Managing Unpredictability

For businesses operating in the leisure industry, to say the last 24 months have been turbulent would be an understatement, with Covid-19 and Brexit combining to create significant challenges for operators.

On January 1, 2020, the UK’s departure from the European Union became a reality. Little over two months later, on March 23, the UK went into lockdown as the result of a global pandemic.

These two successive events have really affected the leisure and hospitality industry.

As we move into 2022, the operational difficulties faced by the pandemic are clear. Staffing is sporadic, menus are reduced, outlets are closing, there is a strain covering for absent colleagues and employers need to manage Covid-19 in the workplace and consider how to move forward.

How to keep staff and customers safe?

Whilst it would be hoped workers and customers would take a sensible view if they contract Covid-19, ending free testing and changing statutory sick pay and isolation payments at the same time could create a scenario where individuals, avoid taking tests, don’t communicate a positive test, don’t isolate or unknowingly walk around with the virus.

It is therefore important that employers update risk assessments to reflect the probability that Covid-19 may be coming into the workplace.

Forced vaccinations?

Workers with Covid-19 no longer need to isolate. It may therefore be worth considering a contractual change forcing those with Covid-19 to remain at home, on pay to avoid spreading the virus.

It is important to assess how this will work in practice, for example, how long will the isolation period be, what pay will employees get whilst isolating and how they will evidence having Covid-19?

How to entice applicants to the industry?

As a consequence of Brexit, workers no longer have freedom of movement. Employers need to sponsor individuals to work in the UK who are not settled workers or who do not have some other immigration permission allowing them to work in the UK.

This has naturally had a significant impact on recruitment in the industry and can be seen by the number of unfilled posts. In December 2021, there were 163,000 unfilled posts in the leisure industry, a marked increase from 75,000 unfilled posts in December 2019.

One of our national clients, Motel One, has seen its non-UK national workforce reduce from 60 per cent to 30 per cent. That being said, its chain of hotels is expanding across the globe and while applications are reduced, calibre remains high. So, it may not be all doom and gloom.

So, what can you do?

Consider paying above the National Living Wage to attract applicants. The job site Indeed reported that wages in the leisure industry have increased by 4.6 per cent and employers need to remain competitive.

Also, engage workers on a guaranteed hours contract, with an option for overtime rather than a casual worker contract. Whilst the flexibility of casual arrangements can be beneficial, the certainty of hours provides security which is attractive to all in uncertain times.

What if I cannot provide work for the full workforce?

Unfortunately, in the last 24 months, restructures and redundancies have been commonplace. A restructure is not a temporary measure, it imposes a permanent change and so you may want to consider other avenues first. Check if your contracts permit lay-off or as an alternative staff may be amenable to a temporary change to their contract if it protects the job role longer term.

If redundancies do become necessary ensure that you follow a fair and transparent process and be mindful that 20 or more dismissals from the same establishment within a 90-day period will trigger collective consultation obligations.

Article from our North East Leisure Supplement 2022, produced in conjunction with Sanderson Weatherall.

Angela Carver Associate in Employment at 0r 0191 226 7824.

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