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Furlough Facts & Findings about the UK Job Retention Scheme

What is a furloughed workerAre you wanting to get your head around the new “furlough worker” term and how this can be applied in your workplace? In this article You HR Consultancy has summarised the key facts about the UK Governments Job Retention Scheme, who this applies to and how. If you need any support from You HR Consultancy... Read More


You HR have put together these Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) we have been asked by clients following the recent government guidelines during the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Please note that our FAQ’s are under continuous review and are updated often. Please be sure to check the ‘Other Resource’ link over on the right of this page for the latest updates from the Government.  

Please get in touch if you have any further HR or OD related questions regarding your employees and the current situation, we will answer where we can for you and post on this webpage. Or if you have any other useful tips we can share to assist others during this difficult time for all. Please email alice@youhr.co.uk

Managing Sickness Absence

We would hope that all employees would talk and seek advice from their employer if this was their concern. Most importantly that they would act responsibly and follow advice to stay at home.

It is vitally important that individuals with symptoms that may be due to coronavirus and their household members stay at home. Staying at home will help control the spread of the virus to friends, the wider community, and particularly the most vulnerable. If anyone becomes unwell with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature in the business or workplace employers should send them home and follow the Government’s stay at home guidance

For those who cannot work as a result of self-isolation, whether they are ‘sick’ themselves or not, will be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from Day 1, even if they are not sick themselves but need to self-isolate due to a member of their household presenting symptoms or require care. 

Employees could also look to seek help independently, if they foresee a financial hardship during this period, through contacting Citizens Advice and/or accessing the Government’s Universal Credit system or Employment and Support Allowance Advice (refer to the link opposite).

Pay

Employees should get their full pay unless their contract allows unpaid or a reduced pay lay-off.

During such unprecedented times, you could consult with your employees and agree to put in place an unpaid lay-off period. This would result in a change of contract but may be an alternative to considering redundancies.

There is a maximum statutory guaranteed payment (statutory lay-off pay) is £29 a day for 5 days in any 3 months (i.e. a maximum of £145). If employees usually earn less than £25 a day, they’ll get their usual daily rate. For part-time workers, the rate is worked out proportionally. However, we are awaiting further guidance from the Government regarding the additional funding announced by the Chancellor that may change these payments.

Guaranteed ‘lay-off pay’ is only eligible if employees:

  • have been employed continuously for 1 month (includes part-time workers)
  • reasonably make sure they are available for work
  • do not refuse any reasonable alternative work (including work not in your contract)
  • have not have been laid off because of industrial action

Right now, the Government are advising that employers should use their discretion and respect the medical need to self-isolate in making decisions about any additional sick pay beyond Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) entitlement.

Employers can access other means of financial support from the Government that may be available (click the ‘Government Guidance to Employers and Businesses’ opposite to access the latest information’).

If employees are self-isolating because of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) they will now be eligible to an SSP payment of £94.25 per week, including for those who are unable to work because they are self-isolating in line with Government advice.

This change took effect from the 13th March 2020 and is in addition to the change announced by the Prime Minister that SSP will be payable from day 1 instead of day 4 for affected individuals.

People who are advised to self-isolate for COVID-19 will be able to obtain an alternative to the fit note to cover this by contacting NHS 111 (refer to the link opposite), rather than visiting a doctor. This can be used by employees where their employers require evidence of their absence.

Naturally, this may have Tax implications for March and April pay and is a matter we would advise you to discuss with your financial colleagues/accountants.

If an employer cannot pay the full amount of pay owed, the first urgent step to take would be to discuss with the employee(s) the reasons for this and when the employer anticipates being able to pay the money owed. Obtaining agreement to this contractual change in advance from your employees affected is key to ensure you do not make an ‘unlawful deduction from wages’ or indeed breach your own employment contract.

Employers can claim up to 28 weeks of SSP to be paid to your employee in the same way as normal wages.

The changes to SSP for COVID-19 mean that employers can claim for up to 14 days of SSP under Government’s scheme rebate which is being developed. Further details from the Government will be provided in due course on how employers can access this scheme over forthcoming months to set up the repayment mechanism for employers as soon as possible.

Employers should maintain records of staff absences and payments of SSP. Please use the link to the Government’s website opposite for the latest information on SSP and COVID-19.

If an employer cannot cover staff costs as a result of COVID-19 and needs to lay employees off, they could classify staff under Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (available for all UK employers), as a furloughed worker and keep the employee on their payroll.

Furlough worker status is a different legal concept (commonly used in the USA but not a recognised term in UK employment law) to that under the Employment Rights Act (1996) and lay-off, although the concept is similar.

Employers will be able to access support to continue paying part of their employees’ salary for those employees that have been on the PAYE payroll on 28 February 2020 that would otherwise have been laid off during this crisis, claiming a grant of up to 80% of their regular wage for all employment costs, up to a limit of £2,500 per month plus the associated Employer National Insurance contributions and the minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contribution.

An employer can of course choose to fund the differences between the grant and the employee’s salary but does not have to, Employer National Insurance Contributions and automatic enrolment contribution on any additional top-up salary will not be funded through this scheme. Nor will any voluntary automatic enrolment contributions above the minimum mandatory employer contribution of 3% of income above the lower limit of qualifying earnings (which is £512 per month until 5th April and will be £520 per month from 6th April 2020 onwards). Fees, commission and bonuses should also not be included.

If employers are unable to ‘top-up’ the remaining pay, employees could look to seek additional support through the Universal Credit as advised in our other FAQ responses.

To qualify for this scheme, employees should not be undertaking any work for you while they are furloughed. The scheme is intended to run from the 1st March for a period of 3 months but will be extended if necessary.  The scheme will not cover zero-hour contracts or casual workers unless they work on the PAYE system.

For more information please look at our guide ‘Furlough Facts & Thinking about the UK Job Retention Scheme’

HMRC will reimburse the furloughed workers wage costs, are working urgently to set up a system (by the end of April) for reimbursement as existing systems are not set up to facilitate payments to employers. To keep up to date with this scheme please use the Government weblink opposite for the latest information.

Employees must be consulted and agree to be furloughed unless there are existing terms in their contract of employment allowing employers to take such action.

Changing the employment status of employees will be subject to existing employment law. Please also see our FAQ relating to ‘lay-offs’ and ‘employment contracts’.

The earnings period to be used to determine the maximum allowance for individuals under the scheme is yet to be clarified. For new employees it will be difficult to work through and we would suggest you get in touch with us so we can review each situation on a case by case basis. For existing employees, it may be a period of the last 12 months, for casual staff maybe the same 3 month period as the previous year if possible. We would expect the accrual of continuous service and the entitlement to holiday and sick pay to continue as set out in employment contracts.

We would also expect that employees will need to move in and out of the Furlough worker status to be available as and when employer’s need them to work. The scheme is being designed to allow for flexibility i.e. for employee’s to be brought into work if their colleagues still working who later become sick.

An employee does not have to accept Furlough status, but employer’s may then need to consider alternative solutions to the situation, such as redundancy.

If your employee has more than one job

If your employee has more than one employer they can be furloughed for each job. Each job is separate, and the cap applies to each employer individually.

If your employee does volunteer work or training

A furloughed employee can take part in volunteer work or training, as long as it does not provide services to or generate revenue for, or on behalf of your organisation.

However, if workers are required to, for example, complete online training courses whilst they are furloughed, then they must be paid at least the National Living Wage /National Minimum Wage for the time spent training, even if this is more than the 80% of their wage that will be subsidised.

Continue with your current business practices and policies in managing paid leave entitlements. If employees contracts dictate they get bank and public holidays in addition to holiday, this means they do not have to use their paid holiday for those days around Easter.

However, if employees holiday entitlement is inclusive of bank and public holidays and they are not working on those days, they will need to take paid holiday for those days.

During the current coronavirus crisis, it is expected many more workers will be asked to work on the bank holiday days over the Easter weekend, particularly Good Friday and Easter Monday.

Employers must select employees for furlough in a fair way to avoid any discrimination.

Employees must be consulted and have to agree to be furloughed.

Changing the status of employees always is subject to existing employment law so it’s important to bear this in mind. Depending on the employment contract wording there may be an ability to lay-off workers to impose a furlough period.

An employee cannot be placed on furlough whilst on sick leave, but they can be furloughed and claimed for once they are no longer receiving Statutory Sick Pay.

Yes. However whilst furloughed you cannot ask an employee to do work for another linked or associated company.

If your contract allows, you may undertake other employment while your current employer has placed you on furlough, and this will not affect the grant that they can claim under the scheme. You will need to be able to return to work for the employer that has placed you on furlough if they decide to stop furloughing you, and you must be able to undertake any training they require while on furlough. If you take on new employees, you should make sure you complete the starter checklist form with your new employer correctly. 

Pregnant employees should start maternity leave as normal. If earnings have been reduced because they were put on furlough or off sick before their maternity leave started, this may affect their Statutory Maternity Pay. The same rules apply to adoption pay, paternity pay and shared parental pay.

Many companies traditionally increase salaries at the start of the Tax year but this year, due to COVID 19, it may be sensible to pause all annual pay increases at this present time until the impact of the pandemic is more evident.

There are, of course, some businesses that continue to thrive during this time and recognition for employees’ hard work to keep up with business demand would be welcome.

Deferring all pay increases until later in the year, particularly to any staff currently on furlough, should be an understandable action to all during this unprecedented time.

However, employers must pay workers the correct minimum wage. The latest increases to the National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage came into force on 1st April 2020.

Flexible Working

We understand that not all businesses are able to work from home in part or in full.

However, we believe that the request to work from home where you can as an attempt to limit the amount of spreading COVID-19 where possible.

Where you need to continue and go out to work we would, of course, urge you to follow national guidance from the Government and professional bodies such as the NHS (quick links to their advice and information are on the righthand side of this page).

If employees need to remain in the workplace try and increase ‘social distancing’ by minimising contact between people. Ensure the workspace is cleaned and disinfected more frequently, especially door handles, toilets, telephones and desks/workspaces. Stop any non-essential travel and ensure the cleanliness guidelines are followed regarding regular hand washing, providing hand santitiser gel where possible.

Remote working may be unfamiliar territory to some employees. It’s important to ensure that staff are aware of the work expected to be completed at this time. Regular phone calls or video calls, where screens can be shared to discuss work can help keep things on track. Most importantly regular contact enables employers to ensure their employees are maintaining a good sense of health and wellbeing.

Encourage staff to still got out and get fresh air while abiding by the Government’s requirements. There are many great ideas emerging on social media and via YouTube of how people can remain active and keep well during this period, all of which will, of course, assist their productivity in work and to prevent them from feeling/becoming isolated.

Please use the link opposite to find out how Mind is advising us all to maintain wellbeing during this period.

My staff are working from home due to school closures what can I do?

All employees have a right to take time off work to deal with an emergency involving a dependant, and we would deem the unexpected closure of a school as an emergency. Employers should be allowing their employees to take time off to sort out alternative childcare arrangements. 

However, a discussion would need to be had if there is an extended time off period required to look after the child for the whole duration that schools are shut as this potentially prolonged period would not be classed as a right to time off, only the emergency period to sort an alternative. 

Normally, a couple of days should suffice as an initial emergency period to plan and put alternative measures in place. If after this period alternative arrangements cannot be put in place, you will need to agree other flexible arrangements to cover any non-worked contractual time, arrangements for leave, or remote working (i.e. change to contracted hours/days, compressing contracted hours on certain days etc)

Ultimately, you shouldn’t restrict an employee of their right to time off for dependants, but you can look to consult with them and agree what happens during the full period where flexible working needs to be applied in this exceptional unprecedented time.

Employers have the right to tell employees and workers when to take holiday if they need to. For example, they can decide to shut for a week and everyone has to use their holiday entitlement.

If the employer does decide to do this, they must tell staff at least twice as many days before as the number of days they need people to take.

For example, if they want to close for 5 days, they should tell everyone at least 10 days before.

This could affect holiday staff have already booked or planned. So employers should:

  • explain clearly why they need to close
  • try and resolve anyone’s worries about how it will affect their holiday entitlement or plans

Employment Contracts

You can lay off an employee (i.e. ask them to stay at home or take unpaid leave) when you temporarily cannot give them paid work – as long as their employment contract allows this. We would always recommend you engage your staff at the earliest opportunity to discuss and agree necessary actions with them first.

Please also refer to our FAQ’s regarding ‘furloughed workers’ and ‘contracts of employment’.

Short-time working is when you reduce your employee’s hours for a period of time similar to a period of ‘lay-off’.

Whilst there are no set rules for how consultation should be carried out if you are considering redundancies for 18 or less staff or indeed the timeframe to consult before the first dismissal if there are less than 20 redundancies to be made. There are, however, fundamental steps to follow to ensure a fair procedure is applied if your situation results in a dismissal on the grounds of redundancy. Furthermore, a general rule of thumb for a reasonable timeframe to meaningfully consult would be for a 2 week period. Please contact us for further advice on your situation. To find out more about how we can help with redundancies visit our Organisational Change service line page.

Given the current circumstances of COVID-19 and the impact on businesses, if you need to postpone a start date of employment and provide clear reasons as to why, we would hope that anyone, as unideal as this situation may be, would understand the predicament you have been placed in.

Our view would also apply, should it be the case that unfortunately, you need to withdraw an offer of employment that has been accepted due to the impact of COVID-19 on your business. Whilst a withdrawal would technically result in a breach of contract and you may incur a claim to pay damages/compensation, this is usually limited to the contractual notice period within the contract. If less than a month has been worked then the notice period should be nil unless the contract of employment states otherwise.

Employer’s whose business is affected by a downturn in work due to COVID-19 may also consider putting in place other temporary measures to avoid the need for redundancies, such as introducing a temporary reduction in pay, working hours, or removing/reducing certain contractual benefits.  Employers will need to consult with staff to obtain their agreement to the proposed changes in the absence of any relevant contractual clauses.

If, however, there is an increase in workload for staff that are able to continue working during the COVID-19 outbreak, employers need to consider what measures they can put in place to support those staff in helping them to manage increased workloads.  In the absence of existing contractual overtime provisions, employers will need to seek staff agreement to work overtime.

There’s no limit for how long you can be laid off. However, employees can claim a redundancy payment from you if the lay-off runs for:

  • 4 or more weeks in a row
  • 6 or more weeks in a 13 week period, where no more than 3 are in a row

Whatever circumstance, the employee must give you written notice in advance that they want to make a claim. Please note, you do not have to pay redundancy if the employees return to normal working hours within 4 weeks. However, if you do not give guarantee pay to someone who’s entitled to it, they could make a claim to an employment tribunal against you.

Employee Wellbeing

If you live with someone who is one of the following categories and you cannot find somewhere else for them to stay try to limit your distance and occupy different rooms.

  • Aged 70 or over
  • Has a long-term condition
  • Is pregnant
  • Has a weakened immune system

If this is not possible then ensure surfaces are kept clean / disinfected and follow the ‘guidance for households with possible coronavirus infection’ from the Government.

Yes, this is the guidance set by the Government if it is non-essential travel or even trying to avoid ‘rush hour’ periods if work times can be adjusted. Staff must not travel on public transport if they, of course, feel unwell. If staff need to be sent home and have to use public transport, they should try to keep away from other people and catch coughs and sneezes in a tissue.

It is so important to support your staff. Identifying vulnerable members of the team, for whatever health (mental or physical) reason is a priority. Reassure your employees through setting frequent and regular contact times and take time to listen to understand what action you can take to assist in any way. Draw on advice from great organisations such as Mind (see the link opposite) for you and your employees.

Ensure that your business continuity plan is clear and available to all employees and that you have support from your employees to help others in the team where they can.

Covid You HR virtual meeting

Regular contact is vital to keep workplace wellbeing. Virtual group chats through a variety of mediums can be utilised with a little bit of fun injected here and there. A GiF can speak a thousand words! Video calls can help with connectivity and minimise the feelings of isolation.

We know that staying at home for a prolonged period of time can be difficult, frustrating and lonely for some people and that it may cause your employees to feel low. Encourage your employees to stay in touch with you, family and friends over the phone, on social media by virtual Facetime calls however you/they can.  

They may find it helpful to structure their day, make sure they are doing so and including plenty of breaks, particularly if their VDU use is increasing.  

You can access the Government’s latest advice and tools on managing mental health and wellbeing by clicking here, or use the link opposite to find out how Mind is advising us all to maintain wellbeing during this period. 

For those employees who need to shield and protect themselves and/or people in their households defined on medical grounds (including children) or other Government groups as extremely vulnerable (i.e. for those aged over 70), they should follow this Government advice (click here) and stay at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact for a period of at least 12 weeks. 

Employers have a statutory duty of care for their employees’ health and safety, this should be covered through embracing responsibility to ensure that employees feel safe and secure in their employment.

We know that staying at home for a prolonged period of time can be difficult, frustrating and lonely for some people and that it may cause your employees to feel low. Encourage your employees to stay in touch with you, family and friends over the phone, on social media by virtual Facetime calls however you/they can.

They may find it helpful to structure their day, make sure they are doing so and including plenty of breaks, particularly if their VDU use is increasing.

You can access the Government’s latest advice and tools on managing mental health and wellbeing by clicking here or use the link opposite to find out how Mind is advising us all to maintain wellbeing during this period. Find out more about how we can help with Workplace Wellbeing on our service line page.

We appreciate that there is an absolute whole change for many workplaces/work arrangements during such unprecedented times that naturally give cause for concern, uncertainty, or at times, reaction. We would always urge employer’s to maintain a zero-tolerance to bullying and harassment, but particularly during this time, even if there are degrees of ‘banter’ to lighten the mood at present – employer’s should remain vigilant to any situations that may be construed as bullying, harassing or discriminatory.

Currently, the Government are advising against all but essential international/national travel, and whilst employers cannot force their employees not to travel, they should urge their employee to follow Government advice.

Whilst annual leave already requested and approved can be cancelled, as long as the required period of notice is given (this is the same length of time as the period of leave to be cancelled). However, this may not be good for employee relations and pose a risk to claim of unfair treatment, possibly discrimination, therefore, we would urge employers to get in touch and seek further advice on the matter.

There is no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 can be carried on paper, but we would advise taking precautions and maintaining hygiene standards, nevertheless. Concentration on high standards of disinfecting and hygiene should be given to potentially contaminated surfaces such as high-contact areas like bathrooms, door handles, telephones, grab-rails in corridors and stairwells.

Whilst the disclosure of data/information about an employee’s health is classed under the Data Protection Action 2018 as a ‘special category of personal data’, employers have a duty of care to all employee’s to inform them of any potential risk as a matter of priority. Employers should be mindful to not disclose the identity of the individual but focus more on advising employees of the precautions and measures they need to take to minimise any risk of infection

Other

Where possible social distancing is recommended. Segregating teams and ensuring that close proximity to others is avoided wherever possible is important to minimise the spread of the COVID-19 disease. Email, phone or video calls are better than visiting other members of staff, even if they are just in the office next door!

  • Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) relief package for SMEs
  • Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to cover 80% of pay for laid off employees
  • 12 months Business Rate Relief for all retail, hospitality, leisure and nursery businesses in England
  • small business grant funding of £10,000 for all business in receipt of small business rate relief or rural rate relief
  • grant funding of £25,000 for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with property with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000
  • the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme offering loans of up to £5 million for SMEs through the British Business Bank
  • a new lending facility from the Bank of England to help support liquidity among larger firms, helping them bridge coronavirus disruption to their cash flows through loans
  • the HMRC Time To Pay Scheme

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