Individuals, couples, families, communities, the country and the world is in the grips of the Coronavirus pandemic. All that was once a few short weeks ago so simple and easy has now become a challenge and fight for survival as our new future awaits.
So many aspects of our life have changed from working, through to income and the way we interact with each other. All areas of everyone’s lives has been turned on their head.
Employment Concerns Following the Coronavirus Outbreak
Businesses everywhere have been catastrophically affected following the outbreak of Coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown of our society as the hidden enemy is fought. Many have lost their jobs, livelihood or concerned with their future employment prospects. There are again as with so many aspects of this battle so many questions that we all have, with answers that in most cases are only partially correct or being guessed as they are applying to an event which is all encompassing and which has never been seen.
Important Areas Surrounding job Retention and Furloughing
- What does furlough mean – it is the economic effect on the company or country as a whole resulting in the temporary leave of absence from work. In this instance it allows businesses to protect their future interest and those of their employees by keeping them on the payroll for a period of time where the government pays the business 80% of the staff salary. This removes the need to make staff redundant. In this instance it would apply if the employee was on the PAYE payroll scheme on or before 28 February 2020 with a UK bank account.
- In being furloughed the business is suggesting that the only other alternative would be dismissal or redundancy. So in effect it avoids the necessity of redundancy and means that the employee and business are in a position to continue when the future relaxation of the lockdown
- If you have been made redundant in the period between 28th February and the 20th of March 2020 you are eligible to be reinstated under the scheme and the furlough period can be backdated to 1 March.
- If you are a part-time employee you will also able to be furloughed. A cap of £2500 applies. If you have two jobs with two employers you can be furloughed potentially by both employers where the cap for payment is £5000 in total.
- As an employee, due to the change status of being furloughed under employment law you must be consulted prior to being furloughed. However, with the alternative being redundancy most are likely to say yes. However, with larger firms unions may become involved as has been the case with British Airways.
- If you have been furloughed employees must not undertake work.
- Furloughed employees wages are still taxable through income tax and national insurance contributions where employers also pay the employers National Insurance and automatic enrolment contributions into the workplace pension scheme.
- As an employee of the business where you have been furloughed your statutory holiday will accrue during the period as if you were working normally.
- Most public sector employees will continue to work throughout the Coronavirus outbreak and it is unlikely they will have to take part in any job retention scheme or furloughing.
- Employers will look at accessing these job retention scheme in relation to Coronavirus towards the end of April when the HMRC site becomes live and they make a collective claim for the group of furloughed employees. This has no effect on the employee who does not have to get involved with this aspect.
- If employees were made redundant after 28 February 2020 they can, although it is not mandatory be reinstated as employees although this would need to be assessed by the firm and more than likely the insolvency practitioner if the firm is being way up; an example being Flybe which went into administration on 5th of March.
- The Coronavirus job retention scheme is a grant to the business for an initial period of three months where there is a possibility it will be extended and where there is a £2500 per month cap for an individual employee.
- If an employee who is vulnerable and part of the group where isolation is recommended for 12 weeks, it is advisable for businesses to furlough rather than offer statutory sick pay.
- Employers are not required to top up salaries over and above the 80% grant being covered in the retention scheme.
- For employees who are termed as casual workers or who have zero hours contracts the calculation is slightly different and will be based on hours worked originally from either the same month in 2019 or average monthly earnings on the 2019-20 tax year whichever is the higher. If employment has been for under 12 months on average taken for the time that they have worked and annualised.
- There are other financial offers available to businesses in addition to these grants to enable them to whether the Coronavirus storm.
What if your Employees are on leave, have Coronavirus or are in self Isolation?
With the government’s position reflecting the seriousness of the coronavirus businesses are changing their working patterns to enable them the opportunity for their employees to work from home. This saves unnecessary travel and allows the social distancing that is required at this time. Some employers are essential to the running of the lockdown community where employers must make sure their rights and health is protected. Employers should be mindful of staff member’s vulnerability due to age, pregnancy and any pre-existing condition offering these employees the flexibility to work in a safe environment.
If an employee is diagnosed with covid-19 they have the same statutory sick pay right as any other member staff with any other form of sickness or medical condition. Due to the nature of the virus there is no right answer in whether the employer should inform other employees that someone has the infection or is self-isolating. However, an employer does have a duty of care for an employees health and safety and should convey any potential threat to an employee thus providing the duty of care.
There is a grey area with regard to self-isolation but employers have been asked to treat employees who are self-isolating for the good of the community and their own health under statutory sick pay rules.
With children now unable to attend school employers are also asked to accommodate members of staff with children. Some businesses will be able to address this through the job retention scheme and the grants where employees and parents can be furloughed. However, other employees who must work are to be provided with consideration and flexibility in their work so that they can provide suitable child protection whilst their children are at home. This is one of the areas which has never been seen before and employers are being asked to enter into the spirit of helping out.
Medical certification as would have been traditionally required but due to surgeries only offering emergency requests is not possible and employee owners and employees should adapt and offer flexibility accordingly.
Employers can suspend employees should they believe they have symptoms of Covid 19 under ‘suspension on medical grounds’ although it would be hoped that employees would embrace the situation and not put their employer in that position.
How are employees rights protected when working from home?
This is another completely new area where there is limited guidance. Prior to the Coronavirus some businesses did operate with employees working from home. However, all employees that are still employed and are not part of the designated essential workforce will now be working from home from administration staff through to solicitors and accountants.
Employers should be mindful of the employee’s needs even though working from a distance, particularly those that are in the vulnerable group regarding self-isolation and including those employees who are pregnant.
It is worth any employee working from home to check that there home insurance policy covers them for the work that they are undertaking where the employee are still responsible for the employers welfare.
If as an employee you want time off for emergency Coronavirus volunteering employers do have to give you the time off. This will then provide invaluable assistance to the NHS and social care providers where any member of staff who has been furloughed can also take part in the volunteering scheme. This does not apply to civil servants, police officers or those working for employers with under 10 employees. Although if you are furloughed and work for a firm with under 10 employees you no doubt be able to. Volunteering certificates are to be provided to the employer three days in advance of the volunteering leave
Annual leave which has no doubt accrued can be carried over with a new legal right the next two years. This should take care of the requirements to take holiday though one does have to question whether we will have anywhere to go when you do take!
What the Future Employment Following Coronavirus holds
The honest answer is no one knows. There are so many question marks hanging over all businesses and industry that there is no defined answer. It is difficult to see that society will be the same and that we will in effect just back to normal a few months’ time or when the virus comes to a conclusion by way of vaccination.
In our future do we see all of the restaurants bars and public houses opening again?
Do we see air travel and holidays coming back just as they are?
Will the way we conduct ourselves in society in the future be the same where we only now have to go out for a walk (or exercise of course) to be confronted by individuals approaching who literally cross the road to avoid you.
Then of course there is the financial impact and the gargantuan amount of money that the government is using to prop up our country’s business model. There are far too many questions to know any answers about the future. Although one thing is clear it will be very different.