Corona Virus Update 24th March 2020
At 20.30 on 23rd March 2020, the Prime Minster announced strong restrictions on the UK. He issued a statement saying only employees that are unable to work from home will be able to travel to and from work, but only if it is “absolutely necessary”.
So what is travelling to and from work, but only if its “absolutely essential”.
Firstly, it must be said this is an evolving situation. In the last 12 hours clarity continues to be received and some occupations are still to be clarified as to their status.
Those occupations, organisations and businesses that we do know can remain open at this time, as long as social distancing is applied, are as follows.
- Online shopping and deliveries
- Trades including plumbers and electricians where they are required to make house calls for emergencies and to protect well being. This does not include regular planned work or maintenance.
- Construction sites as long as they are open air and social distancing is maintained
- Schools for key workers
- Garages and petrol stations
What do I do if my company is classified as non-essential?
In these circumstances you have a number of options to consider and we have outlined these below. We are available to guide and advise each of our clients on the best approach to take via personal messaging or setting up a telephone call with you.
Working from Home
Whilst many of our clients are advising of a downturn in work, some are not. If your Company or Organisation still has work available and are not classed as non-essential, then please invoke and set up home working. It is recommended to only have only bear minimum number of employees in the workplace, at this time.
We have previously sent out some tips regarding home working and this can be sent to you again. In essence, you must ensure that your insurance allows home working and you must notify your Insurer.You should also carry out a risk assessment of the home working environment.
You should also speak to your IT provider to ensure your IT infrastructure is able to cope with the additional traffic of home working and also ensure that your employees are fully aware of an increase in scams and phishing emails. You must secure and protect the Company IT network for remote working.
Short Time Working
If you are in the position where you have some work available, but not as much as normal, then you may wish to consider invoking short time working.
If your Company is on the “absolutely essential” list of sectors above, this can continue in the current workplace, but where possible, working from home should be considered.
Legally, in order to invoke short time working, there must be a written clause in your contract of employment. If there is not a clause that specifically relates to short time working, then you must have the agreement of the workforce in advance of starting short time working. To gain agreement, you will have to undertake a short period of consultation with your team and mutually agree away forward together.
Employees that are placed on short time working must be paid for the hours that they work and, on any day that they do not get paid, the statutory guarantee payment must be applied pro-rata. The full rate is currently £29 per day for a maximum of five days in any three-month period, increasing to £30 per day from 6th April.
A link to the Government guidance on short time working is included below:
This is a new term that has been introduced into the UK since Friday 20th March. The word “furlough” means temporary leave of absence from work and can be invoked due to the economic conditions. Until now, this has had no legal standing or definition in the UK. All of the current employment legislation remains in place and must be adhered to.
A furloughed employee remains on payroll without them working, but with the expectation that they will return to work as soon as they are able to do so. Furlough employees are not allowed to undertake work of any sort for their employer. Furloughed employees continue to receive benefits and accrue contractual rights during this period.
In order to “furlough” employees, you need their agreement to do so, as this is a change of their employment status. Any change agreed must be placed in writing. If your employees refuse to mutually agree to be “furloughed” then redundancy may apply.
To make it clear, to be classed as a furloughed employee, employees cannot be undertaking any work or their place of work must have closed due to the Corona Virus outbreak. If an employee wishes to request annual leave, they will not be classed as a furloughed employee for the duration of the leave period and you will be liable to pay them holiday pay at their full basic or averaged rate, in line with current employment legislation rules.
What is the Corona Virus Job Retention Scheme?
Any employer across the UK, including charities and not for profit organisations, are eligible for the Scheme. The Scheme will be in place for employers that cannot cover the cost of salaries and wages as a result of the Corona Virus outbreak and resulting downturn in workload. The Government’s intention is for this to be a support to businesses to avoid redundancies.
Details of the Scheme are still be launched and shared, but it is understood that there will be an HMRC online portal. The employer will be required to provide details of affected furloughed employees including details of earning and personal details, but exact details are yet to be confirmed. You are advised to keep records of your employees that have been furloughed, salary information and date of the commencement of the furlough period for each employee.
The Job Retention Scheme is a grant which employers do not have to pay back. The Scheme will run for 3 months but may be extended. Details of the Scheme to date are:
HMRC will pay 80% of furloughed employee wages, up to a cap of £2,500 per month.This can be backed dated to cover all employees that are or were, on your payroll system as at 1st March 2020.
It is at the discretion of the Employer if they choose to top up the remaining 20% of salary. We are not aware there is a legal obligation to do so at this time.
We do not know when this Scheme is going to be up and running and we advise you to continue to pay your employees their wages and salary, where possible. The idea of this Scheme is to keep as many people out of redundancy as possible, so please contact us if you still think you will need to make redundancies.
If you are having financial difficulties in the short term, we suggest agreeing a payment schedule with the employees and speak to your accountant and bank to look at the Government help being offered.
What do I do if we remain working but one of our employees has Corona Virus symptoms?
In the Workplace
If anyone who is in work develops either a new and continuous cough or a high temperature, they must be sent home immediately and self-isolate for 14 days. In addition, they must also ensure that everyone in their household also self-isolates for a period of 14 days.
The employees will be entitled to either Company Sick Pay, if offered, or Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). The Government will reimburse SSP to companies from the first day of sickness up to a maximum of 14 days. If Company Sick Pay is offered, then SSP is deemed to be included within this payment and the SSP element can also be reclaimed. The mechanism for recovering this money has not been published by the Government as of 24th March.
Once the employee has recovered fully, they should be able to return to the workplace if work is available.
Working from Home
Should the employee suffer any symptoms whilst working from home, then the above rules apply regarding Company Sick Pay and SSP applies.
Who are classed as high risk employees?
High risk employees must now be sent home and refrain from work for 12 weeks. High risk is classed as those over the age of 70 or have a medical condition or are in the later stages of pregnancy. More information on this can be found on the GOV.UK website. We have no more detail at this time regarding pay. If you can look at safe home working, then now would be a good time to consider how this could work for your business. See our blog from 17th March for more details on Home Working.
What if an employee can come to work but refuses to do so?
If the person doesn’t wish to come to work, but have no symptoms or underlying illness, then this is not sickness and no SSP or salary is payable. We urge you to address their concerns and encourage them to return to work, offering unpaid leave, working from home (if possible) or paid annual leave. The worst case scenario is that this could be considered as a possible disciplinary matter, but please seek our advice before proceeding.
We appreciate that you may have more questions than we have answered, but we hope this document helps a little in the short term. Please contact us if you would like to discuss this further.
We will continue to send out updates as and when there is something to say. We wish all of you and your families a safe few weeks.