Coronavirus Q&A – Advice for UK Employers

Nicola Mullineux

Nicola Mullineux

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27 Mar 2020

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First published 3rd March 2020. Last updated 27th March 2020 at 13:00.

The UK is officially in lockdown, but what does that mean for your business?

For expert advice regarding coronavirus (COVID-19) in the workplace, call our employment law experts on freephone 01455 858132 or contact us online and we'll call you.

 

Coronavirus advice for employers

Employers across the country have questions in relation to the Coronavirus. Here are some of the more common ones, with answers helpfully provided:

Q: The Government have announced I need to shut down, what do I do now?

A: Just because your business has been deemed non-essential doesn’t mean it has to stop working. If your employees can feasibly work from home, operations can continue.

If you do let your employees continue to work from home, you should ensure you pay them as normal.

On the other hand, if it’s not possible for employees to work from home, staff can be laid off on no pay if you have a contractual clause to that effect. Or, you can take advantage of the Job Retention Scheme and furlough them. Find more details on this new scheme in the following Q&A.

Updates are posted regularly on the government website, so keep up to date with them here.

Q: What financial support is the Government offering?

A: The latest support the Government is offering is called the ‘Job Retention Scheme’. This involves placing an employee on a ‘furlough’. This isn’t a term commonly used in UK employment law, but is used in the USA.

The term means temporarily changing their status to ‘furloughed worker, where they don’t work but are retained on your books to be brought back when you need them.

The government is offering grants to cover 80% of furloughed employees’ wages, to a maximum of £2,500 per employee per month.

Any employer can access this scheme, regardless of size or business type.

You need to get agreement from your employees before designating them as furloughed workers and submit that information to HMRC with each employee’s earnings. The first grants should be paid by the end of April 2020.

Any employee can be furloughed, including those on zero-hour and temp contracts, so long as they’re on PAYE. So ultimately, it’s your choice who utilises the scheme and who doesn’t. You can’t make employees work while they’re furloughed, even if they’re on short time working.

Q: Employees need to care for dependants. Can I expect them to work from home?

A: Potentially, yes.

Assess the situation carefully. Just because an employee is also caring for children doesn’t necessarily mean they’re unable to do their work. It might be worth implementing a trial period where you can observe the arrangement and evaluate if it’s working.

Time off for dependants only covers a short amount of time and if the employee is unable work from home, and unable to make other arrangements for the care of their child, you should try to agree that they take annual leave, or take a period of unpaid leave.

Whatever your approach, remain in contact with the employee and pass on any updates as soon as possible.

Q: What do I do if an essential worker refuses to come into work?

A: Employees are rightfully concerned about their health. If there’s a heightened risk of catching the virus in your workplace, some employees may refuse to come in. If they do this you should listen to their concerns and offer reassurance.

If they’re a key worker, it’s likely homeworking isn’t possible. But, if it is, consider arrangements, or other flexible working options. For example, many schools are arranging a rota system amongst their staff.

And, of course, if there’s a legitimate reason for not coming into the office (as outlined above) employees should be staying at home.

Forcing an employee to come into work against their will, in these unprecedented circumstances, is likely to get messy fast, so try to be as considerate and flexible as possible. If the employee refuses to engage with you, you could consider disciplinary procedures, but be cautious in doing so.

Q: Do I have to pay employees who are self-isolating?

A: The other issue that comes with self-isolating is pay. Everyone who has been advised to self-isolate will be entitled to SSP. This is provided they meet other qualifying conditions, such as a minimum level of earnings. And, this is expected to be the case for the next eight months.

For companies with fewer than 250 staff, the Government has pledged to refund SSP for the first two weeks of absence.

Q: Do I have to pay employees who have Coronavirus?

A: If an employee is legitimately sick with the virus, then they qualify for at least statutory sick pay (SSP). If their contract states that they are provided more, then they will receive that.

SSP is paid at £94.25 per week for up to 28 weeks, and is paid from the fourth day of sickness absence. The individual may not have to provide a doctor’s note, as staff can self-certify with symptoms of flu without a doctor.

REMEMBER: This will increase to £95.85 in April 2020.

The government have stated that SSP will be provided from day one, not day four. However, the current implementation date for this is yet to be announced.

Q: Should I pay someone who is self-isolating to take care of a dependant with Coronavirus symptoms?

A: If they are under government guidance to self-isolate then they should receive SSP.

Q: What should I do to minimise impact?

A: Acas has also provided guidance for what you should do if the virus spreads more widely across the UK. You should:

  • Ensure staff details are up to date
  • Ensure emergency contact details are up to date
  • Refresh managers on policies & procedures, in particular those relating to sickness absence
  • Implement NHS advice on hygiene in your workplace, including hand-washing guidance and the provision of soap and water
  • Provide hand sanitisers and tissues to staff an encourage usage of them.

It’s also worth considering whether you might need to close your workplace. This includes considering whether homeworking is possible, and maintaining communication with staff.

Q: The business next to mine has sent all of its employees home because of Coronavirus. Should I do the same?

A: This really is a question only you can answer. If you can get more information from the business next door as to why they took this measure, this may help you understand the level of risk of exposure to your employees if they continue working. If feasible, consider whether your employees can work from home so that operations are maintained.

 

Employer support with the Coronavirus

If you have questions or just want guidance through a sickness absence issue, speak to a Croner expert today on 01455 858132 or contact us online and we'll call you.

About the Author

Nicola Mullineux

Nicola Mullineux, as Group Content Manager, leads a team of employment law content writers who produce guidance and commentary on employment law, case law and key HR developments. She has written articles for national publications for over 10 years and regularly helps to shape employment of the future by taking part in Government consultations on employment law change.

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Nicola Mullineux

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