How can UK employers prepare for a second wave?

Employers can take practical steps to ensure that they are prepared in the event of a second wave of Covid-19 infection.

With by far the most significant easing of the UK’s lockdown measures imminent, the possibility of a second wave of coronavirus needs to be considered. Scientific experts have warned that this is a “real risk” and have urged plans to be put in place accordingly, most recently in an open letter to the leaders of all of the UK’s political parties.

Employers cannot expect that the government, employees, clients and customers will respond to a second wave of coronavirus in the same way as they did when the infection first reached the UK.

They can expect two significant differences in particular:

  • no furlough scheme (or very limited furlough remaining should the second wave hit before the end of the existing scheme). It seems highly unlikely that the government would introduce a new scheme in the event of a second wave;

  • less tolerance of coronavirus-related disruption by employees, clients and customers. The initial wave of Covid-19 was genuinely unprecedented and, in general, everybody was very understanding and accommodating as a result. Companies cannot realistically expect the same degree of tolerance and flexibility in the event of a second wave.

It is therefore vital that employers put contingency plans in place to ensure that they are as well-prepared for a second wave of Covid-19 as possible, even as they prepare for a gradual return to normality over the coming months.

Preparing for a second wave: practical tips

Review and amend employees’ contracts of employment to ensure maximum flexibility in future. This might include inserting lay-off clauses, or giving the company an express right to require an individual to work from home.

“The mental health of employees is particularly at-risk during lockdown, and the impact may be disproportionately high where people had thought a return to normality was in sight”

Ensure sufficient support networks are in place for those employees required to work from home again. The mental health of employees is particularly at-risk during lockdown, and the impact may be disproportionately high where people had thought a return to normality was in sight. As such, it is even more important to ensure employees are as well-supported as possible in the event of a second wave.

There are various additional considerations which should be taken into account regarding working from home, particularly for those businesses where this was not prevalent prior to the initial lockdown:

  • review your arrangements for ensuring compliance with display screen equipment rules for employees working from home. Guidance from the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on “temporary” working from home arrangements is under review and more onerous obligations arise where employees continue, or resume, working from home;

  • plan for employees who may not be able to obtain childcare and therefore cannot easily work from home. This is one area in particular where many employers have ‘muddled through’ during the initial lockdown phase, but a more carefully thought through approach should be adopted for the longer term;

  • ensure that all IT equipment and systems are optimised so that any further enforced working from home is as efficient as possible.


You should manage employee expectations when bringing people back to work. Employers should be as open as possible about the contingency plans that are being put in place so that if and when these do need to be implemented, they will not come as a surprise to employees. Involve employee forums, where applicable, in these planning processes, as this will also make implementation of the plans easier.


Ensure that you have a detailed plan in place in case the impact of a second wave is such that redundancies are unavoidable. This could include setting up an employee forum for collective consultation purposes if you don’t already have one in place.


Consider what other cost saving measures you can implement in the event of a second wave, and ensure you have the necessary flexibility to implement these measures. Many of these might mirror some of the steps taken during the first phase. Again, managing employee expectations will be critical.


Keep your Covid-19 risk assessment and standard operating procedures under review to ensure that the right control measures are in place. Local variation may be required if restrictions are reintroduced in specific geographical areas to address new spikes in cases. Closely monitor how control measures are working in practice, and consult with employees regularly.


For those employees who would still be required to attend work in the event of a second wave, ensure that you are ready to implement measures to minimise any risk to their health and safety. As well as simply being the right thing to do, employers should be aware that section 44 of the 1996 Employment Rights Act gives employees a right not to attend work if they reasonably believe that doing so would pose a “serious and imminent” risk to their health and safety. We would expect employees to invoke this protection much more readily during a second wave than has been the case during the initial wave of Covid-19.

How can I help prevent a second wave?

To help tackle the likelihood of this, organisations should follow the Governments advice.

  • Avoid face to face seating arrangements in the office by adapting the layout of the office;

  • Reduce the number of employees in enclosed spaces;

  • Improve ventilation or ensure ventilation systems are working as they should be;

  • Set up protective screens and provide face coverings – e.g. face masks or shields;

  • Put in place rules for managing social spaces – e.g. one person in small kitchen at a time, this will vary depending on size of space;

  • Provide hand sanitisers and surface cleaning wipes;

  • Promote regular hand washing;

Allow employees to work from home if its possible for them to do so or, change shift patterns to reduce number of employees art work at any given time;

  • Put together a disinfection and cleaning policy;

  • Review, amend and implement a home working policy;

  • Put in place a foreign travel policy to include:

    • What the company will do for employee’s required to quarantine on return from foreign holidays

    • Set out Company’s policy on payment during quarantine periods

    • Set out options for employees who are quarantining e.g. work from home, unpaid leave etc.

  • Policy for Managing second wave


  • Employee T&C’s – have you got your short of work/lay-off clauses?

  • Remuneration – how agile is your employee remuneration and pay deferral?                       

  • Flexibility – how supportive is your working from home and IT storage policies?

  • Management – how will you manage team members, allocate roles and clear responsibilities for sale, after sales and service enquiries?

  • Skills - what is in place to ensure technicians and specific skills can be utilised at sites outside the lockdown area?


  • Business planning – is your operational plan in place, immediately implementable and are management and key employees clear on the plan?

  • Ownership – have you allocated ownership of each part of the plan and who is accountable?

  • Forecasting – how much downside sensitivity should be factored into your financial planning and forecasts?

  • Targets – what support and flexibility has been considered to ensure that any sales targets are ‘subject to lockdown’ exclusions?

  • Working capital – what measures could be taken to reduce working capital requirements and levels for affected sites and businesses, any contingency plans?

  • Communication with clients/customers – what discussions should be had with your existing or potential new clients/customers regarding the situation?


  • Customers – are communication plans and statements prepared, flexible enough to tweak and ready to go to your whole database?

  • Services- what services will continue throughout e.g. sales, service, operations etc.?

  • Employee utilisation – how will your utilisation plan, draft rotas and team member retention plans hold up?

  • Property considerations – what discussions will be needed with the owners of the properties affected (leasehold) or funders (mortgages) plus what plans are required to make sites secure?

  • Processes – have you planned simple processes to support customers i.e. collection and delivery, video walk rounds etc.?

  • Other sites – how agile will you be at flexing customers, deals, trading and demo stock etc. within your sites in non-lockdown areas?

  • E-commerce capabilities – what have you done to improve and ensure robustness of your ability to transact with the customer digitally?

  • BAU – how will any new and used sales that can be delivered to customers who are not affected to be identified and fulfilled?

  • Efficiencies – can you proactively identify service required that could also be made up quickly and ‘remotely’ and redeployed?


  • Health and Safety – what revisions will need to be made to your COVID-19 service assessments?

  • GDPR and Cyber Security – what arrangements might need to be made to your GDPR and Cyber security plans to cover increased risks relating to lockdown and revised ways of working?

  • Business Integration Insurance – how does this lockdown impact any existing or new business interruption insurance claims?

“This list is not exhaustive and there may be specifics to each of your Brands and locations, but we have all learnt from the first lockdown and there could be more, probably regional or area specific, lockdowns to come that we can reflect on the above and ensure we are more prepared an resilient to deal with”.