This week’s announcement by newly appointed chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, has significantly curtailed some of the support measures promised by the government set to help with skyrocketing energy bills.
The cap on household energy bills will now be reviewed, and possibly end, in April 2023 rather than running until September 2024 as previously stated in the Energy Price Guarantee announcement in September.
With this support now possibly ending earlier what responsibilities do employers have to ensure the wellbeing of workers and how can they best support employees at such a difficult time?
Find more ways HR can help employees at HR magazine’s Cost of living Learning Hub here.
Many are predicting that businesses which are currently hybrid or remote will see an increase in employees returning to the office in an effort to cut energy costs at home. Some businesses will no doubt be worried about an influx of workers, causing their energy bills to spike and may end up encouraging employees to limit the number of days they spend in the office.
However, businesses should be careful not to discourage workers coming into the workplace completely, especially as many have been struggling to encourage workers back after the pandemic.
Employers should also consider if workers with protected characteristics, such as disabilities, would be disadvantaged by being told to work from home.
It is a legal requirement for businesses to make reasonable adjustments for people with protected characteristics, this can include where, when and how they work as long it does not affect their ability to fulfil their job role.
If an employee is required to work from home, then this will increase their heating bills over winter and they may need further financial support.
HR teams should begin a dialogue with employees and work out suitable solutions with employees if any are identified as needing support.
Some businesses have made one-off cost of living payments or have invested in other money-saving perks such as discounts at local businesses, cycle-to-work schemes or rail season ticket loans to support their employees financially as energy prices spike.
Some have even brought forward annual pay increases from next year.
Any perks or payments that businesses can afford will no doubt be welcomed by employees, as they show that the business is in touch with the difficult situation many employees are facing.
However, businesses should be careful to ensure that any schemes are genuinely beneficial to a majority of employees, for example, a cycle-to-work scheme requires employees to live close enough to the workplace that cycling is feasible.
Communication with employees via surveys or conversations in one-to-one meetings will help steer which payment or perk may be useful.
With many people struggling financially, employers should be mindful of worker’s mental health. Wellbeing schemes, access to mental health services and encouraging a compassionate and understanding culture is more important than ever before.
Providing support in this area will not only help to reduce any stress employees may feel, but also make for a happier and more productive work environment.
Businesses will of course be mindful of their own expenditure and should try to cut energy usage as much as possible to secure their own financial position.
Many perks and other forms of cost of living support will require extra cash, which many businesses simply will not have.
While investing in support for employees should always be a priority, it cannot be at the cost of a business’ own financial security.
Ultimately, access to perks or discounts is not going to make up for a business having to make redundancies or being at risk of insolvency.
Scaling back the Energy Price Guarantee will no doubt have worried both employees and employers alike.
Businesses should take steps to sure that employees are comfortable working either at home or in the office and have access to any other support they made need. However, perks or support that the business is not legally required to provide for the worker should not be at the expense of financial stability for the business.
Michael Hibbs is employment partner at law firm Shakespeare Martineau