Coronavirus (COVID-19) Key employment issues in the workplace

In addition to these specific FAQs we've also put together a general document applicable to all organisations:

What is the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme?

The government has announced details of the coronavirus (Covid-19) Job Retention Scheme and this will be of interest to employers.

The temporary scheme has now been extended until the end of June, this will be processed through an online portal that will be available on 20 April with first payments expected to businesses on 30 April 2020.

Eligible UK employers will be able to access government support to continue paying their employees who would otherwise have been laid off because of the coronavirus crisis – designated employees will be “furloughed workers”. HMRC may fund up to 80% of the furloughed worker’s wages, subject to a cap of £2,500, the employer may agree to pay to “top up” the balance due to the employee.

Employees on zero hours contracts are covered under the scheme.

It is also important to remember that normal employment rules still apply so there is still an obligation to consult, and collectively consult. The scheme’s details are complex and Stone King is happy to advise employers. Full details of the scheme can be found at: Claim for wage costs through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

On 28 May 2020 the chancellor announced changes to how the scheme will operate between June and October, this includes:

  • The scheme will close to new entrants from 30 June. From this point onwards, employers will only be able to furlough employees that they have furloughed for a full 3 week period prior to 30 June. This means that the final date by which an employer can furlough an employee for the first time will be 10 June, in order for the current 3 week furlough period to be completed by 30 June. Employers will have until 31 July to make any claims in respect of the period to 30 June
  • From 1 July the option of ‘flexible furlough’ will be available. This will allow employers to bring those on furlough back part-time whilst still claiming for the hours not worked through the CJRS
  • From 1 August 2020 employers will be expected to pay employer’s national insurance and pension contributions (until then it is covered by the government)
  • From 1 September 2020 the government will cover 70% of the salary with employers topping up the 10% (plus any further top up agreed)
  • From 1 October 2020 the government will cover 60% of the salary with employers topping up the 20% (plus any further top up agreed).
What are my duties as an employer?

Employers should have regard to their legal duties, in particular:

  • The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and associated legislation
  • The common law duty of care
  • The express and implied terms in their employees’ contracts of employment, specifically the duty of trust and confidence
  • The Equality Act 2010, in particular to employees’ protected characteristics and the positive duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees

Employers should have regard too to all PHE guidance and can take disciplinary action against an employee who refuses to follow hygiene rules to protect against the spread of coronavirus.

When is an employee entitled to sick pay?

Statutory sick pay (SSP) is paid to employees unable to work due to sickness and is current payable by employers. The government has introduced new measures in light of coronavirus which include:

  • SSP to be paid from the first day an employee is off sick (rather than the fourth day)
  • SSP for “all those who are advised to self-isolate”, including the asymptomatic employee
  • SSP will be temporarily reimbursed to all SMEs for coronavirus-related absences for up to 14 days

The Coronavirus Bill provides that these new measures will have retrospective effect for SSP already paid by employers in relation to periods falling on/after 13 March 2020.

Employees can get medical evidence for a period of absence by calling 111, by using NHS 111 online or via the NHS website. In light of the anticipated pressure on the NHS, the Government have advised employers to be flexible in relation to the medical evidence they require under their sick pay policies.

On 28th May 2020 the government announced that employers can now claim SSP for employees who are self-isolating because they’ve been notified by the NHS or public health bodies that they’ve come into contact with someone with coronavirus (Track and Trace).

What is Emergency Volunteer Leave?

Emergency Volunteer Leave is provided for in the new Coronavirus Bill. Employees can elect to take temporary leave from work, to volunteer for health/social care services during the coronavirus pandemic. It effectively creates a temporary new form of unpaid leave.

The government will set cyclical ‘volunteering periods’ of 16 weeks, within which individuals may undertaking volunteering in blocks of 2, 3 or 4 consecutive weeks. Volunteers will be issued an ‘emergency volunteering certificate’ by an appropriate authority (including the local authority and NHS), which will specify the details of their volunteering duties.

During the period of leave, the employee’s terms and conditions of employment will subsist, except those in relation to pay. The government will compensate volunteers for loss of earnings, travel and subsistence. Employees are protected from detriment for taking leave and their seniority, pension and qualifying period of employment will be unaffected.

Can an employee take time off work to look after their children?

An employee who is not sick with coronavirus can take time off work to look after dependents. This provision is intended for short periods of absence and there is no statutory right to be paid. There may be a contractual right to pay in this circumstance, if provided for in the contract of employment or employee handbook. The current guidance confirms that an employee who is absent due to caring duties resulting from coronavirus, including looking after children, can be furloughed as long as this has been confirmed/agreed before 10 June 2020.

Can an employer discuss an employee’s Coronavirus?

Employers should be mindful of the data protection implications of discussing coronavirus. This relates to the employee’s health and so is ‘special category data’. Please speak to one of our information lawyers for more information.

What does social distancing mean for employers and employees?

The Government have advised that everyone should avoid unnecessary contact with other people in order to reduce the transmission of coronavirus, this includes avoiding non-essential use of public transport and working from home, where possible. Employers have been urged to encourage their employees to work from home as well as to send home anyone with a continuous cough or high temperature.

Our Employment Team will be available if you require specific legal advice or would like to discuss the contents of this article further. We are operating business as usual and will continue to support our clients fully through the Coronavirus pandemic.

The law and practice referred to in this article or webinar has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.

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