Coronavirus – Your Questions Answered

There’s a lot of uncertainty and updates are changing by the day. To ensure you are fully supported from an HR perspective, we’ve pulled together some frequently asked questions and our advice relating to each question. We will of course keep a close eye on this ever-changing situation and keep you updated on developments. 

Remember, we are here to support you and we will proactively share the latest guidance with you where we can.

We want to help you do the right thing and please reach out to us if you have questions or concerns you would like to discuss with us, please let me know.

An employee has informed us that they’ve been diagnosed with Coronavirus, do we need to send everyone home and close the business? (Click HERE)

Official guidelines given by the government says that closing the workplace is unnecessary at the moment. The official health protection team will come to do a risk assessment and if results come back that there are no further cases of Coronavirus in the workplace, you can continue as normal.

Are my employees entitled to sick pay if they have contracted the virus? (Click HERE)

Your employees should have access to their usual entitlements if they have the Coronavirus. However, it’s important you make allowances to avoid further spread of the disease. In addition, it may not be possible for the employee to get a sick note to you if they have been advised to self-isolate for 14 days and you should be understanding of this. The government is currently working on an alternative to fit note provided by doctors where people will be able to receive notification from NHS 111 as evidence.

What do we do if an employee needs time off to look after a dependant with the virus? (Click HERE)

If your employee needs time off to look after a dependant who has contracted the virus, it’s important you authorise this. An employee has no statutory right that you have to pay them in this circumstance but we encourage you to be understanding. If the time off is longer than two days, either allow them to take holidays or work from home if possible, take the time as unpaid or make the time up at a later date.

Do I need to pay an employee if I send them home due to potentially being exposed to the virus (Click HERE)

If you send an employee home who doesn’t have any of the symptoms but has been exposed to the virus, you are expected to pay them their normal full pay. We encourage you to ask employees to work from home if this is an option for your business. We understand in a lot of sectors such as hospitality, retail and manufacturing that this isn’t possible.

Can we stop employees from coming in to work if they’ve been travelling? (Click HERE)

Employees who have visited the affected areas in the last 14 days must self-isolate and let the NHS know by calling 111. This expectation stands even if they don’t present the symptoms. This information is changing regularly so please keep an eye on updates from the Government site – https://bit.ly/2IQeeR6 as most travel has now been restricted.

What do we do if someone becomes unwell while at work? (Click HERE)

If someone presents symptoms of the virus at work, ensure they’re at least two metres away from other staff members. Make sure they are isolated in a room behind a closed door. If they are unwell, they should go home and your normal sick pay rules apply

Can an employee refuse to travel for work? (Click HERE)

We encourage you to cancel all but essential travel if your employees are at a higher risk to contracting the virus. Alternatively, you can have meeting via video call or a phone call.

Can we stop staff from travelling to affected areas? (Click HERE)

You have no control in what an employee chooses to do outside of their working hours. However, you can educate staff on the potential risks in traveling to affected areas. There are now restrictions on travel so the prospect of people travelling outside the UK is now significantly reduced.

If an employee’s holiday is cancelled due to the travel restrictions, can they cancel their annual leave and take this later (Click HERE)

If the holiday destination or airline have restrictions imposed and your employee cannot travel, you should where possible agree to allow them to take the leave at a later date. Your employees should carefully investigate travel insurance policies.

What do I pay my staff if they are sick? (Click HERE)

Existing contractual arrangements will remain in place. If you don’t currently pay Company Sick Pay, Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) will apply.

Normally, SSP was not paid for the first 3 days of illness. The government has confirmed that SSP will be paid from day one, as part of its emergency Coronavirus legislation – further details on this are to be confirmed. The latest advice as at 16 March 2020 was that if you or any of your household have the symptoms, you must self-isolate for 14 days. As such, this time off will be recorded as sickness absence. 

The government plans to help small and medium-sized businesses and employers (fewer than 250 employees) cope with the extra costs of paying COVID-19 related SSP by refunding eligible SSP costs. The refund will be cover up to two weeks per eligible employee who has been off work because of COVID-19.

SSP is currently £94.25 each week rising to £95.85 from 6 April 2020 in line with some of the other employment law changes in April. 

Please ensure you keep records for all sickness as you currently do.

 

If my employees are on a zero-hour contract, do I have to pay them if they have to self-isolate? (Click HERE)

Some employees with zero-hour contracts are at least entitled to statutory sick pay. However, many other people with this contract won’t be paid at all unless you decide to pay them voluntarily.

SSP is only available to employees who earn a certain amount. In addition, staff with zero-hour contracts will only receive SSP if they earn more than an average of £118 per week before tax over an 8-week period.

Normally, SSP was not paid for the first 3 days of illness. The government has confirmed that SSP will be paid from day one, as part of its emergency Coronavirus legislation – further details on this are to be confirmed.

Please ensure you keep records for all sickness as you currently do.

Can I take steps to prevent an employee who has displayed symptoms and/or tested positive for Covid-19, and refuses to self-isolate, from accessing my premises or coming into contact with other employees or clients (Click HERE)

Employers must bear in mind the duties that they owe to other employees under UK Health and Safety legislation. If you knowingly allow an individual who has been advised to self-isolate to attend your place of work or come into contact with other employees, you may be in breach of those duties, particularly where any of those other employees are more vulnerable to infection – for example, pregnant employees, or those with long-term health conditions.

Suspension may be an option where an individual who has been advised to self-isolate refuses to do so, but employers should consider whether they have a right to suspend in these circumstances. Where no express contractual right to do so exists, HR advice should be sought. We would hope employees would be sensible and follow the appropriate guidance, but in the event they don’t, please seek advice

I’ve heard that we’ve to limit social interaction. How can I do this in the workplace? (Click HERE)

It’s up to you take reasonable steps here and look at testing your business continuity plans. We’ve been advising clients over the last few days to encourage home working where possible, splitting breaks and keeping the number of staff in shared kitchen areas to a minimum at the one time and ensuring regular cleaning of shared areas takes place.

The advice on this may change so it’s important to keep up to date with the latest guidance. If you can limit the number of people coming into work and introduce home working for those that can, that would be a good help.

Where you haven’t tried home working before, you might want to check with your IT and telecoms providers around options here – the technology is there for most office roles to be performed at home with minimal disruption to your business.

I’ve heard we might need to close our business for a period of time and heard the phrase short-time working and layoffs – what does this mean?

Lay-offs and short-time working are rarely used legal provisions which normally cover a situation where there is not enough work for your employees.

· Lay-offs – an employer can ask an employee to stay at home and not attend work or be paid for a temporary period.

· Short-time Working – an employer requires their employee to work less than their normal contractual hours, for example reducing from 5 days to 3 days per week.

You can only implement lay-offs or short-time working if there is a clause in the contract of employment to do so. If there is no clause in the contract for these provisions, then you can ask your employees for consent to a period of lay-off or short-time working at that time. Your employees may agree to this if they feel their only other alternative may be redundancy.

You cannot impose lay-offs or short-time working without agreement.

What do my employees get paid if we introduce lay-offs?

Employees with at least one month’s service who fall within the criteria will be entitled to a small fixed statutory guarantee payment to partially compensate them for the reduction in salary.  Employees who are affected for longer periods may be entitled to redundancy pay. To do so, your employees must resign with written notice of their intention to claim this.  You can avoid redundancies if you can guarantee employees 13 weeks consecutive weeks of work within 4 weeks of receiving the employees written notice.

Your employees are entitled to be paid a maximum of £29 per day for 5 days in any 3-month period.  If your employees earn less than £29 a day, they will get their normal daily rate. If they work part-time, their entitlement is worked out proportionally.

Who pays for this if the Government tell me I have to close and I’m unable to provide work for my staff?

In the current situation, if you are forced to close to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, you will still have to pay employees in most cases. The Government

have created a fund to help businesses during this period of time, and you may be eligible for support, but this is something you will need to review.

Further information on the help available to businesses can be found here: https://bit.ly/2TQVmaS

As things stand, you as the employer are required to pay your staff.

Lay-offs and short-time working could give you flexibility and savings on salaries during a temporary closure but clearly will impact on morale. The current situation is unprecedented, and people are already extremely anxious – it’s important to display empathy during such discussions and fully explain the reasons behind such a proposal.

Help for your Employees

Show care and compassion for your employees – things will recover and it’s important to do the right thing.

Banks including Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds and TSB are to offer repayment holidays on mortgages and loans, as part of relief measures – signpost your employees where you can.

We’ve seen a huge drop in business and indications are this will continue for some time. How do we go about making redundancies?

We’ve got some information on redundancy in our client portal.

Employment legislation still applies during these difficult times, and you still need to

consult your employees. Consultation is when you sit down with employees to explain your planned changes and get their feedback and input. You need to explain the business reason for consulting with them.

You must discuss your planned changes with each employee who could be affected. This can include employees who are not actually losing their jobs.

You must sit down with each employee individually to explain changes and get their ideas and feedback. The meeting can take place over the phone if you both agree to it and there is a clear need, for example if someone works remotely, or in the current situation where they cannot attend the workplace.

Do I need to consult with elected representatives?

Need more help?

 

The Scottish Government have announced the following support for businesses: A business helpline has been set up. The number to call is 0300 303 0660.

The helpline will be open Monday to Friday 8.30am to 5.30pm. Callers should select option one to speak to the COVID-19 team.

  • 75% rates relief for retail, hospitality and leisure sectors with a rateable value of less than £69,000 from 1 April 2020
  • £80m fund to provide grants of at least £3,000 to small businesses in sectors facing the worst economic impact of Covid-19
  • 1.6% rates relief for all properties across Scotland, effectively reversing the planned below inflation uplift in the poundage from 1 April 2020
  • Fixed rates relief of up to £5,000 for all pubs with a rateable value of less than £100,000 from 1 April 2020

Businesses should use the helpline to get the information on how to access the grants.

 

The HR Booth – We’re here for you

 

We appreciate these are challenging and precedented times. We are here to help you as much as we can – we’re in the HR world as we want to make a difference to businesses and help you do the right thing. Supporting you is our priority, and we’ll keep you updated with key information as and when we can and provide advice to safeguard your business.

 We are working remotely and attending only essential meetings to reduce the risk to our team, ensuring we are there to support you.

You can reach us on 01383 668178 or email – advice@thehrbooth.co.uk

Keep an eye on our blog as we’ll keep you updated as best we can over the coming weeks.

 

Furlough Document downloads available in the client portal at: https://www.thehrbooth.co.uk/clients-home/covid-19/