Information on Coronavirus – what Employers should do

(updated 31st March 2020)

Acas has published advice for Employers on how to deal with the new Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.  We have also added information from the Budget on 11th March 2020 and all significant updates after that date, below.

The Acas advice is worth reading as it includes:coronavirus

  • how to handle staff who have the virus
  • what to do if someone becomes unwell at work
  • what to do if you don’t want someone to come to work
  • and what do about staff who do not want to come into work because they are worried about catching the virus.

You can read the advice about Coronavirus/COVID 19 from Acas, which is being updated daily, 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).

This letter is an example of what Employers should NOT do!:

Government updates:

The Government announced on 4th March that SSP would apply from Day 1 in this situation; further details are awaited….

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 from 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • the eligible period for the scheme will commence from the day on which the regulations extending SSP to self-isolators come into force
  • while existing systems are not designed to facilitate such employer refunds for SSP, the government will work with employers over the coming months to set up a repayment mechanism for employers as soon as possible.
  • This will apply retrospectively from 13th March 2020.

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

Late on 17th March the Government published its draft Coronavirus legislation – this has now been given Royal Assent.  The document is here and key information for Employers is summarised as:

  • The Bill will enable 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.
  • The Government is asking people to stay at home if they have a high temperature or a new and continuous cough, or if anyone in their household has one of those 2 symptoms.
  • The Government want to ensure the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) provisions support people in complying with this request and that they have retrospective effect from 13 March 2020. By ensuring that people receive SSP from the first day that they are off work, we will ensure that those who are unwell or have been instructed to self-isolate can do so without the fear of losing pay.  By refunding small businesses (fewer than 250 employees), [for SSP costs] we hope to alleviate the significant financial burden on employers through increased SSP costs.

The legislation will be time-limited for 2 years.

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).

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.  If the Government announce any further initiatives for parent in terms of pay/benefits we will update this.

The Chancellors announcements on Friday 20th:

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.

Eligibility

All UK businesses are eligible.

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. Existing systems are not set up to facilitate payments to employers.

It is not compulsory for Employers to use this scheme.  You can read the details of all of the 20th March announcements here.

The Government announced details for employees on 26th March, which you can see here, and detailed guidance for Employers, which you can see here.

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 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.

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.

Other information:

  • Government advice is here
  • NHS advice is here
  • NHS111 Online is here.

You can download the NHS Hand washing techniques here

You can read the Government’s guidance for households with possible coronavirus infection here.

If you need help with your Coronavirus contingency planning policy or help with 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.

The Human Resources Consultancy service for SME's in the UK creative industries

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