We are all reeling from the shock of the Coronavirus pandemic but what has changed and what do we know now?
The Government has changed the rules on statutory sick pay (“SSP”) during the Coronavirus outbreak to entitle those who are self isolating and those who are caring for those who self isolate to claim SSP. Employees can also claim from the first day of absence. Generally, employees will self-certify for the first 7 days. They will then need to obtain an online “Isolation Note” as evidence of their continuing sickness absence. As usual, there is much further detail and the position is rapidly changing so it is important to look for Government announcements and seek advice when required.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
The Government has introduced a new scheme to help employers through the these difficult times. The scheme does not replace existing laws but supplements them. Rules on holiday pay, maternity leave and working time continue to apply (unless the Government changes the position).
Many employers will be able to ask staff to stay at home on a minimum of 80% of their gross salary for an initial three month period but which could be extended. Employers will then be able to obtain a grant for this amount on application to HMRC (the requisite HMRC portal to claim this grant is not open at the time of publication).
Technically, employers need to obtain staff consent to their involvement in the scheme. Employers therefore need to consider what the alternatives might be if obtaining express consent might take too long or might not be forthcoming.
The scheme is not the only option open to employers. Some will be forced to make redundancies despite the scheme and the usual rules on consultation, redundancy selection and notice will still apply. Employers may also be able to rely on a contractual entitlement to lay staff off or place them on short time working. They may also change employee contracts to, for instance, reduce hours or pay, by consent.
If you do rely on the scheme, then you will need to notify your employees in writing of the temporary change to their contracts in using the scheme. If you do not do so, you may not be able to obtain the grants that the scheme provides for. If you decide to only place some staff on the scheme, then you will need to objectively select which staff will be placed on the scheme and which ones will not.
Your staff must not do any work if they are placed on the scheme (“furloughed”) and most training is also prohibited. However, you are allowed to keep in touch with staff on the scheme and some training and updating is allowed in limited circumstances to ensure that staff members keep up to date.
Whilst most staff members will be understanding during these difficult times, it is still important to comply with basic employment law principles to show your staff that they are being treated fairly and consistently which, in turn, will minimise the risk of problems and potential claims.
Health and Safety and Homeworking
You are still responsible for the health, safety and welfare of your staff. The Government has asked that all non-essential staff stay at home. Where staff have to work, social distancing and rules on protecting equipment will need to be considered in the context of your specific workplace. However, different rules apply to different industries and workplaces. Again, the rules are ever changing so keep abreast of the Government advice and seek professional advice on complying with your legal obligations.
You are still responsible for the health, safety and welfare of your staff if they are working for you from home. Put in place a home-working policy and either check people’s work environment for health and safety risks (difficult when complying with social isolation rules) or get them to carry out their own risk assessment based upon your own guidelines.
Annual Leave Carry-Over
The Government has just announced that some workers will be allowed to carry over some of their annual leave for up to two years if they were prevented from taking it due to the coronavirus pandemic. The details are not yet published. In any event, employers may need to put in place new rules to prevent all employees taking their annual leave entitlement immediately following the lifting of the Coronavirus ‘lock-down’.
Tribunal Claims are delayed
As many court staff are ill or working from home, most face-to-face Tribunal hearings are not going ahead. They are mostly being re-listed for a future date and many one day hearings are being listed for the end of this year or early 2021. However, all orders and directions still need to be complied with and many face-to-face hearings have been replaced with telephone case management hearings where the judge will give directions on the future management of the case. Many future cases will proceed with some witnesses joining in the proceedings remotely using Skype, Zoom or other video-conferencing software.
Important Employment Law Changes this April
There are several employment law changes coming into effect this April and employers will need to ensure that they are compliant, regardless of the Coronavirus challenges facing businesses at the moment.
Minimum Wage Increases
The National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage increase on 1st April 2020 as follows:
25+ – £8.72 (up from £8.21)
21+ – £8.20 (up from £7.70)
18-2 – £6.45 (up from £6.15)
16-17 – £4.55 (up from £4.35)
Apprentice – £4.15 (up from £3.90)
Daily accommodation offset – £8.20 (up from £7.55)
Discrimination Injury to Feelings Increase
The Employment has increased the compensation bands for ‘injury to feelings’ in discrimination claims according to the following banding from 6th April 2020 as follows:
Lower band – less serious – £900 to £9000
Middle band – more serious – £9000 to £27000
Upper band – most serious – £27000 to £45000 (but there is technically no cap in the most serious cases).
Employment Particulars from the Commencement of Employment
From 6th April all employees and workers (e.g. casual or ‘zero-hours’ workers) will have to be given an employment contract before they start work (not within 2 months as previously) which complies with a revised s.1 Employment Rights Act 1996. Employment Agencies will have to do something similar with their agency workers.
Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay
A new right to take leave following the death of a child comes into force on 6th April 2020. The leave can be taken as one two week block or two blocks of 1 week. Statutory Parental Bereavement Leave Pay (the same rate as Statutory Paternity Pay) is payable.
Holiday Pay Reference Period Increases
On 6th April 2020 the prior reference period for calculating a weeks pay for holiday pay purposes increases from 12 weeks to 52 weeks (or such other period that the employee has worked if less than 52 weeks). This could have a significant impact on the holiday pay of seasonal workers.
IR35 Changes Postponed
The proposed changes to IR35 that were due to come in for medium and large companies have been postponed to 6th April 2021.
If you need any help with any of these matters then do contact our employment team for advice or if you are concerned about the impact that COVID-19 could have on your business, sign up to receive employment law news updates.