Coronavirus news

 


Friday 29th May 2020

Job retention scheme: Employers to start paying and more flexibility with part-time furlough

The UK Government’s job retention scheme has helped many people to remain in employment throughout the coronavirus crisis by placing them on furlough and subsidising 80% of their wage.

It was recently revealed that the scheme would stay open until October, raising questions as to how it would continue to financially support the millions of people across the UK who are currently on furlough.

Today, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced new terms of the scheme which we have summarised for employers below. Please read the following and contact us if you have questions.

  • From August employers will be asked to contribute employee national insurance and pension payments. The scheme will continue to pay 80% for furloughed employees.
  • From September employers will be asked to start paying 10% towards furloughed employees wages, whilst the scheme contributes 70%
  • In October employers will contribute 20% and the scheme will subsidise 60%

More flexibility for furlough

It was also revealed that from 1st July employers will have the maximum flexibility possible when it comes to furlough. This added flexibility, which The HR Dept has been actively campaigning for, means that employers could bring back some furloughed employees to work part time.

Employers would pay furloughed employees for the time worked and claim furlough payments for the days they did not work.

This is great news for businesses that need critical work to be completed without having to unfurlough employees.

Understanding the job retention scheme

There are important rules and eligibility requirements to consider when using the scheme. Contact us for advice and to find out what the latest announcement means for your business.

 


Thursday 28th May 2020

Test and Trace scheme launches in England and Scotland

The Government’s new Test and Trace scheme has launched today in England and Scotland. The virus tracking approach aims to focus on a move towards more locally targeted lockdown measures to help ease blanket restrictions.

Contact tracers will contact those who test positive for coronavirus and find out who else they have been in contact with. Those deemed at risk of contracting the virus will be instructed to isolate for 14 days, even if they are not unwell.

Anyone who develops symptoms of coronavirus – a persistent cough, fever or a sudden loss of taste or sense of smell – should self-isolate for seven days and can request a test online. Those living in the same household will need to self-isolate for 14 days, even if they are not showing symptoms.

It was announced yesterday that testing is now available for everyone showing symptoms including children under five.

What if an employee is told to self-isolate as instructed by the Test and Trace scheme?

If the employee cannot work from home, they are entitled to SSP for 14 days. Ask us about specific situations in your business or see our coronavirus FAQ for employers.


Tuesday 26th May 2020

‘Non-essential’ retail businesses to re-open as UK sets to enter Phase 2

In yesterday’s bank holiday briefing from Downing Street, prime minister Boris Johnson announced further lockdown restrictions to be lifted from the 1st June, subject to statistical evidence continuing to support the UK safely moving into phase 2 of the conditional recovery roadmap.

Johnson advised that from 1st June open air markets and car showrooms will be permitted to re-open, providing social distancing and COVID secure guidelines can be maintained.

Further to this, it was revealed that from 15th June, other ‘non-essential’ retail businesses in England, from department stores to small independent shops, will be able to re-open providing that COVID secure guidelines can be met.

New government guidance has been updated to provide clarity to businesses impacted by the announcement and details how to safely return to work. Businesses in Scotland or Wales should consider the guidance alongside local public health and safety requirements and legislation.


Thursday 21st May 2020

Scotland lockdown restrictions to ease from 28th May

Nicola Sturgeon announced that Scotland will begin to ease lockdown restrictions, in phase 1 of their plan from 28th May. This will include being able to meet others outdoors from one other household, as long as social distancing is maintained.

Sturgeon also suggested that schools in Scotland would return on August 11th, with a phased return to school plan in place.

Scots are urged to stay at home until the first phase begins, which although scheduled for 28th is under constant review and will only be lifted if evidence supports this decision.

Further information on Scotland’s Covid-19 route map can be found here at Gov.scot.


Tuesday 12th May 2020

Understanding the COVID-19 Secure Guidelines

Yesterday the UK government released new guidance for employers to help them reopen their businesses safely. The guidelines have been summarised into five key points which include social distancing and reinforced cleaning.

However, there is much more detail to be unraveled in the full guidance which includes eight extensive guides on how to make a workplace COVID-19 secure.

To ensure the safety of a business and be compliant with health and safety law, it is crucial that employers seek professional advice when applying the guidance to a unique workplace situation.

Remove risk and find peace of mind through the Health and Safety Dept. Our qualified professionals will conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment and help you to understand what it is that you must do to make your business safe and legal before it reopens.


Tuesday 12th May 2020

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been extended

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has today revealed that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is to be extended until October. Additionally, he confirmed that there will be no reduction in the level of support for those on the scheme.

The Chancellor tweeted the following details prior to his announcement in the Commons this afternoon:

• The job retention scheme will be extended for four months until the end of October.
• Until the end of July, there will be no changes to the scheme whatsoever.
• From August to October the scheme will continue, for all sectors and regions of the UK, but with greater flexibility to support the transition back to work.
• Employers currently using the scheme will be able to bring furloughed employees back part-time (expected to be from August).
• We will ask employers to start sharing, with the government, the costs of paying people’s salaries.
• Further detail will follow by the end of May.
• Workers will, through the combined efforts of government and employers, continue to receive the same level of support as they do now, at 80% of their salary, up to £2,500.

We are pleased to hear of the scheme’s extension and forthcoming flexibility, which we have been actively campaigning for, which will continue to provide much needed support to millions of employees and businesses throughout the UK.

Employers seeking advice and support managing their employees or accessing the job retention scheme should contact their local HR Dept.


Monday 11th May 2020

The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy

After last night’s announcement left many questions unanswered, the UK government has now released a 60-page document outlining their recovery strategy to rebuild the UK. You can read the full document here.

The document highlights the UK government aim to return life to as close to normal as possible, for as many people as possible, as fast and fairly as possible. In a way that avoids a new epidemic, minimises lives lost and maximises health, economic and social outcomes.

Detailed guidance and projected dates for phases two (smarter controls) and three (reliable treatment) of the UK government’s three phased recovery strategy can be found within this latest release.

COVID-19 Secure guidelines which will detail how physical spaces can be adapted will be released this week. The clinically extremely vulnerable are advised to continue shielding for some time yet, with more support and assistance expected.

For businesses based in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales please refer to advice as per the devolved government and contact your local HR Dept.

Who can go to work?

Where work is concerned, workers should continue to work from home for the foreseeable future. From Wednesday 13th May, those who cannot work from home are permitted to travel to work if their workplace is open in England, avoiding public transport where possible. We await further instruction for businesses in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Sectors of the economy that are permitted to be open from Wednesday are listed as:

  • Food production
  • Construction
  • Manufacturing
  • Logistics
  • Distribution
  • Scientific research in laboratories.

Exceptions to this are those workplaces such as hospitality and nonessential retail which must remain closed during this first recovery stage.

The opening of non-essential retail is subject to the new COVID-19 Secure guidelines and expected to happen in phases from 1st June, if safe to do so. Further guidance will be released.

Hairdressers, beauty salons, hospitality including pubs and accommodation, cinemas and leisure facilities are expected to remain closed at least until 4th July, subject to government findings through phase 2 and successfully meeting the COVID-19 Secure guidelines.

It is advised not to travel to different parts of the UK and respect the rules in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Should we be wearing face masks?

The UK government advice is that people should be wearing a “face-covering” in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible, when in contact with those who you would not usually meet. E.g on public transport or in shops.

Homemade face-coverings are said to be effective and are not the same as facemasks, which should be reserved for those who need them the most. Face-coverings are not advised for children under 2 or those who may find them difficult to manage correctly.

What’s next?

We strongly advise that you familiarise yourself with the full recovery strategy document. Further guidance is to be released regarding how to make sure your business is COVID-19 Secure before bringing employees back to work.

If you have questions about how to manage your staff at this time or regarding the reopening of your business, please call us.


Monday 11th May 2020

Stay alert: England’s “conditional” plan out of lockdown

Last night the Prime Minister addressed the nation to share details of a “conditional” plan to restart the economy and reopen society.

Boris Johnson referred to the plan as “the first sketch of a road map” and stressed that plans were conditional and guided by science. The ease of lockdown restrictions is dependent on a new five level Covid Alert System currently informing government decisions.

We are expecting further details and more clarity to become available soon, but this is what we know so far:

• Stay home whenever possible and work from home if you can.
• Those who cannot work from home should be encouraged to return to work if social distancing can be implemented. For example, construction and manufacturing.
• Avoid public transport if possible.
• Enjoy parks, public spaces, and unlimited outdoor exercise with members of your own household.
• Always keep 2m social distance in public

The following was also announced on conditional terms and is not guaranteed:

• Some primary school children to return to school in England by 1st June.
• Reopening of shops with social distancing in place from 1st June.
• Some hospitality businesses and other public places reopening with social distancing from 1st July.

Further to the above, it was also revealed that there would soon be quarantine sanctions imposed upon international arrivals by air, however this will not apply to arrivals from France at this stage.

The governments key message now reads: Stay alert > control the virus > save lives.

What about Scotland and Wales?

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced that the “stay at home” warning still applies in Scotland. Mark Drakeford, First Minister of Wales echoed this sentiment.

There are currently no plans to reopen schools in Scotland or Wales by June 1st.

What about the Job retention scheme?

The Prime Minister made no reference to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme in his televised speech; however, it has been reported that an update on the scheme is going to be made by Chancellor Rishi Sunak this week. We will keep you updated.

Should my employees return to work?

This is going to depend on the type of business you have and if you can implement social distancing. There are crucial health and safety regulations that must be met. If you have questions about whether you can bring employees back to work and how you can safely do so, please call us.


Wednesday 29th April 2020

COVID-19 Testing capacity expanded

Further to the announcement of a new test, track and trace campaign last Thursday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced that the government has expanded capacity for coronavirus testing. Last night’s briefing revealed the following:

• All workers, who must go outside their home to work and have symptoms of COVID-19 will now have access to a test.
• Residents and care home staff will be able to be tested, whether they have symptoms of coronavirus or not.
• All over 65’s with symptoms of coronavirus will have access to a test.

We encourage employers to remain updated on the accessibility of COVID-19 testing and communicate this to eligible employees. Tests can be booked through the government website.


Wednesday 29th April 2020

Full parental leave entitlement for furloughed workers

At the end of last week the government confirmed that furloughed workers who had planned to take paid parental or adoption leave on or after 25th April will receive payments based on their full pay rather than the furlough rate.

We are pleased to hear this news as it means that hardworking employees can take the family time they need following the adoption, birth or death of a child, without seeing a reduction in their pay. The government has recognized that this is already a very challenging time for the British public and that an unprecedented level of support is crucial for economic recovery.

Calculations for parental leave can be complicated. It is vital that employers know and understand the rules for processing these payments for all employees, including those on furlough leave.

Read more about the rules of furlough under the coronavirus job retention scheme and contact us if you have questions concerning people management in your business during the coronavirus pandemic.


Thursday 23rd April 2020

Test, track and trace: Free testing for essential workers

Ever since cases of coronavirus have been reported in the UK, there has been much conversation surrounding the availability of effective testing. Particular concern has been raised over the potential risks for key workers who continue to travel to work during this current period of social distancing.

In today’s government briefing, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that testing capacity has increased and revealed the details of a new test, track and trace campaign.

From tomorrow, employers of essential workers will be able to access tests for their employees via gov.uk. Testing is free and there will be a text based communication process to confirm appointments and send results. We expect more details to be released tomorrow.

The government has said that they continue to develop their testing capacity and are undertaking research through an extensive antibody study. Twenty thousand households can expect to receive a letter asking them to participate in the study to inform and help the UK’s response to the coronavirus crisis.

If you have questions about the health and safety of your employees at this time, please contact your local HR Dept for advice.


Thursday 23rd April 2020

Help us to help you – We need your opinion

The HR Dept are running a snap shot survey to assess if the current Job Retention Scheme is reflective of the way SME businesses operate. If you have furloughed your employees, or have been unable to furlough your employees due to the eligibility criteria, please take a few minutes to complete our survey: Start survey

The results of this survey will be used to instruct and advise governing bodies which influence governmental change.

 


Monday 20th April 2020

How to claim for wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

The portal for employers to claim for furloughed employees through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is now open.

Before making a claim under the scheme you will need to check that both you and your furloughed employees are eligible and work out how much you can claim.

To be a qualifying employer, you must have a PAYE scheme and have the furloughed employees registered on HMRC’s RTI system on or prior to 19th March 2020. You must also have an agreement in place with employees for them to be furloughed. Find out more about the rules of the scheme and eligibility by visiting our dedicated Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme FAQ, and ask us if you have further questions regarding your business.

Unsure of how much you can claim?

Whilst we advise that you speak with your accountant for clarity on this, the government have provided an online calculator to help employers work out how much they can claim under the scheme.

Making a claim

The claim process requires essential information to be provided. To save time, we suggest that you read the step by step guidance before starting.

Once you have read the guidance, make your claim via the portal here.

What happens next?

Your claim will need to be verified by HMRC and it can take up to six working days to receive funds. HMRC has asked that you do not contact them before this length of time to enquire about your claim as this can delay the process further. Keep hold of your claim reference number.

You can tell your furloughed employees that you have made a claim under the scheme and that they do not need to take any action. It is wise to keep communication flowing as they may have questions. If you need further advice on managing employees at this time, contact us.


Monday 20th April 2020

Clarification on managing annual leave during furlough

The process of managing holiday for furloughed employees has raised many questions, until now.

We are pleased to share that government guidance was released over the weekend and that we can now provide clarification for employers when managing annual leave during furlough.

Can furloughed employees use their holiday?

The guidance clearly states that you can allow employees to take holiday during a period of furlough.

You can also insist that employees use their holidays during a period of furlough leave, providing you have given the correct amount of notice as per the Working Time Regulations. Doing so provides employers with much more flexibility but comes with a warning.

If you insist that employees use some of their holiday entitlement during this period of furlough, they may feel resentful because they are restricted due to the rules on social distancing. They would be very limited on what they can do during this time.

You may find however, that some furloughed employees welcome the additional pay, as you must pay holiday at 100%.

Ultimately you will need to decide what is right for your business when it comes to managing holiday for furloughed employees. We can help you come to a decision and ensure that your processes are compliant and not in breach of your contractual policy rules.

If you would like specific advice on this or any other area of the job retention scheme, contact us. 


Thursday 16th April 2020

Current lockdown measures remain in place for at least another three weeks

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab addressed the nation this evening to announce that the current lockdown measures will remain in place for another three weeks.

Explaining the detail behind the decision, Raab said that “early relaxation would do more damage to the economy over a longer period.”

Whilst the government continues to monitor these restrictions with a three-week review period, today’s briefing from Downing Street also revealed that there are five essential points that influence their decision when it comes to deciding when the rules on social distancing can be relaxed.

1. The ability to protect the NHS’ ability to cope
2. See a sustained and consistent fall in daily death rates from coronavirus
3. Reliable data from SAGE to show the rate of infection is decreasing
4. Confident range of operational measures in hand to cope with future demand, such as testing and PPE
5. Must be confident that any adjustments to current measures will not risk a second peak of infections.

We know that this latest announcement is going to be tough for many business owners and expect that many of you may have questions on how to manage your people at this difficult time. Please call your local HR Dept if you need advice.


Wednesday 15th April 2020

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme: fourth iteration

The government has today announced a significant change in eligibility for the coronavirus job retention scheme.

Previously, eligible employees had to have been on PAYE by 28th February 2020 in order to qualify for the scheme. That date has now changed to 19th March 2020, meaning that those on PAYE on or before 19th March this year can be considered, subject to application terms.

The previous eligibility date for the job retention scheme had received some criticism for excluding those who had recently changed jobs and therefore missed the cut off date. This amendment looks to provide much needed support to a wider range of people and still prevents fraudulent claims by being dated prior to when the scheme was first announced.

How to claim and who you can claim for

To claim, you must have created and started a PAYE payroll scheme on or before 19th March 2020, enrolled for PAYE online and have a UK bank account.

Employees must have been on your PAYE scheme by 19th March 2020 and on an RTI submission notifying HMRC on or before this date, in order to qualify.

Employees who were on your PAYE scheme on or before February 28th 2020 (and on an RTI submission by this date) but made redundant or stopped working for you prior to 19th March 2020, can qualify if you re-employ them and place them on furlough leave. This still stands if you do not re-employ them until after 19th March 2020.

The portal for processing claims is expected to be open this month.

Further information to consider

There are other important rules to consider when using the scheme, visit our coronavirus job retention scheme FAQ page for further information and contact your local HR Dept for advice on how this latest change affects your business. 


Monday 6th April 2020

Important updates to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Over the weekend, the UK Government updated and expanded the rules of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Here are the key points, which in some cases amend pre-existing advice that we have provided. These recent updates apply to all employers partaking in the scheme.

Please read carefully and consider how the below apply to you and contact us if you have any questions.

Eligibility for the job retention scheme

The guidance has clarified many points but still leaves some questions. Things we do know are that the scheme is open to all employees who were on your PAYE scheme at Feb 28th.

This means that nannies, cleaners, agency workers, apprentices and salaried partners of LLPs are also eligible.

Those on fixed term contracts may have their contract extended to benefit from the scheme. When a fixed term employee’s contract ends, because it is not extended or renewed, you will no longer be able claim the grant for them.

We had many questions as to whether directors could be furloughed. The guidance confirms that they can, but there must be a written board resolution and the director may only carry out their statutory duties.

Necessary paperwork required to comply with the scheme

A written agreement with a furloughed employee, stating the date the furlough started, must be in place and kept for five years. It can be backdated to the date that employees agreed to stop work from the 1st March.

Furloughed employees may be rotated and furloughed multiple times, if each period of furlough is for a minimum of three weeks.

Employees with caring responsibilities e.g. Childcare due to school closures

Clarification has been made that those with caring responsibilities can be furloughed, meaning that employees who cannot work because of childcare responsibilities during coronavirus are covered.

Clarification on wages

The updated guidance covers in more detail what can be included in pay and now states that contractual compulsory commission and overtime may be included up to the £2,500 cap. Discretionary bonuses, tips and money benefits won’t be allowed.

The grant covers 80% of pay up to the cap and only if an employee is undertaking training does the employer have to top the amount up to ensure that National Minimum Wage/ National Living Wage is met.

The salary to be calculated is the salary as at 28th February, or for those on casual or zero hour contracts the average over the previous 12 months or their earnings on the same month a year ago. Where contractual pay rises or increases in the National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage have arisen these are not covered by the grant. Only where training is being undertaken does the employer have to top up to NMW.

This will apply to any contractual salary increases too that were previously promised or negotiated.

The apprenticeship levy and student loans should be paid as usual and are not covered by the grant. Apprentices can be furloughed and still do training; you will need to top up their wage to the relevant statutory minimum wage. They must not do work for you so tread carefully.

Salary sacrifices

If an employee has entered into a salary sacrifice scheme, HMRC has confirmed they can reverse this and go back to their full basic salary losing the salary sacrifice benefit. This must be agreed with the employee.

Working for another employer whilst on furlough

One unexpected announcement was that furloughed employees may take up employment with a new employer. This is subject to their contract with the employer allowing this.

Please visit our coronavirus job retention scheme FAQs for more guidance on this point as there are some risks to consider.

Those that were made redundant or who had resigned may be rehired and then furloughed, but it is not compulsory, and we would advise you take expert HR advice first. 

Please keep your eye on our coronavirus HR hub for all of the latest HR and employment law guidance for employers, and contact us if you have questions about how the updates apply to your business. 


Wednesday 1st April 2020

National Minimum Wage increases

Although coronavirus has dominated our news and updates of late, we wanted to make sure that you remain aware of some other very important HR matters that concern your business.

We have previously shared information regarding The Good Work Plan legislative changes that will be taking effect this month and will be releasing further information as and when applicable.

Additionally, we wanted to bring to your attention that both the National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage are increasing from today. The new rates are as follows:

  • National Living Wage for 25 and over £8.72
  • National Minimum Wage for 21 – 24 £8.20
  • National Minimum Wage for 18 – 20 £6.45
  • National Minimum Wage for school leavers under 18 £4.55
  • Apprentice Minimum Wage for 18 – 20 £4.15

We have had some questions regarding the National Minimum Wage (NMW) increase and how this may affect furloughed employees. HMRC states that NMW only applies to hours worked. As furloughed employees are not working, they are not entitled to NMW whilst on furlough. However, if they are required to complete training during furlough, they are entitled to NMW/NLW for the time spent training so the employer will need to top the payment up. 


Monday 30th March 2020

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – details released

Since the Government announced its emergency Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, we have received many questions from employers wanting to know how the scheme might benefit their business. Whilst we were able to answer some questions surrounding best practice HR and how the scheme should work in theory, we have been eagerly awaiting further information to know how the new employment wage subsidy support package will be applied.

We are pleased to share that the government has now released further details of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and we are happy to advise our clients seeking guidance on eligibility and access.

Rules for the support package are still subject to employment law and so it is vital that employers seek professional HR advice in order to remain compliant and to make the most out of the financial aid being made available to them. The furlough selection process carries risk, ask us if you are unsure.

Please contact us to learn the specifics, but in short, here are some key points:

• Any UK organisation that had created and started a PAYE scheme on or before 28th February 2020 is eligible. Employees must have been on the payroll by this date to be considered.
• Those who were on the payroll on this date but have since been made redundant, can be rehired and placed on furlough.
• Employees must not be working at all for the scheme to apply. This excludes training or not-for-profit volunteer work for their employer.
• Employees are not eligible for furlough when on sick-leave or self-isolating. However those who are shielding (staying home for 12 weeks as per NHS confirmation) can be furloughed.
• Employees on unpaid leave are not eligible unless this was after 28th February 2020.
• The minimum furlough period allowed is 3 weeks and employers can only claim once every three weeks.
• Minimum wage entitlements only apply to hours worked or time spent training.
• Employers can reclaim 80% of a furloughed employee’s wages up to £2,500 pm. Plus national insurance contributions and minimum auto-enrolment pension payments.
• Employers can top up furloughed employees’ wages to 100%. This is voluntary but subject to contractual agreements.
• Where an employee’s pay varies from month to month, employers can either claim for the higher amount (as per the same period last year) or based on average monthly earnings for the tax year 2019-2020. Applicable if they have been employed for 12 months before claim.
• The scheme is expected to be open an available by the end of April.

For further advice see our coronavirus job retention scheme FAQ page or contact us to find out if and how the scheme applies to your business.

Who should be going to work?

The government has advised that if employees are able to work from home, then they should. We can advise businesses in need of a remote working policy. For those who cannot work from home, physical distancing must be observed.

Those diagnosed with or showing symptoms of coronavirus (a new, persistent cough or a fever), or who live with a symptomatic person, or are advised to shield or self-isolate, should stay at home. See our coronavirus FAQ page for details regarding sick pay eligibility.

If you are in the unfortunate position where your business has been severely impacted and you cannot afford to pay employees, we are here to advise and discuss your options. Contact your local HR Dept for more information.

Find out more with our free webinar

If you are an employer and have further questions about the Job Retention Scheme and how it might apply to your business, register for our free webinar taking place on Tuesday 31st March. 


Friday 27th March 2020

Rules on carrying over annual leave to be relaxed due to COVID-19

Acknowledging that many hard-working people are at risk of losing their unused holiday allowance due to the coronavirus pandemic, the government has today announced plans to relax the rules around carrying over some statutory annual leave entitlements.

Holiday entitlement usually carries a “use it or lost it” warning and is not generally allowed to be carried over from one year to the next. There are some exceptions which surround sickness, maternity or contractual agreements.

However, due to many people working day and night to support the national fight against COVID-19, new measures have been introduced to allow workers to enjoy some of their unused holiday at a later date.

What are the changes to The Working Time Regulations?

The changes announced today will add a further exception to regulation 13 of The Working Time Regulations 1998.

The exception, listed as The Working Time (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020, states that where it is not reasonably practicable for a worker to take some, or all, of the holiday to which they are entitled due to the coronavirus, they have a right to carry the 4 weeks under regulation 13 into the next 2 leave years.

Who do the changes apply to?

Employers are legally obliged to ensure that employees take their statutory holiday entitlement and benefit from having well rested employees working for their business.

The new exception in The Working Time Regulations has been introduced to support key industries and provide more flexibility to businesses under pressure during this difficult time. Almost all workers, including agency workers, those who work irregular hours, and workers on zero-hours contracts will benefit from the amendment.

All employers are subject to these rules and will need to adhere to the update announced today. Please ask us if you have questions regarding the rules on holiday and how they apply to your business. 


Thursday 26th March 2020 

Support announced for the self-employed

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has revealed details of a support package to help the UK’s 5 million self-employeed. 

Here is what we know so far:

  • Eligible self-employed people can access a taxable grant paying 80% of their average monthly income.
  • This payment is capped at £2,500 per month
  • Average income will be calculated over the last three years.
  • The scheme is available only to those with trading profits up to £50,000.
  • Only open to those who are already self-employed and have a self-assessment tax return for 2019. Those who have not yet submitted this have four weeks from today to do so.
  • Expected to be accessible in June and running for 3 months.

The scheme is expected to help 95% of people who make up the majority of their wages through being self-employed and is said to be ‘targeted at those who need it the most’.


Monday 23rd March 2020

“You must stay at home” – Boris Johnson

Describing the coronavirus crisis as the “biggest threat this country has faced for decades” prime minister Boris Johnson has announced a complete UK lockdown for at least three weeks.

The latest Government advice regarding the lockdown is as follows:

You must stay at home. You can leave your home for the following very limited purposes:

• Shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible
• One form of exercise per day (alone or with members of your household) e.g. a run, walk or cycle.
• Any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
• Travelling to and from work – only when this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.

Additionally, you should not be meeting with friends or family members who do not live in your home. You should not be going shopping except for essentials like food and medicine, which should be as infrequently as possible. It has been advised to use food delivery services wherever possible.

Further closures and enforced social distancing

All non-essential shops, such as clothing and electronic stores, must now close. The same rules apply to other premises such as libraries, playgrounds, outdoor gyms and places of worship. Employers who have questions about managing employees during this difficult time should contact their local HR Dept.

All public gatherings of more than two people are no longer permitted. This excludes people from the same household. And there is now a ban on all social events including weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies but excluding funerals.
Parks will remain open for exercise, but gatherings will be dispersed. If rules are not being followed, the police have the power to intervene through fines and to disperse gatherings.

The measures will be reviewed in three weeks.

The prime minister signed off with a positive message that 7,500 former clinicians are returning to the NHS. 


Friday 20th March 2020

The Government reveal ‘unprecedented’ economic intervention and new job retention scheme

Due to our close involvement with SMEs across various sectors, we have been hearing firsthand of the devastating impact that COVID-19 is having on businesses nationwide. Many emergency measures have already been put in place and it has been reported that, sadly, millions of people are likely to lose their jobs.

Enforced closures from today

To further slow the spread of coronavirus, the Government is closing all cafes, bars, pubs and restaurants from today, although they can continue to provide take away. Also closing will be nightclubs, theatres, cinemas and gyms. This decision is to be reviewed monthly.

Coronavirus job retention scheme

We are pleased to hear the announcement today that the Government is further stepping up its rescue response with an employment and wage subsidy package. The announcement comes one day after prime minister Boris Johnson spoke directly to employers saying, “stick by your employees because we will stick by you”.

We are expecting more details to be made available in the coming days but below is what we know so far:

• Coronavirus job retention scheme – any company will be eligible and can contact HMRC for a grant to cover most of the wages of people who are not working but kept on payroll. This means that workers can retain their jobs and be paid at least 80% of their salary. This is up to £2,500 per month but employers can top this up if they choose. The scheme is open for 3 months but will be extended if necessary and cover the cost of wages backdated to 1st March 2020. The first grants are expected to be made available in weeks and before the end of April.
• Coronavirus business interruption loan scheme – This will now be interest free for 12 months and loans will be available from Monday.
• Further cashflow support through the tax system – The next quarter of VAT payments are deferred. No business will pay VAT from now until the end of June and have until the end of the year to repay.
• Abolishing business rates for certain sectors – Business rates are abolished this year for businesses in hospitality, leisure and retail.
• Increasing universal credit and providing access to the self employed to pay SSP for their employees.

Advice on taking necessary steps

Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s message was clear “you will not face this alone”.

Whilst this support is significant, we understand that it may not be enough to keep everyone employed. Redundancies and lay-offs can be difficult but are sometimes necessary for a business to survive. The process of letting staff go, even for a temporary period, is complicated. And the added pressure of the coronavirus pandemic can make this even more strenuous. Our HR Dept professionals are here to offer their expertise and guide employers compliantly through the process. 


Friday 20th March 2020

Schools remain open for vulnerable children and children of key workers

The Government has released guidance clarifying which children will still be permitted to attend school during the temporary national closures caused by the COVID-19 crisis.
To reduce the spread of coronavirus it has been advised that if children can stay safely at home, they should. But if vulnerable children and those whose parents’ jobs are critical to the COVID-19 response, are not able to stay safely at home, schools will remain open.

Vulnerable children – Children who are supported by social care, those with safeguarding and welfare needs, including child in need plans, on child protection plans, ‘looked after’ children, young carers, disabled children and those with education, health and care (EHC) plans.

Parents whose work is critical to the COVID-19 response include those who work in health and social care and in other key sectors outlined below. Many parents working in these sectors may be able to ensure their child is kept at home. And every child who can be safely cared for at home should be.

The following key principles are advised:

1. If it is at all possible for children to be at home, then they should be.
2. If a child needs specialist support, is vulnerable or has a parent who is a critical worker, then educational provision will be available for them.
3. Parents should not rely for childcare upon those who are advised to be in the stringent social distancing category such as grandparents, friends, or family members with underlying conditions.
4. Parents should also do everything they can to ensure children are not mixing socially in a way which can continue to spread the virus. They should observe the same social distancing principles as adults.
5. Residential special schools, boarding schools and special settings continue to care for children wherever possible.

If work is critical to the COVID-19 response, or the parent works in one of the critical sectors listed below, and the child cannot be kept safely at home, then these children will be prioritised for education provision:

Health and social care – This includes but is not limited to doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, care workers, and other frontline health and social care staff including volunteers; the support and specialist staff required to maintain the UK’s health and social care sector; those working as part of the health and social care supply chain, including producers and distributers of medicines and medical and personal protective equipment.

Education and childcare – This includes childcare, support and teaching staff, social workers and those specialist education professionals who must remain active during the COVID-19 response to deliver this approach.

Key public services – This includes those essential to the running of the justice system, religious staff, charities and workers delivering key frontline services, those responsible for the management of the deceased, and journalists and broadcasters who are providing public service broadcasting.

Local and national government – This only includes those administrative occupations essential to the effective delivery of the COVID-19 response, or delivering essential public services, such as the payment of benefits, including in government agencies and arms length bodies.

Food and other necessary goods – This includes those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery, as well as those essential to the provision of other key goods (for example hygienic and veterinary medicines).

Public safety and national security – This includes police and support staff, Ministry of Defence civilians, contractor and armed forces personnel (those critical to the delivery of key defence and national security outputs and essential to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic), fire and rescue service employees (including support staff), National Crime Agency staff, those maintaining border security, prison and probation staff and other national security roles, including those overseas.

Transport – This includes those who will keep the air, water, road and rail passenger and freight transport modes operating during the COVID-19 response, including those working on transport systems through which supply chains pass.

Utilities, communication and financial services – This includes staff needed for essential financial services provision (including but not limited to workers in banks, building societies and financial market infrastructure), the oil, gas, electricity and water sectors (including sewerage), information technology and data infrastructure sector and primary industry supplies to continue during the COVID-19 response, as well as key staff working in the civil nuclear, chemicals, telecommunications (including but not limited to network operations, field engineering, call centre staff, IT and data infrastructure, 999 and 111 critical services), postal services and delivery, payments providers and waste disposal sectors.

If workers think they fall within the critical categories above, they should confirm with their employer that, based on their business continuity arrangements, their specific role is necessary for the continuation of this essential public service.
If a parents school is closed, then they should contact their local authority, who will seek to redirect them to a local school in their area that the child, or children, can attend.

This guidance was originally published on the Gov UK website.


Wednesday 18th March 2020

Schools close from Friday until further notice

It has now been confirmed that UK schools will close for most pupils from Friday until further notice to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The reason provided by the government is that the science and advice now suggest that school closures are necessary. Prime minister Boris Johnson has said “we will do the right things at the right time”.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson revealed the below details:

  • Schools will remain open for vulnerable children (who have a social worker and/or educational health and care plans) and children of key workers (police, NHS staff, delivery drivers)
  • Expected that early years providers, 6th forms and Further Education do the same.
  • Asked that independent schools and boarding schools follow the same advice.
  • A national voucher scheme is to be made available ASAP for every child eligible for school meals.
  • May and June exams have been cancelled in England and Wales.

The news comes after many teachers have had to self-isolate leaving schools operating on skeleton staff. Pupil attendance has also dropped significantly due to parents not sending children to school as usual.

The closure of schools will have a significant impact on families throughout the UK who are navigating the COVID-19 crisis. Working parents will need to balance childcare responsibilities with their work and may require further flexibility and understanding from their employer.


Wednesday 18th March 2020

Emergency financial support for businesses

Acknowledging coronavirus’s huge impact on the economy, we were pleased to see that Rishi Sunak’s Budget announcement focussed heavily on financial support. As the true impact of the COVID-19 crisis unfolds, increased measures are being put in place and the Chancellor has since unveiled an unprecedented financial support package and promised to do “whatever it takes” to help businesses through this economic emergency.

  • £330bn in state-backed loans for all businesses. 15% of the value of the economy.
  • Increasing the amount businesses can borrow through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme from £1.2 million to £5 million. First 6 months of finance interest free.
  • 100% business rates holiday to all firms in the hospitality sector for the next 12 months.
  • £25,000 grants to retail, hospitality and leisure businesses operating from smaller premises, with a rateable value over £15,000 and below £51,000.
  • Funding grants of between £10,000 and £25,000 made available for small businesses
  • Grants to small businesses eligible for Small Business Rate Relief increased from £3,000 to £10,000

Borrowers must remain aware that loan repayments will be required at a later date.


Tuesday 17th March 2020

Avoid non-essential travel abroad for the next 30 days

British nationals have now been advised by the Foreign Office to avoid non-essential travel abroad for the next 30 days.


Monday 16th March 2020

Avoid non-essential travel and contact with others

Further stepping up its response to COVID-19 the government has today advised the following:

• Everyone should avoid non-essential travel and non-essential contact with others.
• People should work from home where possible.
• It is advised that people avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and mass gatherings.
• Whole household isolation should take place for 14 days if anyone in a household shows even mild symptoms of coronavirus.
• Seek medical advice from the NHS 111 website. Call 111 if symptoms get worse.
• Vulnerable people (those aged over 70, pregnant women and anyone with pre-existing health conditions) should avoid all non-essential contact. It is expected that this will soon be advised for a period of 12 weeks. This is to shield and protect those at greater risk.

The above measures have been advised in order to continue to delay transmission of the virus and to keep people safe.


Monday 16th March 2020

Latest developments in Scotland

Scotland has 153 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and has reported the first death of a patient after contracting the virus.  The person was elderly with underlying health conditions.

In an attempt to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Scotland has implemented the following measures:

  • Indefinite suspension of the Scottish football season
  • Advice that mass events involving more than 500 people should not take place from Monday 16 March 2020
  • Weeklong school closures in Shetland
  • Dunblane High School and Murroes Primary School in Angus will stay closed on Monday morning because individuals have tested positive for Covid-19.
  • Glasgow University exams to be held remotely
  • Many Scottish universities have announced a suspension of face-to-face teaching.
  • The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland has cancelled performances until further notice.
  • £320m rescue fund has been made for Scottish businesses
  • £50m hardship fund for people who lose their jobs as a result of business downturn caused by coronavirus.

Friday 13th March 2020 

UK government activates “delay” phase in COVID-19 response

World news coverage has kept many of us updated on international efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus. Countries that have been impacted severely, like Italy, have taken drastic measures with national closures and quarantines. Others, with less confirmed cases of COVID-19, are beginning to introduce travel sanctions as emergency preventative measures are put into place.

What is the latest UK response to COVID-19?

COVID-19 has now officially been classed as a pandemic (prevalent worldwide) by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The UK government is stepping up its response to coronavirus and moving into the second stage of a four-part plan to tackle the virus.

1. Containment
2. Delay
3. Mitigation
4. Research – which runs alongside the other phases

The delay stage accepts that spread of the virus is inevitable, and aims to slow it down until the warmer months. This is to alleviate some of the pressure placed on health and medical services already dealing with seasonal flu. 

What is the government advice currently?

The prime minister has addressed the British public directly and referred to the coronavirus pandemic as “the worst health crisis for a generation”. The current advice to the public is as follows:

  • If you have coronavirus symptoms, being a new and continuous cough and/or a high temperature, stay at home for at least seven days.
  • International school trips should be cancelled.
  • Over 70s are advised not to go on cruises.

What about closures of schools and large public events? 

At the time of writing, the government has cited scientific evidence to suggest that it is not currently necessary to close schools or large public events.

Recommendations for your business during the delay stage

1. Continue to encourage basic hygiene

Continue to follow existing advice on preventing the spread of disease with these steps.

  • Wash hands frequently for about 20 seconds with hot water and soap or use a hand sanitiser gel.
  • Use a tissue (or your sleeve) for coughs and sneezes.
  • Avoid touching your face.

2. Refer to your business contingency plan
In order to protect your people, assets and business, we advise referring to your business contingency plan. The plan should be unique to your business and advise how the business expects to function in the event of an emergency. Communicate adjustments to employees in good time.

If you do not have a business contingency or continuity plan and require urgent HR advice, call us.

3. Activate your home working policy

Allowing employees to work from home where possible can help your business continue to operate during times of crisis. It can also help to protect employees from the risk of contracting coronavirus. Your work from home policy should set out how employees will continue to work and clarify your expectations surrounding task completion and communication. There are many ways in which you can keep in touch and manage employees during this time. Ask us if you need advice.

The sooner you activate home working, the sooner you will know if your strategy is adequate or if changes are needed.

4. Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

The prime minister said that “nobody should be penalised for doing the right thing”. And so it was announced that employees who self-isolate or are in quarantine on the basis of medical advice should be treated as ‘sick’ and will be eligible to receive SSP. This will be from day one of absence and forms part of the forthcoming COVID-19 Bill.

Employees will be able to obtain sick notes (also known as fit notes) from the NHS non-emergency service 111, which they can use as evidence for absence from work where necessary.

5. Employee assistance

This is an unsettling time for many, and employees could be feeling overwhelmed. Those with poor mental health or anxiety may be struggling to cope as well as others. Providing access to an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) which offers telephone and face-to-face counselling can help.

Financial support for your business

The Budget informed us that SMEs will be able to reclaim SSP for 14 days, once the COVID-19 Bill is in effect.

Additional financial support is being made available, with government-backed loans of up to £1.2m to support SMEs, and HMRC are scaling up the Time To Pay service.

Further HR advice for your people management

We understand that you may have many questions during this time and that a rapidly changing situation can cause confusion. We are here to help and will continue to advise as per the latest official government advice.


Friday 13th March 2020

Coronavirus advice for employers

The advice provided in this webinar is correct as of Friday 13th March 2020 

 

Do you run a business and have a HR question about coronavirus?

The HR Dept provide outsourced HR support to employers. If you are an employee we would suggest that you contact Acas.

Looking for expert HR support?

We can help you focus on your business by taking care of all your human resources needs.

Let us know how we can help or ask about our free initial HR review.

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