Where should employers start when navigating the recent COVID restrictions?

Wednesday November 4, 2020

Just when we thought the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was coming to an end, an emergency extension was announced on 31 October. We had already seen the scheme used to place more than nine million people on furlough this summer.

Whilst the extension will provide some relief to business owners and their employees, the announcement came with a condition not so well received – A month-long national lockdown for England, which will legally require swathes of businesses to close from tomorrow.

England is expected to enter lockdown as Wales prepares to emerge from a 17-day “fire break” which imposed similar restrictions. Scotland continues to operate a five-level COVID protection system but has not ruled out the possibility of a national lockdown.

For many people, new restrictions will be difficult to digest as we enter winter. Although the impending lockdown is expected to end in early December, a fear of it being extended is only natural.

Support and communication are both critical at a time like this. Employees may have questions and could be struggling with their financial or overall well-being.

Likewise, you will need some answers in order to know how best to protect yourself and your business. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the recent changes, we have highlighted a few below that should take priority.

Working from home where possible

Advice is to stay at home and only leave home for specific reasons. Examples of when employees may attend a COVID-secure workplace include if they cannot work at home e.g. construction, or if they are at risk of harm, such as from domestic abuse.

Most schools and childcare services are still accessible, which will be a relief to the working parents on your team. If you’re able to offer flexible hours this can really help for school drop off and pick up times, even when staff are working from home.

Employers should assess the need for employees to attend the workplace and keep a detailed record of attendance. If it is not essential, alternatives can include furlough under the extended scheme or remote working.

Many businesses that can operate remotely will have trialed this by now. However, if you are setting employees up to work from home for the first time, a homeworking risk assessment is advised.

Understanding the furlough extension

The extension to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme replaces the Job Support Scheme and is expected to last until December. If you are planning to access the scheme, please take note of the following:

  • Eligible employees are those that were on your payroll by 30 October 2020.
  • Furloughed employees will receive 80% of their salary for hours not worked up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.
  • Employers have the option of furloughing staff full-time or on a part-time basis.
  • Employers are required to cover National Insurance and pension contributions.
  • You must keep a written agreement with each individual employee, signed by them confirming that they are furloughed and will not undertake any work for the company.

See our Coronavirus Hub for further information.

Managing mental health and well-being

If you haven’t already done so, we advise prioritising 121s with employees to see how they are coping with the current situation. This also presents a good opportunity to signpost any well-being support available to them such as an Employee Assistance Programme if you have one.

You could also highlight outstanding holiday allowance if it won’t leave you short. They may not be able to go anywhere, but it could be a welcome reminder if they need a break.

Government guidance clearly states that leaving your home for exercise outdoors is allowed. Make sure employees take their breaks to make the most of the daylight hours. A walk and some fresh air can do wonders for stress management.

Deciding next steps

The news of another lockdown could mean that you need to make some essential changes to your business.

This may mean furloughing staff, reducing hours, lay-offs or, as a last resort, redundancies.

Coronavirus news is dominating the headlines, but employment law still applies and certain processes carry risk if not conducted correctly. If you have questions about this or how best to manage your team at this time, please call us.

 

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