The war in Ukraine | Employer considerations
Written by Alexandra Farmer on 9 March 2022
The war in Ukraine continues to dominate news channels and social media feeds.
In the UK, the government has imposed financial sanctions on Russia, provided defensive military aid, and pledged £120 million of humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
The public have also rallied together, donating to crisis relief funds, compiling care packages for Ukrainian refugees that have fled to neighbouring countries, and even coming up with ingenious ways to get money to residents who intend to remain or are trapped in the country, such as booking rooms on Airbnb. Some have even volunteered to fight alongside Ukrainian forces.
In the workplace, businesses and HR are also busy searching for ways to help, as the crisis will inevitably have a bearing on people’s personal lives and mental wellbeing. You may also have questions as to how the situation may affect your organisation from a practical and legal perspective, particularly in relation to staff taking time off for reserve forces duties.
With all of this in mind, here are three primary considerations for employers right now.
1. Be supportive of people’s emotional needs
While this isn’t a domestic crisis, and Boris Johnson has said British troops will not fight Russian forces, employers must acknowledge that the conflict in Ukraine may be impacting employees. Indeed, preliminary census data suggests there were over 37,500 people who were born in Ukraine living in England and Wales in 2021.
As such, you may have employees who are from Ukraine and/or have family or friends in the country and are worried for their safety. Equally, Russian colleagues could feel apprehensive about repercussions due to their nationality.
Even those not directly affected are likely to be experiencing anxiety and unease as a result of current events. Indeed, with minute-by-minute media reporting as well as distressing clips circulating on social media, so-called ‘doomscrolling’ can take a significant emotional toll on us all.
Communication will be key to colleague engagement and morale. Whatever their specific situation, ensure your employees feel able to be open about their feelings and experiences. It’s important that colleagues feel able to talk to your central HR teams and/or their immediate team members and managers.
Ensure any company-wide messages signpost colleagues to available support services, such as an Employee Assistance Programme if you offer one. If you become aware of employees with specific support needs, you may wish to offer appropriate counselling services as well.
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2. Contractually, be flexible where you can
Normally, contractual policies exist to help employees know what’s expected of them and keep the cogs of employment turning. However, right now, there are a range of reasons why a colleague may need flexibility.
They may want to travel to Ukraine to bring family back to the UK; they may wish to keep their mobile phone on during working hours in case of any family updates; or they may be wanting to support refugees and require some time off to allow them to do this.
Where you are able, be flexible with your policies and procedures to support employees. Can you relax your rules on having mobile phones switched on during working hours? Could you allow holidays to be taken at short notice, or allow for periods of unpaid leave? We can all do our bit to help, and for employers, being accommodating of employees’ needs is a good place to start.
3. Be prepared for staff to be mobilised
The UK has over 40,000 reserve military personnel. Volunteer Reserves are men and women who, alongside their employment, give up their time to train and serve alongside the regular forces. In addition, there are Regular Reserves who are former members of the UK Regular Forces that can be called up for service in times of need.
You may have employees who are Reservists, and this conflict may result in them being called up for service. It is also possible that there may be an uptake in those joining up.
If you do employ a Reservist(s), it’s important to be aware of your obligations. In summary:
- Be aware of the timescales for a Reservist to be mobilised. In most cases, a Reservist will be given 28 days’ notice. However, this notice could be reduced if they are needed urgently. Your employee should inform you as soon as possible. You would also be sent a pack from the Ministry of Defence setting out your rights and responsibilities.
- Be prepared for longer-term absences. Reservists may be mobilised for anything from a few days up to 12 months.
- If you believe that the employee’s absence would cause serious harm to your business, you do have the right to seek exemption or deferral.
- If you have an employee that has a period of mobilisation, there are several financial support options available to you if your business will suffer financial loss.
- Mobilisation will not break continuity of employment. Employers must be cautious because a dismissal relating to Reserve Service could result in a claim of unfair dismissal, even if the employee has less than two years’ service.
- During a period of mobilisation, you do not need to pay your employee as they will be paid by the Ministry of Defence. Furthermore, holidays and other benefits will not accrue through the period of absence.
- Once the Reservist’s deployment ends, you must reinstate the Reservist back into their former role or a mutually-agreed alternative role on terms that are no less favourable to their previous terms.
If you don’t currently have an HR policy covering Reservists, this is something to consider putting in place now.
We are already aware of a number of employees that have been called up to return to Ukraine to engage in this conflict. The rules set out above relating to UK Reservists will not apply to these employees.
Therefore, as a starting point, your business will not be under any obligation to allow staff to be absent for these purposes. However, the reality is that most employers will choose to be supportive of their staff in these situations. You could, therefore, agree to follow your Reservist Policy, or the general rules explained above. Any agreement should be confirmed in writing and kept under regular review.
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Employers are naturally concerned about the conflict in Ukraine and what it means for their business and their employees.
WorkNest’s specialist Employment Law Advisers can help with policies and guidance regarding Reservist employees, as well as advise on relaxing policies, any future implications and how to ensure these aren’t abused.
Additionally, if you are interested in providing an Employee Assistance Programme to support staff affected by events in Ukraine and other personal issues impacting their mental health and emotional wellbeing, we can offer this through one of our group sister companies.
For more information, contact our team on 0345 226 8393 or request your free consultation using the button below.