Phil Crowe: How the war in Ukraine highlights the value of employee benefits

Phil Crowe, Shoosmiths, How the war in Ukraine highlights employee benefits

When Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, the world looked on in shock and wondered how this would reverberate around the globe. An important issue facing employers right now is how to best support employees who are directly affected by the war, whether they have family in Ukraine, or whether they are being called up to defend their home country.

The key to ensuring maximum support is flexibility. Employers need to remain mindful that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when supporting employees, and each individual should be considered based on their particular circumstances.

A popular benefit offered by employers is an employee assistance programme (EAP), which provides support and counselling to employees free of charge. An EAP may see an increase in people reaching out, but employers should continue to signpost employees to the service and remind them to focus on their mental wellbeing during this difficult time. If an employer does not operate an EAP, it should inform employees of how they can access counselling and advice externally.

The coronavirus pandemic highlighted how flexible employers can be in difficult circumstances. Therefore, businesses should try and approach hybrid working in a similar way. If an employee feels more comfortable working from home because this allows them to take personal calls from family members in the Ukraine, for example, employers should be sympathetic to this and be amenable to such requests.

Employees may also request time off to process the situation or arrange practical help for family members who are based in Ukraine. Employers should consider granting leave wherever possible and whether such leave should be paid or unpaid. With this in mind, employers need to consider internal policies and how these deal with absence-related pay, and how these policies balance employee requests with the needs of the business.

Finally, employers are encouraged to maintain some level of communication with all of their employees about the ongoing war in Ukraine. Keep in mind some employees may wish to focus on work as an escape for their own wellbeing and may become distressed if they have numerous reminders of the situation.

Phil Crowe is an employment law partner at Shoosmiths