What do Employers need to know about managing staff during the the Coronavirus Pandemic?
(updated 24th September 2020)
Acas has regularly updated advice for Employers on how to deal with the new Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Below are the details of all the significant announcements from the UK Government since 11th March 2020.
You can read the Acas advice here.
Acas have also issued guidance on how to run disciplinary hearings during the pandemic period which you can see here.
If you need help with your staffing issues and the options that employers have during the pandemic, you can contact The HR Kiosk here (but please note we are exceptionally busy at the moment).
On 18th May the major Broadcasters in the UK agreed guidelines that Producers can follow to allow television programmes to start filming again. On 1st June further guidelines were agreed for for high-end TV drama and film – you can see all the details here.
The following information is from the Budget on 11th March 2020 (the Budget document is here):
Eligibility for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) – The Prime Minister has already announced that the forthcoming COVID-19 Bill will temporarily allow SSP to be paid from the first day of sickness absence, rather than the fourth day, for people who have COVID-19 or have to self-isolate, in accordance with government guidelines. This will be retrospectively applied for absence on or after 13th March 2020.
The Budget sets out a further package to widen the scope of SSP and make it more accessible. The government will temporarily extend SSP to cover:
- individuals who are unable to work (and cannot work from home) because they have been advised to self-isolate (from August 2020 this includes those who are asked to self-isolate in advance of surgery or another hospital procedure)
- people caring for those within the same household who display COVID-19 symptoms and have been told to self-isolate.
Medical Evidence for SSP – The government has already issued guidance to employers, advising them to use their discretion not to require a GP fit note for COVID-19 related absences. This Budget announces that the government and the NHS will bring forward a temporary alternative to the fit note in the coming weeks which can be used for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak. This system will enable people who are advised to self-isolate to obtain a notification via NHS111 which they can use as evidence for absence from work, where necessary. This notification would meet employers’ need for evidence, whilst taking pressure away from General Practices. The notification is now available here.
Support for those ineligible for SSP – The government recognises that self-employed people and employees below the Lower Earnings Limit are not entitled to SSP. The best system of financial support for these people is the welfare system and, in particular, ‘new style’ Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit. The government is committed to supporting these groups, and the Budget announces further support by making it quicker and easier to receive benefits:
- ‘New style’ Employment and Support Allowance will be payable for people directly affected by COVID-19 or self-isolating according to government advice for from the first day of sickness, rather than the eighth day
- people will be able to claim Universal Credit and access advance payments where they are directly affected by COVID-19 (or self-isolating), without the current requirement to attend a jobcentre
- for the duration of the outbreak, the requirements of the minimum income floor in Universal Credit will be temporarily relaxed for those directly affected by COVID-19 or self-isolating according to government advice for duration of the outbreak, ensuring self-employed claimants will be compensated for losses in income.
Support for businesses – Statutory Sick Pay – The government will support small and medium-sized businesses and employers to cope with the extra costs of paying COVID-19 related SSP by refunding eligible SSP costs. The eligibility criteria for the scheme are as follows:
- this refund will be limited to two weeks per employee (the guidance says this is available to anyone on PAYE – so employees who are permanent and on Fixed-Term Contracts; casual and zero-hours contracted staff and agency workers).
- employers with fewer than 250 employees will be eligible. The size of an employer will be determined by the number of people they employed as of 28 February 2020
- employers will be able to reclaim expenditure for any employee who has claimed SSP (according to the new eligibility criteria) as a result of COVID-19
- employers should maintain records of staff absences, but should not require employees to provide a GP fit note
- This will apply retrospectively from 13th March 2020 (or from 16th April for those who were off sick because they were shielding).
- Government guidance is here.
- The scheme went live on 26th May – details are here
- You can claim back SSP here
Full details of when SSP is payable, in all the various circumstances, is here, in an explanatory table from lawyer’s Lewis Silkin.
2. Chancellor Rishi Sunak joined Boris Johnson at his daily Downing Street press conference on 17th March to explain a package to keep small businesses afloat. The announcements included:
- Every business in the retail, leisure and hospitality sector would have a year-long holiday from paying business rates, with smaller companies also eligible for a cash grant of up to £25,000.
- Cash grants of £10,000 for the UK’s 700,000 smallest companies
3. On 17th March the Government published its Coronavirus legislation which you can see here.
The Bill also enables employees and workers to take Emergency Volunteer Leave in blocks of 2, 3 or 4 weeks’ statutory unpaid leave (to support the medical effort) and establish a UK-wide compensation fund to compensate for loss of earnings and expenses incurred at a flat rate for those who volunteer through an appropriate authority. This will ensure that volunteers do not suffer financial disadvantage as a result of performing a public good. The jobs of skilled, experienced, or qualified volunteers will be protected for up to four weeks.
However, in July 2020 the Government said there were no immediate plans to bring these volunteer leave rights into practice!
4. School and Nursery Closures from Friday 20th March 2020:
If your staff are not already working from home (where they can), then Employers are advised to allow staff to do this, on full pay, in the current circumstances as schools/nurseries close. The other pragmatic approaches, depending on your business’ needs, could be to let staff take holiday, or staff can exercise their statutory rights to take time off to care for dependants (unpaid, but only usually used for very short periods), or take parental leave entitlements (unpaid); alternatively you could agree that staff take an unpaid sabbatical, or you agree temporary flexible working (reduced hours/salary or working at different times). On the 4th April it was announced that staff can be furloughed under the Job Retention scheme in these circumstances (see below).
The list of ‘key staff’ whose children can continue going to School or Nursery is here. Children with at least one parent or carer identified as a critical or key worker are covered.
On 11th May the Government announced that there could be wider opening of nurseries, schools and colleges from 1 June. Obviously, this hasn’t quite gone to plan, with Schools re-opening at the end of summer …..!
5. Support for businesses through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, all UK employers will be able to access support to continue paying part of their employees’ salary for those employees that would otherwise have been laid off during this crisis.
All UK businesses are eligible. On 15th April it was announced that the Scheme was being extended to those employees who were on the employer’s PAYE payroll as of 19 March 2020 (changed from 28th February).
How to access the scheme
You will need to:
- designate affected employees as ‘furloughed workers,’ and notify your employees of this change – changing the status of employees remains subject to existing employment law and, depending on the employment contract, may be subject to negotiation
- submit information to HMRC about the employees that have been furloughed and their earnings through a new online portal (HMRC will set out further details on the information required)
HMRC will reimburse 80% of furloughed workers wage costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month. HMRC are working urgently to set up a system for reimbursement.
It is not compulsory for Employers to use this scheme. You can read the details of all of the 20th March announcements here.
On 29th May the Chancellor announced that the scheme would be extended to October 2020, with employees being able to go back to work part-time from 1st July. However, only staff who have been furloughed for 3 weeks prior to 30th June, can continue to be furloughed (on a part or full-time basis) after 1st July – no new employees can be furloughed after this date. The 3 week minimum furlough leave will be scrapped from 1st July, so staff can be flexi-furloughed (work part of the week, be furloughed the rest of the week) for any period of time.
The full details of how flexible working will work were published on 12th June 2020 (in the guidance above). The Chancellor also described how the scheme would be ‘tapered’ off with contributions from employers – you can see the details here.
Details about holiday entitlement and pay during furlough are here.
The HMRC can also take criminal action in cases of fraudaulent use of the scheme by Employers. They are encouraging employees to tell them if they believe their employer is defrauding the HMRC under the furlough scheme via its online portal.
6. The Chancellor’s announcement on Thursday 26th March about the new Self-Employment Income Support Scheme – details are here. And further details are here. The scheme has been extended until August and you can see details here.
7. The Government announced, on 27th March 2020, that workers who have not taken all of their statutory annual leave entitlement in 2020, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, will now be able to carry it over into the next 2 leave years. More details here. Government guidance is here.
8. The Government announced on 30th March 2020 that there would be changes to Right to Work in the UK checks, during the Coronavirus pandemic. You can read the details here.
9. The Government published a Sector by Sector Guide to Social distancing in the workplace during coronavirus on 7th April, which you can read here.
10. On 11th May the Government published “OUR PLAN TO REBUILD:
The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy” which you can see in full here.
Details relating to work, effective from 13th May, include:
“For the foreseeable future, workers should continue to work from home rather than their normal physical workplace, wherever possible. This will help minimise the number of social contacts across the country and therefore keep transmissions as low as possible. All those who work are contributing taxes that help pay for the healthcare provision on which the UK relies. People who are able to work at home make it possible for people who have to attend workplaces in person to do so while minimising the risk of overcrowding on transport and in public places.
All workers who cannot work from home should travel to work if their workplace is open. Sectors of the economy that are allowed to be open should be open, for example this includes food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research in laboratories. The only exceptions to this are those workplaces such as hospitality and non-essential retail which during this first step the Government is requiring to remain closed.
It remains the case that anyone who has symptoms, however mild, or is in a household where someone has symptoms, should not leave their house to go to work. Those people should self-isolate, as should those in their households.”
Many experts have urged employers not to rush the return to work. Businesses are advised to revisit their risk assessments to see how prepared their workforce is for reopening sites. Clearly the current Government advice has changed since then – in August it was encouraging people to go back to work, and on 22nd September it advised people to work at home if possible; it’s up to Businesses basically to determine what is safest for them and their staff.
In another document entitled Staying Safe Outside Your Home, is this advice:
Reduce the number of people you spend time with in a work setting
You can lower the risks of transmission in the workplace by reducing the number of people you come into contact with regularly, where you can. Your employer can support with this (where practical) by:
- changing shift patterns and rotas to match you with the same team each time
- splitting people into smaller, contained teams
11. The Government published the ‘Working Safely during Coronavirus’ Guidelines on 11th May, which you can see here, updated on 24th June.
There are 11 guides covering a range of different types of work. The “Working safely during COVID-19 in offices and contact centres” specific guidance is here
and there is also a Poster for Employers to display in their workplace to show they have followed the guidance, which you can find here.
Updated information on what businesses can be open or not, is here.
12. Test and Trace System launched on 28th May 2020 (in England and Scotland – operating in Northern Ireland since 27th April and Wales from 1st June)
The UK’s test and trace strategy means that anyone testing positive for the virus will be contacted by text, email or phone and asked to log on to the NHS test and trace website to provide their details, along with those of who they live with, places they’ve visited recently, and the names and contact details of people they have been in close contact with in the 48 hours before symptoms started, so that NHS contact tracers can track them down.
Under the scheme, those who have come into close contact with someone who tests positive will receive a phone call, text message or email telling them to stay at home for two weeks, even if they have no symptoms. In this situation staff would be entitled to their normal sick pay.
There will obviously be problems for employers with this scheme if some people are repeatedly asked to self-isolate; and also you will need to consider the impact on your whole work-force who may have come into contact with that person (considering Data Protection issues). However, it is currently too early to know how the test and trace system will actually work in practice and all the implications for employers. Currently the scheme is not mandatory, but voluntary for those who are told to self-isolate.
On 27 May 2020, further new regulations extended SSP to those who are self-isolating for 14 days after being notified that they should do so by the NHS test and trace service. This covers people who are not unwell but have been told to self-isolate because they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19. SSP is payable from the 1st day in these circumstances and can be reclaimed by the Employer. SSP only applies to those who cannot work because of self-isolation, so people who can continue to work from home will not be entitled to SSP; if the employee is able to work remotely, they will be entitled to usual pay.
The Government have produced guidance for employers about the test and trace programme which you can see here.
13. 14 days self-isolation for people arriving in the UK from overseas (from various countries), from 8th June
While Employers can insist that staff do not undertake any work-related travel, you cannot insist staff do not travel for personal reasons. There is, however, no legal requirement to pay staff during this self-isolation period and there is no entitlement to SSP during this period (at the moment).
You can ask staff to work from home and pay them as normal if this is possible, or you can ask them to take annual leave to cover this period. Of course, if the travel was work-related, they should be paid as normal during this period of self-isolation.
14. Government advice on Workplace Testing
Published on 10th September, which you can see here.
15. The Rule of 6
From Monday 14 September 2020, in England, it is now unlawful for more than 6 people to gather together, either indoors or outdoors. There are a number of exemptions including gatherings for work, training or education purposes, or the provision of voluntary or charitable services. The full details are here in the Coronavirus: Meeting with others safely guidance.
16. The Chancellors announcement on 24th September 2020
We believe that Employees will be able to “cycle on and off” the scheme and do not have to work the same pattern each month. However, each short-time working arrangement must cover a minimum period of seven days.
Workers must work at least 33% of their normal hours. For every hour not worked, the employer and the government will each pay one third of the employee’s usual pay. Employers will pay a minimum of 55% of a worker’s salary and the Government will contribute a maximum of 22%, capped at £697.92 a month. Employees on the scheme will receive at least 77% of their usual pay (unless it is cut down by the government cap of £697.92).
Personally, I can’t see how the Job Support Scheme will be useful to some Employers, as they will need to pay their employers for more than the actual hours they work (i.e. if an employee works 33% of their normal hours then the employer will have to pay for that 33% and another 22%, so 55% of their normal hours (and the Government pays another 22%) to top this up to 77% of their normal wage!). More details to follow, as it sounds very confusing! but it is already clear that the Scheme cannot be used for anyone under notice of redundancy.
- All Government advice is here
- In September 2020 Acas publichsed a ‘return to the workplace’ process map which you can see here.
- NHS advice is here
- NHS111 Online is here
- The Health and Safety Executive have updated guidance for Employers during the pandemic which you can see here. There are also updated RIDDOR requirements for COVID 19 which you can see here.
- The Government’s guidance on infection control and PPE can be seen here.
You can read the Government’s guidance for households with possible coronavirus infection here.
If you need help with your Coronavirus staffing issues and the options that employers have during the pandemic, you can contact The HR Kiosk here (but please note we are exceptionally busy at the moment).
The Film and TV Charity offer financial support in cases of hardship for those who have worked in the industry for 2 years, and may have found their contracts being cancelled or suspended.
You can see the recent TV and Film Guidelines to re-start programme making here.