Never in our lifetime have employers had to deal with such a fast-changing, disruptive and stressful environment as that caused by the Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak. Plans made one day have to be changed the next and, most importantly, the details and practicalities of changes made by the government inevitably lag behind their announcements.
Here’s a summary of some of the key recent changes that affect employers, identifying what we do and don’t know about what’s changed.
Working from home now required if possible, not just encouraged
There are new stricter rules in force on people’s ability to travel and requirements for social distancing from Monday 23rd March for an initial period of 3 weeks. This is in order to keep many more people at home and reduce the spread of the virus.
The starting point is that everyone should stay at home, including for work, unless they are a key worker, or they really can’t work from home and the work should continue to be done during this period of extra measures
As an example, garages, are able to stay open to service cars and sell petrol; people who need cars to travel to work are able to take their car for an MOT – but not for more routine work, which should be delayed until after these special measures are over.
There is the need to use some judgement about whether work needs to be done away from home, and whether it is essential to carry on – just look at the confusion relating to construction workers and the recent change of heart forced on Sports Direct when they were told to close their stores.
It is clear, however, that if the current measures are thought to be being abused, then the government will introduce even tighter controls.
Employees who have symptoms or who are self-isolating in accordance with Public Health advice are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from the first day off work
The Chancellor announced in the Budget on the 11th March that SSP is to be calculated from the first day off work, rather than the fourth. SSP will be available for eligible individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 or those who are unable to work because they are self-isolating in line with Government advice published from 12th March 2020 onwards, where the person is unable to work because of that isolation.
The budget announcement was that small and medium-sized businesses (with fewer than 250 employees) will be able to reclaim up to 2 weeks’ SSP because of COVID-19. The government has said it will work with employers over the coming months to set up the repayment mechanism for employers as soon as possible.
We have already added a Self-Isolation Tracker to our software which makes it really easy for you to track who to claim for, and export that for easy import into whatever tool the Government set up. And in the meantime, you can use this to keep an easy track of the health and self-isolation status of all your people.
Pregnant employees and those will underlying health conditions need to work from home or get SSP
The government have said that those with underlying health conditions (defined as anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds), those aged 70 or over, and pregnant women need particularly to observe social distancing measures.
If you have employees any of these categories, they need either to work from home, or if that isn’t possible, they will become eligible for SSP, but it is not clear whether there will be any further reimbursement of SSP for employees needing to self-isolate for longer than 14 days.
Schools closed for all except vulnerable children or the children of key workers
The school closures from Friday 20th March are placing the increased burden of childcare on parents, which is particularly difficult when they are already trying to work from home. They cannot go down the usual route of getting grandparents involved because of the increased risks of the virus among older people, and even key workers are being asked only to send their children into school if they really can’t manage to look after them at home.
Many employers will, therefore, need to be even more flexible with staff who are parents, to see if they can work different or reduced hours.
Social distancing out of the home needs to be observed
The advice is to keep a minimum of 2 metres from anyone else to avoid infection.
Even if your business is one of those where staff can continue to come into work, you will need to put practical measures into place to enforce social distancing away from others.
One tip is to have them avoid public transport – or if they need to use it, then to try to travel outside rush hours. And they really should stay 2 metres away from anyone else on the bus or train.
Furlough arrangements have been announced
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was announced by the Chancellor on Friday 20th March with the intention of supporting businesses to ask staff temporarily to go home and not to work for this crisis period, as an alternative to redundancy.
The government will reimburse 80% of the wage cost of these furloughed workers up to a cap of £2500 per month, for an initial period of 3 months from 1st March to the end of May. Employers can, but are not obliged to, make up the 20% difference.
These employees will not be allowed to work for you during their furlough period, so this is not something to use where you want your staff to work reduced hours in this period. We think this is flawed thinking and are actively lobbying to see the scheme include ‘partial furloughs’.
As yet, the details of the scheme and the mechanism for receiving government support have not been announced.
With March payroll dates looming for many employers, it will not be straightforward to make decisions on furlough payments, including whether to pay any part of the remaining 20%, or whether to include benefits, pension contributions and holiday entitlement for instance.
Support for Self Employed Workers
The government is expected to introduce support for self-employed workers soon. This is likely to guarantee that freelance or self-employed workers will receive a payment of some proportion of provable earnings. Several government ministers have called this situation very complex and there is, therefore, a need for time to come up with a workable system.
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Find out how we can help you save time and money on your HR admin, and give you up to date advice on all employment issues by contacting us at info@citrusHR.com or giving us a call on 0333 444 0165 to find out more about how we can help your business with friendly, expert HR support.
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