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Bringing customers back is just part of the story for retailers

I took a walk into my hometown on Monday (15th June), just to gauge how the re-opening of non-essential shops has been received. Whilst it was clearly busier than it has been in recent weeks, most retail outlets remain closed. Why? Probably because high street stores are weighing up how to bring back their employees as well as their customers and when, given the complex rules around furlough subsidies.

Many of those who had ventured out to the shops seemed more curious than desperate to buy, which may prove very disappointing to a government that has been urging consumers to get out and spend. For retailers, however, this will come as no surprise. They know their market well and they understand that there are many factors at play as we move towards the gradual reopening of society. The need to be flexible is therefore the crucial driver when it comes to reopening and bringing back staff.

Those shops that have not yet opened will, I believe, be waiting for 1st July so that staff brought back to help with opening and selling can effectively still be subsidised to a degree by the government’s CJRS for those hours that they are not working (Flexible Furlough Scheme – please forgive the acronym). This means retailers can adapt flexibly to the retail mood without losing the government’s (albeit reduced) financial support.

There is much for returning retailers to think about under new government guidance:

  • In terms of Health and Safety, for example, employers already had a legal obligation to ensure employees and customers are not exposed to risk to their health, safety or wellbeing. New rules mean they also have to carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment of their workplaces. Along with this they have additional obligations in terms of staff training and education (including displaying posters about virus protection and hygiene) and awareness of their obligations should there be a case of Covid-19 in the workplace.
  • Employers will be keen to get their back to work strategy right so as to avoid risking relationships with staff which could ultimately lead to grievances. Some key staff may still have children off school which could affect their childcare provision. Others may have health conditions which may prevent them from returning. Employers must handle these individual cases with care in order to avoid discrimination.
  • Disgruntled employees who do not feel their employer is protecting them properly could potentially raise concerns under the Employment Rights Act 1996, with an employee protected from detriment and dismissal for whistleblowing.

Above all, however, I do believe it will be the access to government financial support and the need to adapt to the volatility of the everyday shopper that will influence the decision to open, hours of opening and how and when employees are brought back to work.