We have been asked many questions about the coronavirus and its implications on employment.
We have summarised some of the common questions below, on sick-pay, employees who refuse to come to work, school closures and furloughed employees. We will provide updates as matters progress. You should also keep an eye on our blog page on Practical HR.
What is clear is that employment law still applies in all situations, so it is essential that you do things in the right way to prevent further trouble down the road with possible disputes or tribunal claims.
Support for businesses - paying wages
On Friday 20th March the Government announced its Job Retention Scheme that would allow all UK employers to access support to continue paying part of their employees’ salaries for those employees who would otherwise have been laid off during the crisis. This will reimburse up to 80% of wage costs up to a cap of £2500 per month.
Government guidance has been updated several times sine 20th March and we have therefore provided a separate FAQ section on furlough leave that will be updated as new guidance is published. This also includes details of how to claim the grant from the government.
Sick Pay and Coronavirus
If any of your employees have been advised to self-isolate (i.e. they are following the Government guidelines / have been to 111 online) they will be paid SSP from their first day of absence. Self-isolation is normally for 7 to 14 days and you will be able to claim back up to 14 days of SSP.
Employees can self-certify for the first 7 days but are not being required to provide a fit note (doctors note) for the following 7 days, as they are being advised not to visit their GP. You may want to ask your employee’s to complete and submit to you an isolation note from NHS111 online However, in these circumstances, if this is not provided, payments should still be made.
Your normal sick pay rules should apply as well. i.e. if you normally pay full pay for a certain number of days in a rolling 12-month period, this should be paid. You can still claim back SSP.
Employees who do not want to come to work
The Government is advising that people work from home wherever possible. But this is not always possible.
You may not be able to offer home working and have some people who are worried about catching Coronavirus and therefore unwilling to come into work. If this is the case, you should listen carefully to the concerns of your employees. Many employers are implementing additional measures regarding cleaning and providing more 'space' for each employee to maintain distance between each other. Some delivery companies are not requiring drivers to get signatures using handheld devises (but asking them to take a photo of deliveries). All these measures are being put in place to further reduce risk and you should consider what may be appropriate in your business and try to reassure employees.
If they still do not want to come to work you could also offer employees to take holiday or unpaid leave, but there is no obligation on businesses to do this. If an employee refuses to attend work, you are entitled to take disciplinary action. However, our view is that dismissal is likely to be unfair, at least for now.
We would recommend that you agree to a 'temporary' period of unpaid leave for any employees who do not want to come to work. This will allow you to assess the situation on an ongoing basis. Note: employees are not allowed to decide for themselves that they are furloughed employees. This is a decision for the organisation.
Further guidance and documents relating to risk assessments and health and safety will be provided on 1st May 2020.
School closures and time off
The Government announced on 18th March 2020 that schools in the UK will be closed from 23rd March. Only children of “key workers” will continue to attend school.
There are a number of options businesses can consider:
1. Working from Home: It may be suitable for those employees to work from home if they are able to carry out their duties from home. This might not be suitable in all cases depending on the nature of their work, their ability to work autonomously or the age of their child / children (it may not be practical for them to work from home if they have young children).
2. Alternative Working Hours: Where possible, you may be able to consider if the individual is able to alter their hours of work, particularly if they are able to share the responsibility of caring for their child. For example, can their work be done in the evening, or can hours be reduced. You must get agreement from employees if you are reducing hours (unless you have short term working clause in your contracts of employment).
3. Holiday: If they have holiday entitlement left to take, then you may want to offer them the option of taking holiday (followed by one of the other options).
4. Unpaid Leave: You may need to agree a period of unpaid leave if the employee is unable to work.
Employees are allowed a reasonable amount of time off (unpaid) to deal with emergency situations involving a dependant and to make arrangements. Given the current circumstances and that the Government has advised that grandparents should not be asked to provide childcare if they are in the vulnerable groups, it is likely that all time will be reasonable and if you did dismiss someone because they took time off to look after their children, then this would be automatic unfair dismissal.
If you need further assistance please call our consultancy team on 01702 216573.
If you are a YourHR.space Client your page on your portal will be updated and information communicated to staff on a regular basis and as advised. Please also remember that you can send announcements to staff using YourHR.space.
Workers can carry over holiday for 2 years.
Workers who have not taken all of their statutory annual leave entitlement due to COVID-19 will now be able to carry it over into the next 2 leave years.
Currently workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks holiday including bank holidays each year. However, most of this entitlement cannot be carried between leave years, meaning workers lose their holiday if they do not take it. There is also an obligation on employers to ensure their workers take their statutory entitlement in any one year.
The regulations will allow up to 4 weeks of unused leave to be carried into the next 2 leave years. This will mean staff can continue working in the national effort against the coronavirus without losing out on annual leave entitlement.
The government advice can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/rules-on-carrying-over-annual-leave-to-be-relaxed-to-support-key-industries-during-covid-19
Government Videos and Webinars on Coronavirus Support
The government is providing videos and webinars about the coronavirus and help for employers. These include information on furloughed workers, SSP and finance to companies.
You can watch these videos and sign up to webinars by clicking the link below:
You can also watch the government video, on the job retention scheme and SSP, by clicking the following link:
We hope you find these useful.
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