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We know that Family-owned businesses have had to react and adapt quickly to the threat with very little line of sight in preparing for staff working remotely and implementing measures in the workplace to protect those who cannot work from home. That’s why we’re devoting all our activity at the Family Business Network right now to maximising practical supports for all our Members through sharing good advice and learnings. Equally, on your behalf we’re working to ensure that Government and public officials are kept very aware of the impact of their policy options and helping Government to make the right decisions now.

For those of you who were able to join us on our Video Conference yesterday, you’ll know that we got two very helpful briefings from two experts on themes of relevance right now – managing headcount where your business may unfortunately need less and also managing where you need more. Jennifer Cashman is Partner and Head of Employment Law at Ronan Daly Jermyn law firm and she took us through a range of considerations around arranging for employees to work remotely and, in hopefully fewer cases, the legalities around reducing staff numbers in response to reduced business volumes.  Trayc Keevans is a Director at the specialist talent consultancy firm Morgan McKinley and Trayc talked about smart ways to optimise employee engagement and sourcing the people your business may now need.

A range of useful points and reminders for us all came out of the discussion including such as these –

  1. Well planned Communication is a key enabler in times of uncertainty and worry, along with the importance of consistent leadership in a time of crisis.
  2. Businesses who have the employee’s welfare at the heart of their interests are most likely to succeed. Empowering employees and enabling decisions that are seen as not just top-down gets better results for everyone.
  3. Communicate and connect regularly with employees, checking-in on how working remotely is working for them.
  4. The humanity of our communication with our teams and our customers is as important as doing it on a timely basis.
  5. Use the technology solutions that are available to support new ways of working. There are several options to connect virtually with employees and clients including Zoom, Lifesize and Google Hangouts for video conferencing and Hinterview as a recruitment platform.
  6. Try to focus on positive news stories and share with staff to keep morale high and our teams motivated.
  7. Consider alternative contingency plans for staff who may need to be laid off and how they can be connected with alternative opportunities that are in demand. For example, the retail grocery trade is looking for more staff right now to give essential shops extra capacity and contingency.
  8. A key strategy being widely adopted is to divide teams into smaller operating groups, to lessen the impact in the event that staff become unavailable. For example, a production team or a service unit might be split into Team A and B, alternating for each other on pieces of work and/or days of the week, to maximise business resilience if an employee’s illness needed a unit to be separated.
  9. On the constructive side, firms can use the opportunity of remote working and reduced work volumes to provide online training programmes to employees so that, when normal trade resumes, the business will be in the best shape possible. This phase, though disruptive, also gives firms a chance to re-think some elements of your established business model and where and how you want some of your teams to be working in the future.

Where a business has no option but to cut back, measures being taken already range from temporary lay-offs and wage reductions (as seen across the leisure and hospitality sectors thus far) to the more difficult option of redundancy packages.

  1. Many businesses have chosen the short-term laying-off of staff without pay as a temporary measure.
  2. The Government response to this has been the introduction of Covid-19 Unemployment Payment of €203 per week for employees who might otherwise have gone onto Jobseekers Benefit.
  3. In tandem, the government introduced the Covid-19 Refund Scheme whereby employers would make this payment to staff during a temporary period and seek a refund from Revenue.  We obviously welcome the subsequent amendment that now allows employers to top-up this payment scheme without penalty.
  4. Other mitigating measures short of the worst case include offering staff the option of reduced working hours.
  5. It’s also worth asking employees, if they are being paid anyway, to take Annual Leave now. This will help mitigate a big issue that may arise later in the year with large numbers of staff having banked annual leave they’ve yet to take. Alternatively, by giving a month’s notice, employers can require employees to take annual leave. Obviously, good communications can help a lot in working through these options.
  6. Where necessary, implementing redundancies needs a paid period of consultation between employers and employees. For groups of redundancies, this needs a 30-day timeframe while a 2-week consultation/notice period applies for individuals.
  7. In some cases, there may be the option to ask staff to take voluntary Parental Leave.
  8. Some employers are also looking at the option to take Force Majeure Leave (i.e. three days in any period of twelve consecutive months and five days in any period of thirty-six consecutive months).
  9. In other situations, it may help to discuss the option of Unpaid Leave to avoid the worse outcome of redundancies.

We’re really grateful to our two contributing experts for their insights and guidance and I encourage you to avail of their resources by emailing Jennifer Cashman at jennifer.cashman@rdj.ie and Trayc Keevans at tkeevans@morganmckinley.com

Our Member Families’ inputs are also much valued and prove the merit and importance of running these VideoConferences at this time so we’ll be maintaining this service on a regular basis – watch out for the Notices and the Links that we send you to join in the discussion.  Do also let us know of themes or issues that matter most to you at this time and we’ll endeavour to help in all practical ways.

In parallel, we’ll continue to work closely with government officials and the media to help ensure that the amazing commitment of Families in Business throughout the country is fully understood and appreciated throughout this phase and always.  We will, of course, continue to keep you informed of the latest government supports available and financial packages to be announced in the coming days (and do let us know of issues or clarifications you need as matters unfold).

Finally for now, on behalf of our President, Michael Walsh and the Board, thanks for your support for your Family Business Network and Stay Safe !