David Stoppelmann in Düsseldorf sets out the current position in Germany.

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    In recent weeks we have been looking at the impact of Covid-19 on companies in the UK and, in particular, the steps employers are taking now, as staff return to work in increasing numbers. The furlough scheme will taper down from the end of this month and so, for the remaining period until the end of October, there will be fewer employees on leave and more returning to work either remotely, from home, or travelling in to the office and employers will need to be well prepared for that. Last week Matt McDonald advised on what to do in the event of a second wave of Covid-19 and how, if that happens, employers will have a lot less leeway this time, especially around health and safety.

    In recent programmes we have been looking at how other countries have been coping and one that appears to have handled the pandemic better than most, and certainly better than the UK it seems, is Germany. Back in April the FT was reporting how Germany’s virus response shines unforgiving light on Britain. In Germany, Covid-19 did not result in a complete lockdown. There are rules requiring masks to be worn, and for social distancing, but public transport has continued as normal and there has been no prohibition on office working. However, during the height of lockdown restaurants and most shops were closed and, if offices were open, health and safety obligations were in place to promote social distancing and cleaning. Since then, restrictions have been loosened in stages and many restaurants have returned to having normal opening hours and more and more employees have gone back to work, although, like the UK, many employees are choosing to work from home. So that is how it has been over there in recent weeks, but what is the latest? David Stoppelmann is based at our Düsseldorf office and he joined me by video-link:

    David Stoppelmann: “Thanks, Joe. Well, let's start with the current situation here in Germany. Some good news, the numbers are more or less stable, so some good news at the beginning. We still do have some companies short-time working. You might have heard of that legal instrument, which is some specific crisis-related instrument here in Germany to help companies coming through that crisis. facing problems with significant work loss. We still have some companies facing these problems quite significantly to supplies, for example, for the heavy German automotive industry on the one hand, but on the other end we do already have some companies and some sectors which are already trying to return to work and these companies are facing more or less similar problems. I would like to talk about the three hot topics I've learned from clients which are the most relevant ones at the moment. The first one is home office, working from home. We have seen that at the beginning, most companies have been very sceptical. They have made use of that opportunity just because they were obliged, they had no other options, and from time to time they have seen that it works surprisingly well for both the employers and employees and this led to the situation that now both sides are very interested in making use of that opportunity and at the mid and long term, meaning that many employers are now trying to prepare for such a situation. At the beginning many of the companies just actioned, they hadn't any legal basis for that home office work, and this is something which is really recommendable to change now, because you need a legal basis, contractual situation, in Germany particularly if you have a works council because home office work is subject to the works council's codetermination in Germany. This is the first issue. The second major issue, we have learned from client conversations, is the work safety measures which have been implemented from the state authorities. The authorities have given guidelines which have to be considered when returning to work. For example, employers have to mark distances to be observed in order to prevent the accumulation of employees and there are further requirements. This is a very challenging issue for employers in Germany, especially since non-compliance can lead to significant legal consequences here in Germany. Finally, another very highly discussed topic in Germany in a business context, but also in in private, is the so called Corona-Warn App, which has been implemented a few weeks ago. It started with a rather chaotic situation, as it is in the UK I have learned. Now it is working pretty well and many employers wonder how they can use the app for business purposes to protect both their employees and also their business operations. In our view, it's possible to use it. If you have business smartphones in use it's possible to oblige your employees to use the app and also to use it during the working time. This applies particularly in situations where other protection measures do not really work. For example, if you have obligatory close contact to clients, customers, where you cannot really keep safe distances. So, this is also a very interesting instrument for companies at the moment and here, again, this is also subject to codetermination if you have a works council established, so here again, conclusion of a works agreement is absolutely recommendable.”

    Covid-19 advisory – the view from the UAE

    From Germany to the UAE. On Tuesday we heard from Luke Tapp, who is based in Dubai, talking about how there is no furlough scheme at all in the UAE, so there is no means by which, if a company puts somebody on leave, the government will contribute something towards their salary. Instead the government's help has come in the form of ministerial resolution 279 of 2020 which allows companies scope to take unusual but necessary measures to help the business in light of Covid-19 - measures which can have a direct impact on the workforce. So things like putting people onto unpaid leave, onto part-time hours, part-time pay, and putting people on mandatory annual leave. That resolution has certainly helped private sector businesses in the UAE but notwithstanding that help many businesses over there are struggling. Luke Tapp again:

    Luke Tapp: “There’s no getting away from the fact that it's a tough economy and, as the employment practice advising international clients on cost cutting measures, we see it across all sectors. I don't think any sectors really are immune to the economic challenges that we're seeing out there in the UAE market. So yes, it's a tough environment. I think, in terms of positives, what we can definitely say is that the government were very proactive in managing the spread of the infection. The lockdown that we saw implemented a few months ago was very aggressive and it had a really positive impact on reducing the infection spread, and we came out of the lockdown much quicker as well. What we see now from the government is very much a push to support business, to support the economy, to get a bit of momentum for all private sector businesses now. So I think what we expect to see over the coming months is a strong recovery within the economy and companies getting back to full capacity in terms of their workforce, getting people back into their offices, getting people back spending money, and getting business moving again, I would say in terms of the one or two sectors that we see coming back stronger than others, definitely the tech sector is coming back very strong. We are seeing some companies looking at recruitment, looking at moving employees into the UAE in the tech sector and, maybe, in the healthcare as well and the pharmaceutical sector - we've seen a couple of clients that have been quite active in in those areas as well but other than that it's a case now for a lot of the clients in other sectors to just sort of maintain their position, restructure their organisation, get a new workforce in place that works for the new economy, and then looking for opportunities in the medium to longer term future.”

    E-learning – what courses do have and at what cost?

     Finally to our FAQ slot and a question we have been asked by a number of clients recently - what e-learning courses do we have? With many staff still furloughed and unable to work, e-learning provides a perfect opportunity for both employees and managers to up skill. The answer is we have 5 e-learning courses - so we have a trio of courses in our Management Essentials series covering Disciplinary & Grievance Hearings, Investigations and Capability plus our pair of courses on Sexual Harassment, one for employees and one for managers. A question we have been asked often in recent weeks is how many employees can access the training and at what cost? The answer is we don’t operate a subscription model. Instead all the modules come with a licence for an unlimited number of users which means hundreds of people can all be trained for a one-off purchase cost, with the option to repeat the training as many times as you like without any further cost. Each of the three Management Essentials modules is priced at £3,500, or if you buy all three modules together, £9,000 and most clients who have purchased so far have opted for that discounted package. As for the Harassment modules they cost £3,750 each. Included for that cost is a degree of tailoring – adding your organisation’s logo throughout and including your organisation’s policies and procedures and any other documentation you'd like to add. If you would like to have a closer look at any of the modules you can, we are offering a free demonstration so please do get in touch if this might be something you want to consider for your staff. As we said, if you have staff currently furloughed this is a very good time for them to take on this sort of training.

    For now from me that’s the news. Good bye.