During the Coronavirus pandemic, there will undoubtedly be a number of challenges facing employers both large and small. Each individual organisation will need to assess its own level of exposure to business disruption. There will be a lot of dependabilities such as where and how an organisation conducts its business, do they have a site, how will day to day operations be affected and what is the reliance on its supply chain?
It is important to build a key communication team that employees can rely on for information. The team should be responsible for operating and implementing the contingency plan and allocating tasks and responsibilities appropriately and as required.
As the situation continues to develop, this team should be in regular contact to review and adapt the plans ensuring they are still fit for purpose. It is important to act as early as possible and keep everyone informed.
Please find the following information below:
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is a temporary scheme open to all UK employers (COVID-19). The purpose of scheme is to enable UK businesses to retain their staff during this pandemic. More information has become available and we have identified some of the questions you may have to enable you to use the furlough scheme.
The scheme also covers employees who were made redundant since 28 February 2020, if they are rehired by their employer.
You cannot claim for furlough for employees not on your payroll after 28 February 2020.
Yes, you will need to consult and confirm in writing that this is the course of action you are taking. If you have a lay off/short term working clause in your employment contract, this gives you as the employer the right to place the employee on furlough without their explicit agreement.
You may need to seek legal advice on the process. If sufficient numbers of staff are involved, it may be necessary to engage collective consultation processes to procure agreement to changes to terms of employment.
Yes, they can, however if there is no work for them, this would put them at risk of redundancy and therefore they would not be able to return to work for you.
Yes, you can once their sickness absence has finished, during which time, you will be paying them either statutory sick pay or contractual sick pay.
Can an employee ask to be placed on furlough, especially employees that have been advised to / or want to shield themselves?
Yes, they can and in most cases, you ought to agree, especially if they are in the high risk categories.
A minimum furlough period is 3 weeks and employees cannot return earlier that this, you cannot ask your employees to do work during the furlough period.
Yes, they will accrue at least the statutory minimum entitlement.
As they cannot work for you during this period, it would be sensible to postpone or cancel any leave booked within the furlough period.
You will need to pay your employees through the usual payroll, you will need to adjust the pay to 80% or pay at 100% if you as an employer have decided to do so. You will then be able to claim the grant through the online government portal.
If you use an outsourced payroll provider, they will assist you with this process.
What about other payroll costs such as pension contributions and employers national insurance payments, can I claim back these costs?
Yes, you can claim the associated Employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions for furloughed employees.
If your employee has more than one employer, they can be furloughed for each job. Each job is separate, and the cap applies to each employer individually.
What if my employee is on another type of long-term absence such as maternity leave or unpaid leave?
If your employee is eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or Maternity Allowance, the normal rules apply, and they are entitled to claim up to 39 weeks of statutory pay or allowance.
Employees on unpaid leave cannot be furloughed, unless they were placed on unpaid leave after 28 February.
Individuals are only entitled to the National Living Wage (NLW)/National Minimum Wage (NMW) for the hours they are working. Therefore, furloughed workers, who are not working, must be paid the lower of 80% of their salary even if, based on their usual working hours, this would be below NLW/NMW.
To claim, you will need:
- your ePAYE reference number
- the number of employees being furloughed
- the claim period (start and end date)
- amount claimed (per the minimum length of furloughing of 3 weeks)
- your bank account number and sort code
- your contact name
- your phone number
You will need to calculate the amount you are claiming. HMRC will retain the right to retrospectively audit all aspects of your claim.
You can only submit one claim at least every 3 weeks, which is the minimum length an employee can be furloughed for. Claims can be backdated until the 1 March if applicable.
What to do after you’ve claimed
Once HMRC have received your claim and you are eligible for the grant, they will pay it via BACS payment to a UK bank account.
You should make your claim in accordance with actual payroll amounts at the point at which you run your payroll or in advance of an imminent payroll.
You must pay the employee all the grant you receive for their gross pay, no fees can be charged from the money that is granted. You can choose to top up the employee’s salary, but you do not have to.
When the government ends the scheme
When the government ends the scheme, you must make a decision, depending on your circumstances, as to whether employees can return to their duties. If not, it may be necessary to consider termination of employment (redundancy).
However, on 26 February 2020, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock made it clear that those who were staying away from work as a result of medical advice to self-isolate were doing so for ‘medical reasons’ and therefore should receive sick pay.
We would advise that the approach advocated by the government is correct and employees who have been advised to self-isolate in line with government guidelines, should be treated as on sick leave and paid accordingly.
My employee has been off ill with COVID-19 but I have not received a fit note. Do I have to pay them, and should I take action against them for breaching our sickness absence policy?
BEIS Guidance is that employers should exercise their discretion and not require a fit note to cover this period. We agree with this stance and would advise that sick pay should not be withheld in the absence of a fit note in these circumstances.
My employee is unable to come into work because their school/ nursery is closed. Do I have to give them the time off and what should I pay them?
Employees have a legal right to take time off to deal with emergencies relating to their dependents and this includes the unexpected disruption of arrangements for the care of a dependent. In this particular context, a dependent could be the employee’s:
- spouse or partner
- a person living in the same household (but not a tenant)
- any person who reasonably relies on the employee for the provision of care
Usually this time off is unpaid unless your business provides additional contractual benefits to employees in these situations.
The amount of time off which can be taken is what would be reasonable to make alternative care arrangements. This will depend on a number of factors including the nature of the disruption, the alternatives available and financial considerations. Whilst in many cases a day or two is all that will be required, given the situation around COVID-19 it may not be feasible for a parent to make alternative arrangements in a short period of time. It has been held that an absence of 16 days was necessary in the circumstances of that particular case and therefore employers would be expected to act reasonably in these situations.
My employee has recently returned from an area where there have been confirmed cases of COVID-19. Can I force them to stay at home to protect my workforce and if so, what do I pay them?
If you want to be extra cautious, you can ask them to self-isolate, but you would have to pay them full pay as there is no evidence to suggest that there are medical reasons for doing this.
Employers have a statutory duty of care for people’s health and safety, to provide a safe place to work . There is also a moral responsibility to ensure employees feel safe and secure.
Key messages are available about the risk of spreading the virus, everyone is responsible for taking basic hygiene precautions and the Government has now advised that anyone able to work from home should do so.
Practical Steps to Follow:
- Reassure employees about any concerns they may have and keep them informed about contingency plans.
- Makes sure everyone understands the sick pay and leave policies and how these are being implemented.
- Consider any employee assistance plans or healthcare plans in place, ensure that everyone is aware of these, these can provide helplines and assistance for those employees who may be anxious and need additional support.
- Consider any employees who may be vulnerable due to pregnancy, underlying conditions and age, in this pandemic you also need to consider their family situations.
As part of contingency planning consider more flexible resourcing strategies to support covering essential operations, staff shortages and to avoid potential job losses.
Practical Steps to Follow:
- Review which roles can effectively work from home and review any technology to support this for virtual meetings and communications
- For customer-facing organisation consider introducing or maximising the use of self-service options and online services. Consider additional investment into laptops/mobile to enable increase remote working
- Increased sick absence may create a need for additional resource, liaise with your staff and see if they would be prepared to:
- Full-time employees to work additional hours, ensuring they comply with working time regulations 1998
- Part-time employees to increase their working hours/days
- Employees with transferrable skills re-deployed into other roles.
- Temporarily share resources with other similar businesses, i.e. delivery drivers, customer services.
- Operate with skeleton staff, identify essential services and roles that can’t be put on hold.
- Employees working from home to review and write process notes to enable smooth handover of tasks if required.
If the organisation is severely affected due to the nature of the business, consider other measures, such as:
- Review and postpone any planned recruitment or new employment contracts
- Temporary employee agreement and contract changes to a reduction in the hours/days that staff work
- Check if there is a contractual right to implement a lay-off or short-time working policy
- Ask employees to take leave during a specific period should a temporary closure be required, this could be a shorter period when employees must take a number of their accrued holiday days or for longer periods, this could be unpaid.
- Consider other unpaid options such as sabbaticals and parental leave
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