Coronavirus news


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-employed.

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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