22nd May 2020 – COVID-19 Employers Update
It’s been a busy few weeks with the Government’s announcement of the return back to work and updated guidance to the Coronavirus Job Retention scheme (CJRS) and detailed below are some of the key changes.
Holiday and furlough confirmed
The Government has now confirmed that employers can ask an employee to take holiday while on furlough, subject to the notice provisions (twice as much notice as holiday) although this must be paid at normal salary rates. For further information, practical examples and issues to consider follow this link.
A new section has been included in relation to those qualifying for maternity allowance, making it clear that those in receipt of maternity allowance cannot be furloughed and must give the full eight weeks’ notice to return early.
The list of enhanced contractual family leave payment entitlements that can be claimed for has been updated to include parental bereavement pay.
The CJRS is a temporary scheme that was initially put in place for 4 months starting from 1 March 2020 and will continue in its current form until the end of July. Employers can use the scheme anytime during this period. From August, employers currently using the scheme will have more flexibility to bring their furloughed employees back to work part time whilst still receiving support from the scheme. This will run for three months from August through to the end of October. Employers will be asked to pay a percentage towards the salaries of their furloughed staff. The employer payments will substitute the contribution the government is currently making, ensuring that staff continue to receive 80% of their salary, up to £2,500 a month. Although it is assumed that reference to contribution from employers means if they bring employees back for part of a week, we cannot be certain of that until we see the wording and so if you are placing anyone on furlough or extending their furlough past 1 August ensure you retain the ability to bring the furlough to an end and/or amend it to reflect changes to the scheme. More specific details and information around its implementation will be made available by the end of May.
Returning to work
We have already been in contact with many of our clients about return to work arrangements and detailed below is to some helpful information for you to refer to. We can’t stress enough the importance of communication, taking in to account your team’s circumstances and involving them in your planning.
Ultimately it is for an employer to decide who is on furlough and who is not and as the new ACAS guidance makes clear, provided that an employer has done a risk assessment, talked to any union/ its employees and taken reasonable steps to make a workplace as safe as possible, then refusal to return without good reason can be a disciplinary matter as detailed in this guidance. Our cautionary note, forcing high risk employees to return to work, especially where there is more of a risk they will catch coronavirus because social distancing is difficult, may well lead to claims of failure to provide a safe place of work and that any dismissals for failing to come to work are dismissals for health and safety reasons. Also bear in mind that an allegation that the health or safety of any individual has been, is being or is likely to be endangered, can be whistleblowing and employees cannot be subjected to a detriment or dismissed for making this allegation. Neither claim requires a qualifying period and compensation is uncapped.
To help you identify key considerations, we have produced a document “Lockdown Exit / Ending Furlough”, which summarises options on reducing your people costs as well as how you can continue to maintain and support your team. Please contact us if you would like access to this.
Redundancy & Consultation
If you are reviewing your structure as part of reducing their people costs, please email us and one of our highly experienced HR Associates will be able to explain the consultation process, provide you with redundancy template letters but also talk through various workforce planning options.
We can now also help our clients carry out the following Health and Safety and Employee Well-being activities:
- Home working DSE Assessments
- Covid 19 specific online Training sessions
- Development of a bespoke COVID-19 Risk Assessment. We will provide you with a COVID-19 Policy, Procedure and Guidance document.
- Outplacement support
- Wellness and recovery support for teams and individuals through coaching
- Virtual workshops including support on Employee wellbeing and Mental Health
If you’d like more details about the above support options or any queries about what you need to do, please don’t hesitate to contact us.