Update on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, workplace openings and other COVID-19 developments
This article briefly touches on a number of employment related COVID-19 developments.
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS)
On Friday 29 May 2020 Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, made an announcement at the COVID-19 daily briefing about changes and developments to the CJRS. More detail is expected and I will produce an article commenting on that in due course but in the meantime, I have summarised the key takeaways at this stage.
- 10 June 2020 – This is the last date upon which an employer can place an employee on furlough and take advantage of the current scheme. Whilst it is quite likely that most employers will have already furloughed employees this is important for those employers who have been rotating which employees are furloughed.
- 1 July 2020 – Flexible furlough comes in. It appears this will be a new version of the CJRS. Whilst the specific detail is awaited the Chancellor did confirm that an employee could work 2 days a week (with the employer paying) and then be on furlough for the remaining 3 days (with the CJRS paying). More detail will come out and it is likely that existing furlough agreements will either need to be replaced with flexible furlough agreements or varied.
- June and July 2020 – The scheme remains the same with the Government paying up to 80% or £2,500 of employees pay, together with paying employers’ national insurance and pension contributions.
- August 2020 – The Government will still pay 80% or up to £2,500 of employees pay but the employer will then need to pay its national insurance and pension contributions.
- September 2020 – The Government will pay 70% or up to £2,187.50 of employees pay. The employer will pay either the remaining 10% or the amount necessary to make an employee’s pay up to £2,500. The employer will also need to pay the national insurance and pension contributions.
- October 2020 – The Government will pay 60% or up to £1,875 of employees pay. The employer will pay either the remaining 20% or the amount necessary to make an employee’s pay up to £2,500. The employer will also need to pay the national insurance and pension contributions.
- 31 October – The CJRS closes and the employer will be 100% responsible for employees’ pay and employment costs.
As stated, further information is expected on flexible furlough and how it will work. I will produce guidance on this once the details have been released.
Reopening the workplace
The Government released its document “Our Plan to Rebuild” on 11 May 2020.
A central part of the rebuilding process is the economy and the workplace, with flexible furlough and the tapering of the CJRS in my opinion being introduced partly to help the economy to safely reopen. At present there is no vaccine to COVID-19 and whilst a huge amount of work on this is being undertaken worldwide there is no date or timeframe within which this will be in place. We will, therefore, be living with COVID-19 for some time and taking steps to suppress and keep it under control.
The Government has released guidelines that workplaces should follow to be COVID-19 secure. I would strongly advise all employers to read the guidelines to ensure that their workplaces are as safe as possible. By not providing a COVID-19 secure workplace and ways of working employers could run the risk of both personal injury and employment law claims. Such claims could be very expensive and disruptive and may derail a company’s efforts to recover from the crisis.
Having reviewed the guidelines and the issue my advice or key takeaways are:
- Risk assessment – Employers should produce a risk assessment on how to work safely. The risk assessment should be discussed with unions, elected employee representatives (if relevant) or with the employees directly. By doing so the employer can better understand their employees’ concerns and potentially put steps in place to alleviate them. For employers with 50 or more employees, it is understood, that the risk assessment should be published on the company’s website and a certificate (which is contained within the Government’s guidance) be published at the workplace.
- Working from home where possible – This remains key and the Government have been at pains to make clear that this should continue where possible. Companies who have furloughed a number of employees may need to give thought as to whether it can allow those employees to work from home when the CJRS ends. I would suggest employers start considering this issue without delay so they are ready for 1 November 2020.
- Social distancing – Where employees are required to attend work the employer needs to take steps to keep employees 2 metres apart. Employers may need to consider:
- Reviewing the layout of work and planning how to alter the workplace to keep employees sufficiently apart.
- Using floor tape and contraflow systems at work.
- Avoid hot-desking and the sharing of desks/workstations and resources.
- Putting screens in place.
- Using a form of buddy system so that employees who ordinarily work close together communicate with one another to ensure that they do not attend work at the same time.
- Whether to introduce shift patterns to reduce the number of employees in the workplace at any particular time.
- Encouraging hygiene and regular handwashing by ensuring access to hot water, soap and hand sanitiser.
Employers should give special consideration to employees who are classed as vulnerable and extremely vulnerable due to pre-existing health conditions as it may not be possible for them to return to the workplace. Employers may need to put measures in place for this group of people to avoid them being treated unfairly and potentially being subjected to discrimination.
Reopening the workplace presents a range of potential issues one such issue is employees feeling afraid of attending work. I believe that communication with the workforce is crucial to avoid or help to deal with employees not wanting to come to work. With the potential assistance of the CJRS employers should engage with the workforce now so there is time to resolve any issues, bearing in mind the deadline of 10 June to ensure employees are on furlough.
Test and Trace
The Government and the NHS launched the Test and Trace programme on 28 May 2020. Under this programme and, if and when, the App is launched, individuals will be told to self-isolate due to having come into contact with someone who has been diagnosed as suffering from COVID-19.
Legislation on statutory sick pay has been updated so that a person who has been notified that they have had contact with a person with coronavirus, and who is self-isolating for 14 days as a result, will be entitled to statutory sick pay.
As the CJRS will start to share the cost of employees from August and will close at the end of October companies should start giving thought to whether they can operate with all their employees or whether they need to give thought to potential redundancies. A more detailed article on this will be published soon.
If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this article and/or require assistance, please do not hesitate to contact Rob Zacal on 01752 513549 or email@example.com