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.

What happens about employer National Insurance and pension contributions for furloughed employees? (Click HERE)

So far there have been no government changes to redundancy procedure, instead there have been financial measures seeking to help employers avoid or minimise redundancies. If redundancies are unavoidable the safest approach is to follow normal redundancy procedures, consultation and timelines. 

The law does provide a rarely used exception that, in some cases, an employer may be able to justify not meeting the full consultation requirements. Whilst the coronavirus situation is unprecedented, it is not a ‘special circumstance’ in a redundancy context justifying avoidance of consultation. It is extremely difficult to justify cutting down on the redundancy

 

consultation process; employers should follow consultation procedures in full and not rely on the potential exception.

 

The following timescales are required when consulting with employees, depending on number of employees being made redundant.

 

Individual Consultation only – 19 or fewer employees

 

30 days – 20-99 employees

 

45 days – 100+ employees

 

Failure to follow these guidelines leaves the employer vulnerable to extra payments called protective awards of 90 days’ extra pay each.

 

For redundancy consultation what timelines apply? (Click HERE)

So far there have been no government changes to redundancy procedure, instead there have been financial measures seeking to help employers avoid or minimise redundancies. If redundancies are unavoidable the safest approach is to follow normal redundancy procedures, consultation and timelines. 

The law does provide a rarely used exception that, in some cases, an employer may be able to justify not meeting the full consultation requirements. Whilst the coronavirus situation is unprecedented, it is not a ‘special circumstance’ in a redundancy context justifying avoidance of consultation. It is extremely difficult to justify cutting down on the redundancy

 

consultation process; employers should follow consultation procedures in full and not rely on the potential exception.

 

The following timescales are required when consulting with employees, depending on number of employees being made redundant.

 

Individual Consultation only – 19 or fewer employees

 

30 days – 20-99 employees

 

45 days – 100+ employees

 

Failure to follow these guidelines leaves the employer vulnerable to extra payments called protective awards of 90 days’ extra pay each.

 

What if we want to bring employees back from furlough early (because other people get sick)? Do we lose the ability to claim three weeks of 80% and need to increase their pay for those weeks? (Click HERE)

If employers bring employees back from furlough early because other people become sick the employer will lose the ability to claim three weeks of 80% and will need to increase the employee’s pay for those weeks.

Staff can be furloughed and return to work and then be furloughed again for as long as the scheme is operational. However, each furlough period must be for a minimum of three consecutive weeks. If an individual is only furloughed for one or two weeks and is then summoned back to working (either working from home or in the workplace) then the employer cannot claim under the scheme for the contribution to pay for that period.

What does the change of payroll date in the Coronavirus Job Retention scheme from 28 February to 19 March mean? (Click HERE)

The government initially launched the furlough scheme with eligibility requirements stating that eligible employees had to be on the employer’s PAYE payroll on 28 February 2020. This payroll date has now been extended to 19 March 2020.

Employees can now furlough employees who were on the the payroll on or before 28 February 2020 but were made redundant, laid off, furloughed or stopped working for the employer before 19 March 2020.

Employees who commenced employment after 28 February but before 19 March 2020 can also now be placed on furlough. However, HMRC have added a restriction that the employer must have been notified HMRC of their addition to the payroll on or before 19 March 2020. 

This may cause issues with individuals that did not process their payroll until the final week in March but will benefit weekly paid individuals.

Can I furlough myself as a sole director and/or other directors within the business? (Click HERE)

Yes, you can furlough yourself as a director, however, to be eligible for the subsidy, when on furlough, you can not undertake work for or on behalf of the organisation, including the provision of services or generating revenue.

The 80% only covers salaries through PAYE and not dividends.

We would probably recommend having 1 Director remaining on to run any operations, but you can rotate the Directors being furloughed – it has to be a minimum 3-week period on furlough status. However, all Directors can be furloughed, including those Limited Companies with only 1 Director, but technically you can’t then work for the firm, other than to perform their statutory obligations as directors, eg, official legal filings. It’s worth getting some advice on this before proceeding.

One of my employees is currently off on Maternity leave, can they be furloughed? (Click HERE)

If your employee is eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or Maternity Allowance, the normal rules apply, and they are entitled to claim up to 39 weeks of statutory pay or allowance.

However, if you offer enhanced (earnings related) contractual pay to women on Maternity Leave, this is included as wage costs that you can claim through the scheme.

Can my employee work for another employer during furlough? (Click HERE)

An employee can, with your permission, work for another employer during furlough. As you are their primary employer, they must ensure they stay in contact and are available for work during this time. There are some vacancies available in retail, food produce and NHS contact centres, and some of your staff may want to offer their services. They cannot perform work for you during the period of furlough. It’s up to you as the employer if you wish to permit them to work for another business during a period of furlough.

What should I do with holiday entitlement for my employees? (Click HERE)

Employees and workers can carry over up to 4 weeks’ paid holiday over a 2-year period, if they cannot take holiday due to coronavirus. We have had a lot of clients worried about the impact of holidays as when the business starts trading as normal, your staff may want to take holidays at a time you’re going to be busy. Remember, it’s up to you to authorise these holidays or decline them and you can now carry over unused entitlement over a 2-year period.

Can I force my employees to take holidays during a period of temporary workplace closure? (Click HERE)
Employers have the right to tell employees and workers when to take holiday if they need to. An employer could, for example, close for a week and advise everyone to use their holiday entitlement. Our advice here would be to give your staff notice of this and communicate the reasons. The notice should be double the amount of leave you’re asking them to use, unless agreed to do less.  For example, one week’s holiday, you should give your staff 2 weeks notice on the week you are utilising their annual leave.
 
You could already have a clause in the contract of employment that permits you to insist on holidays.
Can I furlough employees that are self-isolating? (Click HERE)

Employees on sick leave or self-isolating should get Statutory Sick Pay, but can be furloughed after this. However, employees who are shielding in line with public health guidance can be placed on furlough if you choose to do so.

Employees on unpaid leave cannot be furloughed, unless they were placed on unpaid leave after 28 February.

I hired an employee that started after 1st March, can I still furlough? (Click HERE)

Unfortunately, you are not able to furlough employees unless they were on your PAYE payroll on 28 February 2020. If you require further advice on what to do in this situation then please email our advice service advice@thehrbooth.co.uk

How do I calculate my employees’ wages if they work irregular hours? (Click HERE)

Where an employee works on a flexible or zero-hour contract and they have been employed for over 12 months prior to being furloughed, employers can claim for the higher of either the same month’s wage from the previous year i.e. April 2019 for April 2020 wages.

If an employee has been employed for less than 12 months, you should work out the employees average monthly earnings since the start of their employment, and you can claim 80% of this.

Do I have to furlough employees’, or can I make redundancies (Click HERE)

The government are recommending employers furlough staff rather than make redundancies. If that’s not feasible, then it’s fine to make redundancies, providing you follow a fair selection process and can demonstrate meaningful consultation. You run the risk of an employment tribunal claim if you furlough some and make others redundant, so please obtain advice before proceeding with redundancies. Employees must have more than two years’ service to make a claim for unfair dismissal, unless it’s linked to protected characteristic under the Equality Act

What if the employee does not agree to be furloughed? (Click HERE)

If the employee does not agree then you will have to proceed with a redundancy process, obviously considering all alternatives to redundancy before making a final decision. Remember that if there are 20 or more employees in one establishment

then it is important to go through collective consultation which means consulting with a union or elected representatives if there is no union for a 30 day period (20-99 employees) or 45 day period (100 or more) and filing an HR1 form. We can help with this where required.

If your employee(s) have less than 2 years’ service and are refusing to be furloughed, you could be able to end their employment without going through a consultation process, but you should seek advice before proceeding with this approach.

What is the definition of a key-worker? (Click HERE)
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/