Life as an HR consultant over the last 4 months of the pandemic has been an ‘interesting time’! 

In early March before the lockdown began business owners were understandably worried.  We could all see what was going on in China and other parts of Europe on the news and knew it was inevitably going to affect us here in the UK.

The advice given: wash hands for at least 20 seconds

First, we started looking at options. What would we do in a lockdown situation?  What if we can’t work and I won’t be able to afford to pay my staff? 

Lay-off Clause

All of my clients have contracts which include a lay-off clause – so this was our starting point.  Ideally, nobody wants to do this.  It’s in the contract but it really is a route nobody wants to use for any length of time.

Put simply, it allows employers to send staff home when there is no work. The only pay they will receive is a statutory guaranteed payment which is £30 per day for a maximum of five days in a three month period.  That’s a total of £150.00 in three months!

Many businesses closed due to the pandemic during March.

We were all in the dark as to how long the Coronavirus pandemic would continue and that dreaded word kept cropping up ‘unprecedented’!  No employer wanted to tell their staff –“go home, you will get £150.00 and hopefully, you can come back soon”, with the alternative being to pay the staff without any revenue there wasn’t really a choice.  It was quite frightening.

I started preparing letters but advised clients to hold fire with sending them out.  There were whisperings that the government was going to help in some way.

20th March 2020 the government announces the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

The 20th March 2020 the government announced the Coronavirus Job Retention scheme.  Typically announcing it on a Friday at 5pm!  Monday morning my phone started ringing at 7am.  Everyone needed to know what they had to do.

Working alongside lots of other HR consultants and got involved in various HR consultants’ forums to consider what was going on.  Everyone was having to figure things out as we were drip-fed the legislation.

But what a relief! 

Everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief; Businesses saved overnight. Employers could sleep at night knowing their employees were going to continue to receive some pay when the business was shut down.

I know of business owners literally crying they were so happy; people already been made redundant were called and offered their jobs back.


That seems like a long time ago now and furlough has become a word used more than any other in HR circles.  How we furlough, who we furlough, what can happen during furlough?

Legislation has continued to evolve and overall, I think it has been a great scheme.  There have been some downsides, but people receiving 80% pay whilst not being able to go anywhere and spend their money have mostly been quite happy.  People who earn over £30k per year have been harder hit as the cap was at £2,500 per month. On the whole it had the desired effect.  People stayed at home.

23rd March 2020 – “Stay At Home”

After the announcement on the 23rd March advising everyone to stay at home – about 80% of the employers I work with furloughed their staff. Constructions sites could continue to work, but within a week they could not get access to resources. Inevitably, staff continued to be furloughed into April when everything had come to a standstill.

Keyworkers were not furloughed and continued to work through lockdown.

Since then, I have been advising clients on the changes to the furlough scheme and planning ways of bringing employees back to the workplace or helping them manage staff who are home-working. I also became an NHS volunteer and have been helping people in need – delivering food, collecting prescriptions, and ringing up people who are lonely and need a chat.

Changes to Business

In May the redundancies started. 

Many businesses affected by the pandemic have had to make big changes and the lockdown period has given employers time to consider the most economic way of running effectively.

Unfortunately, this often means job losses.  Again, the HR forums are busy, this time managing redundancies is now commonplace and every HR consultant I know, is dealing with various redundancy situations.

Working with employers to try and avoid redundancies has been the majority of my workload through June, with the job retention scheme making it cost effective to put staff on notice during their furlough, businesses realize it is better to make these decisions now instead of later.

Flexible furlough scheme

Social distancing with anyone who does not live in your household

The flexible furlough scheme came into effect on the 1st July 2020 and this really is a good scheme. I personally think it would have been better if it had been introduced earlier. However, I appreciate the government had to make some quick decisions back in March.

This new improved scheme allows staff to work for the business on a part-time basis or shorter hours. Employers can choose: a week on/ week off or shorter days or a couple of hours a week.  Any arrangement that works for the business.  It helps with the gradual return back to work.

The Job retention Scheme Grant pays 80% of the wages for the time the employees are not working.  I have been kept me busy making sure the correct agreements with employees are in place. And ensuring employers understand what they can and can’t do.

The new ‘Normal’

It feels as though we are through the worst of the pandemic. Many businesses are back at work with the majority of their staff working. 

The way we all work has changed – with alternating shift patterns, one way systems, lots of home working, so many video calls and hand santizer literally everywhere. There are high cases of people suffering from various mental health issues which is a big issue for workplaces and a worrying outcome of the pandemic and lockdown.

We are all trying to keep a distance from each other and panic ensues every time we hear someone cough. But there seems to be some hope… people are getting on with life and employees mostly are happy to get back to some kind of normality.

We are midway through July and I wonder what the future holds.  One thing is for sure if ever there was a time for businesses to need HR support it is 2020.

If you are in need of HR support please get in touch- we give fifteen minutes of free advice to anyone who calls and are happy to answer your questions.