What do Employers need to know about managing staff during the the Coronavirus Pandemic?
(updated 10th June 2021)
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/current announcements from the UK Government since 11th March 2020.
You can read the Acas advice on Coronavirus here.
Acas have also issued guidance on how to run disciplinary hearings during the Coronavirus 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 joint industry guidance for TV Production was updated on Wednesday 9th December 2020 – you can see 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 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). During the budget of 3rd March 2021 this support was extended, although it will be closed at some point this year (tbc).
- 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. On 17th March 2020 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!
3. Support for businesses through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough)
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. The original scheme was for those employees who were on the employer’s PAYE payroll as of 19 March 2020 (changed from 28th February).
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.
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.
Although the Scheme was due to close on 31st October, the Government announced on the 31st October that it would be extended until December – initial details are here. On 5th November, the Government announced that the Scheme would be extended to 31st March 2021. Details are here and here. The policy paper is here. Further Guidance was published on 10th November which you can see here.
On 17th December the Chancellor announced that the scheme would be further extended to 30th April 2021. On 3rd March 2021 at the Budget it was announced that the scheme would be extend until 30th September 2021. The latest Government guidance is here, and the latest Treasury Guidance, published in April 2021 is here.
Employees will continue to receive 80% of their current salary for hours not worked. Employers will continue to have to pay NIC and pension contributions until 30th June 2021 and the Government will continue to pay 80% of hours not worked (capped at £2,500). From July, employers will need to contribute 10% to the cost of un-worked hours, and the government will pay 70% of usual wages for hours not worked up to a cap of £2,187.50, During August and September, employers will need to contribute 20% to the cost of un-worked hours, and the government will pay 60% of usual wages for hours not worked up to £1,875. More details, published on 3rd March 2021, are here.
And here is a nice graphic!
To access the extended scheme (to September 2021), neither the employer nor the employee needs to have previously used the scheme. The guidance confirms that employers are able to furlough employees who are unable to work because they are clinically extremely vulnerable, or at the highest risk of severe illness from coronavirus and following public health guidance, or who are unable to work because they have caring responsibilities resulting from COVID-19, including employees that need to look after children who are at home as a result of school and childcare facilities closing, or who are caring for a vulnerable individual in their household.
It is important that Employers are aware they will not be able to claim for employees who are under contractual or statutory notice for claim periods on or after 1 December. This includes any employees being made redundant and also those employees who resign.
Here is a nice graphic of all the first few iterations of the Job Support Schemes –
4. The Chancellor’s announcement on Thursday 26th March about the new Coronavirus Self-Employment Income Support Scheme – details are here. And further details are here. The scheme has been extended until 2021 and amounts have changed several times, you can see the latest details here.
The Government announced on 2nd November that SEISS would be an average of 55% of trading profits over the period from November to January, with a maximum grant available of £5,160 (using 80% for the month of November and 40% for the other 2 months). Applications can be made at the end of November, rather than as previously announced in the middle of December. On 5th November the Government announced that SEISS would be 80% of trading profits for the period November-January, up to £7,000.
On 3rd March 2021, at the Budget, it was announced there would be a fourth grant of 80% of 3 months average trading profits, to cover the period February to April 2021. This can be claimed from late April, more details to follow. All those self-employed individuals who filed a 2019/2020 tax return (by 2nd March 2021) can claim this grant.
A fifth grant was also announced, covering the period May to September. There will be a turnover test so the grant is targeted at those who need it most, and the grant can be claimed from late July. More details here!
5. 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.
6. 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. This will end on 20th June and and in-person checks will need to re-start from 21st June 2021.
7. The Government published a Sector by Sector Guide to Social distancing in the workplace during coronavirus on 7th April 2020, which you can read here. A Social Distancing Review was launched on 5th April 2021, and the Government is consulting with employers about the possible introduction of long-term social distancing measures in the workplace.
8. Coronavirus 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.
The Government announced that from Monday 14th December, across the UK, the 14-day isolation period would be cut to 10 days for those required to self-isolate after being in contact with someone who has coronavirus and for those returning to the UK from a country not on the travel corridor list. This 10 day period already applies to people who have suspected coronavirus symptoms or have a positive test.
9. Government advice on Workplace Testing
Published on 10th September, which you can see here.
On 7th February 2021 the Government announced a scheme to increase workplace testing in sectors open during lockdown, to detect coronavirus (COVID-19) in people who are not showing symptoms. Employers can register here before 31 March 2021, to order free rapid lateral flow tests for your employees if:
- the business is registered in England
- you employ 50 people or more
- your employees cannot work from home.
From 6th March the free tests are available to businesses with less than 50 people, as long as they register by the end of March.
Further guidance on workplace testing has been published and guidance on working safely during coronavirus has been updated to reflect the extension of rapid workplace testing to businesses with 50 or more employees.
10. The Chancellors announcement on 24th September 2020 about the Job Support Scheme Open and later about the Job Support Scheme Expansion for Closed Business Premises. These schemes are now postponed.
Initial information is here
11. Changes to the new Job Support Scheme on 22nd October 2020
However, the new Job Support Scheme has now been postponed while the furlough scheme is extended!
12. Changes to employment tribunals and early conciliation procedures
In September 2020, the Government announced that in order to boost capacity in the tribunal system (because of the Coronavirus pandemic), the standard period for pre-claim conciliation by Acas, between the employer and employee, would be extended to 6 weeks for all cases, from 1st December 2020 (rather than the standard 1 month with the possibility to extend it by 2 weeks). You can read more details here.
13. New advice for the Clinically Vulnerable
The Government introduced new advice for those who are ‘clinically vulnerable’ (and were probably ‘shielding’ before August 2020) on 13th October – which you can read here
From 1st April 2021 ‘shielding’ will come to an end in England and Wales (it looks like shielding in Scotland will end on 26th April, dates for Northern Ireland not yet finalised). However, people who have been shielding are advised to continue to take extra precautions to keep themselves safe, such as social distancing and working at home where possible. SSP entitlemnets for shielding will end on 1st April.
14. The new ‘Test to Release’ for international travel starting 15th December 2020 and the new hotel quarantine plan from 25th February 2021 in England
You can read details of ‘Test to Release’ here.
On 18th January 2021 the Travel Corridors scheme closed. Arrivals to the UK from now must take a negative coronavirus test up to 72 hours before departure to the UK; and must self-isolate for up to 10 days on return to the UK (or take a private test after 5 days under the Test to Release scheme). There were exemptions to the travel restrictions for ‘high-end’ business travellers, performing arts professionals, journalists, television production and film workers, but these have now been removed. Now, exemptions to travel restrictions only remain for aircraft crew, hauliers, offshore oil and gas workers and people involved in elite sport, medical and others professions which are detailed here.
From 15 February 2021 onwards, everyone allowed to enter England who has visited or passed through a country where travel to the UK is banned /on the red list must:
- quarantine for 10 days in a managed quarantine hotel
- take a coronavirus (COVID-19) test on or before day 2 and on or after day 8 of quarantining
- follow the national lockdown rules
You cannot travel to England if you’ve visited or passed through a country where travel is banned in the last 10 days, unless you’re:
- a British national
- an Irish national
- anyone with residence rights in the UK.
More information is here.
15. Advice for pregnant employees – updated 11th January 2021 – which you can see here.
At the end of February 2021, Acas advised employers to give their staff paid time off to attend Covid-19 vaccination appointments and also to allow staff time off sick if they have any side effects after having the vaccine.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has recently published guidance on the data protection privacy issues that employers need to consider in relation to recording their employee’s vaccination status. The guidance covers issues such as “Can I collect data about whether my employees are vaccinated against COVID-19?” and “What lawful basis should I use to record my employees’ vaccination status?”
On 14 April 2021 the Government launched a 5-week consultation on whether vaccines for care home workers should be mandatory.
17. Coronavirus employment law cases are slowly trickling in!
- A Lorry driver who was sacked for refusing to wear face mask was not unfairly dismissed. Details of this February 2021 landmark case are here.
- In Rodgers v Leeds Laser Cutting Limited (in March 2021) an Employment Tribunal found that an employee could not rely on health and safety reasons in an automatic (Health & Safety) unfair dismissal claim “to refuse to work in any circumstances simply by virtue of the pandemic” Further details are here and here
- In Accattatis v Fortuna Group London Ltd (heard in April 2021) Mr Accattatis did not persuade a tribunal that his concerns for his safety at work made his dismissal automatically unfair. Fortuna made PPE and so staff were considered ‘key workers’ and the business remained open through the first lockdown, and his job included accepting daily deliveries of equipment. Mr Accattatis developed COVID symptoms and self-isolated but continued to feel unwell after this period. He then asked to be furloughed but his employer refused as he was needed at work. He asked to be furloughed 2 more times and his employment was terminated. Mr Accattatis did not quite have 2 years service so could not claim unfair dismissal (which he would likely have won because of the lack of procedure by the Company, at least!) so therefore bought a claim under Health and Safety laws in the Employment Relations Act 1996 section 100 – that his workplace posed a serious and imminent danger to him. The tribunal felt that there was danger at the workplace but Mr Accatatis had not taken appropriate steps to protect himself from danger or explore ways in which the danger might be mitigated – his demands for furlough and working from home (he couldn’t do his job from home) were not appropriate steps to protect him from danger at work.
18. Budget announcement to support Jobs, 3rd March 2021
The announcement included:
- the Government will provide £1.26 million in England for high quality work placements and training for 16-24 years olds. Employers who provide trainees with work experience will be paid £1,000 per trainee.
- Employers who hire an apprentice between 1st April and 30th September 2021 will receive £3,000 per new hire.
19. Legal requirement to work from home ends on 29th March 2021
However, Government guidance remains that “you should continue to work from home if you can”. If employees are able to work from home then employers should think carefully before issuing any compulsory instructions to return to the office.
20. Long Covid
The ONS estimate that over 1 million people have reported experiencing long COVID symptoms. Acas has published a guide to help Employers handle the associated sickness absence and return to work. The guide acknowledges that it is hard to say yet whether long COVID will be a disability, but recommends making ‘reasonable adjustments’ to help workers who are suffering from it.
21. Tax Relief for working at home
Details here in an article from Brodies LLP.
Other Coronavirus information:
- 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.