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Comment: HR should not be an afterthought for sector’s recovery

Travel and tourism businesses must ensure they get policies right, says MHA MacIntyre Hudson senior HR consultant Stephanie Pote

It has been a particularly difficult 16 months for the travel and tourism sectors, and the latest news on the delay of Freedom Day has not helped matters. There are still many challenges ahead, including in one area which is often overlooked: HR.

Indeed, many businesses have placed their employees on furlough under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and many have also unfortunately had to make redundancies. As we slowly start to return to some sort of normality with the gradual lifting of restrictions, these sectors are set to grapple with a number of HR challenges.

Companies who have had employees on furlough will be looking to unwind this process as the scheme ends on September 30, despite the fact that the removal of remaining Covid-19 restrictions has been delayed until at least July 19 and uncertainties still remain as the UK government continues to restrict travel abroad.

The implementation of the flexible furlough scheme in July 2020 allowed employers to have staff back on a part time or flexible basis while they were looking to recover. With the end of furlough only just over three months away, we are in a period of anticipation as employers are beginning to welcome back staff on their full contractual hours, just as we enter summer peak season. Considering the delay to Freedom Day and the international travel restrictions still in place, however, companies in the travel and tourism industries are still not back up to speed and will need to assess if ongoing changes to hours of work are required to maintain flexibility.

Of course, the nature of these industries has always meant flexible working patterns, with employees being required to work additional hours during peak periods. As these sectors recover slowly, this may not be the case this year but certainly more flexibility will be required. Now, more than ever, it is important for companies to gain the support and trust of the employees. The so-called “Fire and Rehire” should not be a tactic to be considered, not least because it carries a risk of Constructive Dismissal claims.

Considering redundancies

Businesses that have held off on making redundancies may well have to consider going down this route now due to the continued Covid-19 restrictions. Again, consultation will be required and legal processes should be followed to avoid Unfair Dismissal claims. For example, there are minimum timescales for consultation if more than 20 redundancies within a 90-day period are being proposed, and failure to comply with them can result in ‘Protective Awards’ of up to 90 days’ pay per employee.

A number of organisations have also introduced remote working during the pandemic and may wish to continue with that to some degree going forward. This will have been initially put in place as an emergency response but more formalised policies will need to be implemented with defined parameters so that employees are clear on the rules and employers understand their obligations to home-workers. Yet again, this needs more work from HR departments who will have to ensure that the right updated policies are in place.

And let’s not forget that businesses will also need to incorporate a number of changes to employment legislation which were introduced in April 2020. Among these are:

  • Amending the requirements for the contents of Employment Contracts to include days of work, paid leave (sick leave and ‘family-friendly’ leave), remuneration and benefits, probationary periods and training requirements, along with the obligation to issue them no later than the first day of employment. Failure to do so can render organisations liable to an award of up to £2,152 per employee.
  • Increasing the averaging period for calculating a week’s pay for holiday pay purposes for variable hours workers from 12 weeks to 52 weeks.
  • The introduction of a statutory entitlement to two weeks’ leave, and statutory pay for employees with 26 weeks’ service, in the event of the death of a child.

The postponed extension of the rules relating to off-payroll working (IR35) to private sector organisations which went ahead in April 2021 also means that businesses are now directly responsible for determining whether their workers are employees or contractors.  Failing to accurately determine the status of their workers for tax purposes will result in a hefty bill from HMRC, along with the risk of worker status cases in the Employment Tribunal.

Brexit changes landscape

In addition, Brexit has changed the landscape for travel throughout Europe as well as having implications for EU nationals employed in the UK. The travel and tourism industry heavily relies on workers from the EU and with the deadline for applications to the EU Settlement Scheme on June 30, there isn’t much time left for companies to ensure they are compliant with the new rules. As such, employers must ensure that they carry out Right to Work checks for EU Nationals employed after July 1, 2021, otherwise they risk five years’ imprisonment and fines of up to £20,000 if they hire an illegal worker.

What’s more, sponsoring non-British nationals to work in the UK requires the obtaining of a Sponsor Licence which entails a long and drawn-out application process that includes an eight-week decision time from UK Visas and Immigration. For businesses having to go down this route, there is no time to waste.

As the travel and tourism sectors continue to fight for their survival in these turbulent times, they should not forget that, among their many challenges, HR is still an important part of their operations. With many changes to employer and employee relations due to Covid-19 and Brexit, getting HR policies right will be a vital component to recovery.

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