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Coronavirus guidance for employers and employees

Since the Coronavirus outbreak the government has implemented new schemes and delayed reforms to try to protect the economy during this uncertain time. We have summarised some key points for employers and employees to be aware of to help them understand their position in relation to finances, wellbeing and health and safety. Our employment team are here to support you and provide peace of mind during this difficult and unfamiliar time.

Working in the office

Employers should make adjustments for employees if they are continuing to operate from business premises.

If an employee is in a high risk group, such as being pregnant, it is important employers listen to their concerns and make adjustments to meet the government guidance. This could be a car parking space so public transport can be avoided and/or allowing them to work in an isolated area. Special consideration should be made if they often interact with other people as part of their role and how social distancing can be achieved.

If an employee is uncomfortable coming into the workplace they can apply for the time off as holiday or unpaid leave or could ask to be considered under the furlough scheme.  An employer does not have to agree to this. Given the current circumstances it would be important to seek legal advice before denying leave or pursuing any disciplinary action as the government guidance is changing daily.

If employees are showing symptoms, even if they appear to be mild, is it crucial that they are sent home immediately. Not only to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 but also to ensure that health and safety requirements in the workplace are not breached.

Working from home

The government has asked everyone to stay at home as much as possible and where possible employers should set their employees up for remote working. Employers need to continue to pay their employees as normal and maintain open communication lines during this time, perhaps with weekly or daily catch ups using video conferencing or phone-calls as appropriate. Employers should share information with their employees to encourage them to maintain good mental and physical health during this time.

Managers should discuss with their employees what tasks they can and cannot do from home to manage expectations for both parties. It is also important to ensure that each employee’s needs have been discussed in terms of their arrangements at home, making sure they have a suitable working space and the technology and equipment required to perform their duties.

Employers need to show consideration to parents with young children as schools are now closed many people are having to juggle remote working and looking after their children. Requests for more flexible working hours during this time should be considered and open dialogue is essential to maintain trust and effective working arrangements.

With more people working at home than ever before it is important that employees are aware of best practice regarding data protection and confidentiality. You can read our guidance on this here.

Although employees may be working from home the employer is still responsible for the health and safety of their employees you can read more on this here.

Unpaid leave and holidays

Employers need to be aware that employees can take unpaid time off to care for a dependant such as a child, partner or parent and many may already have time of for dependants policies. Employers should consider reviewing these and ultimately ensure that they follow a consistent approach.

Although many employees will be cancelling their summer vacations since the lockdown has been implemented employers can encourage employees to keep their prearranged leave. This can help with employees health and well-being and it will also help the business even out staffing levels later in the year.

Statutory Sick Pay

Emergency legislation was passed so that employees who have tested positive for coronavirus can be paid two weeks statutory sick pay (SSP) from the first day of their illness. This legislation also includes those who are self-isolating as a result of official Coronavirus guidance. Employees that meet the eligibility requirements will be entitled to £94.25 per week from their employer for up to 28 weeks.

A statutory sick pay relief package is available for businesses with less than 250 employees so employers should maintain up to date records in order to claim for this. You can read more on this here.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and furlough leave

With many businesses facing reduced income as a result of closing their doors or other disruption from the current situation, many employees jobs have been put at risk. The government has created a new option of “furlough” leave which is implemented by the new CJRS scheme run by HMRC to help employers recover up to 80% or £2,500 of employees’ monthly salaries. Employers will be required to top up the 20% difference under the individual contracts of employment, however, they are not obliged to as a condition of the scheme, so those most severely affected may also be able to seek agreement to reduce salaries to this level.

Furlough leave can be agreed with employees where the business has been severely affected by COVID-19. The employee cannot work for the business at all during this time and is intended as a leave of absence as an immediate alternative from being made redundant or laid off and the purpose of the scheme is to preserve employment as much as possible.

To qualify, employees must agree to take furlough leave for a minimum of three weeks. Employees will need to be consulted and agree to being furloughed and this agreement must be confirmed in writing. Employers will need to be careful in how they select employees for furlough leave and ensure that discrimination is avoided and asking for volunteers in the first instance may assist with this.

Any business size is eligible for the scheme if they cannot cover staff costs as a result of the pandemic. This will be a grant not a loan and can apply to employees on the payroll as of 28 February 2020. The scheme will be backdated to 1 March 2020 and is planned to run for at least 3 months. Employers can submit information via on online portal that is planned to be available from 20 April 2020. You can read our answers to frequently asked questions on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and furlough leave here. The full guidance on the scheme can be read here.

Self employed

A separate scheme was announced to provide aid for those that are self employed. They will be able to claim a grant through the coronavirus self employment income support scheme.

They will be able to claim 80% of their trading profits up to £2,500 per month for the next 3 months. HMRC will determine your trading profits based on an average of the last 3 tax years. Details on eligibility can be read here.

Worth noting

The 1R35 tax reform has been delayed until next year and will come into force on 6 April 2021. Although most businesses had already prepared for the change, businesses should use this additional time to reflect on their plan.

Useful resources

Our Employment Law Team

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