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Coronavirus – Guidance for Employers
Considerations for Returning to Work (31 May 2020)

It’s been a few weeks since we’ve written as we’ve been waiting for official information to share around the changes to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.  We’re also now getting an increasing number of questions around getting people back to work so that’s these areas are the focus of this update.

We’d also like to flag with you that, as the world starts to re-open, employers are going to continue to face lots of HR challenges that they’ve never encountered before.  There is no way for a guidance note to cover every eventuality so making sure that you get professional support when particular issues arise is vital. 

We strongly advise you to get in-touch with us on 0203 319 1649 to seek tailored guidance before you take any actions.

As with all of the guidance with coronavirus, we need to remind you that these are unprecedented times and it is unclear as to how employment law will be applied in these exceptional circumstances.

The information that follows has been compiled with input from government websites, Acas and HMRC (the only official resources that we’re happy to use as these are the institutions who will be responsible for enforcing the rules as we move forward), but the reality is no-one really knows for certain how actions that businesses need to take now will be interpreted later.

This post is part of our Returning to Work series of posts we have created over the past few days regarding the issues associated with getting employees back to work.

When does the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme end?

The scheme has been extended until the 31st October 2020 but there are some changes being made in the coming months.

A key point of note is that the last date on which you can furlough someone for the first time is 10th June 2020.

What can I claim for under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme?

There are changes to the level of support the government is offering after 1st August 2020. The scheme for the coming months is as follows:

  • 1st June – 31st July
    • Employers can reclaim 80% of salary up to a maximum of £2,500. In addition, the employer can reclaim statutory pension contributions and employer National Insurance payments.
    • No change from April – May.
  • 1st August – 31st August
    • Employers can reclaim 80% of salary up to a maximum of £2,500.
    • Employers will no longer be able to claim for National Insurance or pension contributions.
  • 1st September – 30th September
    • Employers can reclaim 70% of salary up to a maximum of £2,190 but must continue to pay the employee 80% of their salary up to a maximum of £2,500.
    • The level of support starts to decrease and the employer becomes responsible for paying part of the employee’s costs.
  • 1st October – 31st October
    • Employers can reclaim 60% of salary up to a maximum of £1,875 but must continue to pay the employee 80% of their salary up to a maximum of £2,500.
    • The level of support decreases further and the employer becomes responsible for paying a larger part of the employee’s costs.

I’ve read that, from 1st July 2020 I have an option to use furloughed employees on a part-time basis.  Is that correct?

Yes, the government has confirmed that from 1st July 2020 employers are able to use furloughed employees for any hours or shift patterns whilst continuing to claim for any unworked hours under the CJRS. 

The official guidance on this is still a little patchy as the guidance states “When claiming the CJRS grant for furloughed hours; employers will need to report and claim for a minimum period of a week.”  We believe this to mean that you have to claim for a week’s worth of hours rather than the employee needs to be furloughed for a continuous week but it isn’t clear.  Further guidance will be issued on 12th June 2020.

Do I have to give notice to end an employee’s furlough leave?

There are no strict guidelines on this, but you should act reasonably.

Be mindful of the fact that many people may still have children at home as schools are only opening to a limited number of children. Their childcare options are going to be limited so giving them little notice of the need to return to work could put them in a very difficult position.

As we’ve said throughout, engage with your employees to see what’s feasible and then try to balance the needs of the business with the needs of your employees.

I’ve asked a furloughed employee to return to work and they have said that they can’t because of childcare issues or because they need to shield. What can I do?

Where an employee has a letter stating that they need to shield then you should leave them furloughed.

It’s important to note that “shielding” is a defined term that applies to people who are deemed be “extremely clinically vulnerable”. This is not the same as people who have an underlying health condition that makes them “clinically vulnerable”.

As tricky as it may be, you need to push to understand exactly which group the individual falls into. As an example, the vast majority of people with asthma are not being advised to shield. They are “clinically vulnerable” and are being told to be cautious but they do not fall into the “extremely clinically vulnerable” category so, with appropriate measures, they should be able to return to work. Be sensitive and understanding but do make sure you have all of the facts.

With childcare issues this is going to be a common challenge until September when, as things stand at the moment, all children will return to school. From 1st June, early years childcare and school years reception, year 1 and year 6, begin to open in most locations. However, if your employee has children who don’t fall into these age groups then those children are still going to be home and will be too young to be left home unsupervised. This puts employers in a difficult position.

Strictly speaking, your employee’s childcare issues are none of your concern but these are very unusual times and acting reasonably is vital. If you can leave people with childcare responsibilities furloughed then you should do this. Where you can’t, we’d suggest you get guidance on a case-by-case basis before considering taking any action.

I’ve asked a furloughed employee to return to work and they have said that don’t want to as they don’t believe it’s safe?

The first thing to be mindful of here is that different people are going to have had very different experiences of Coronavirus. For some, they will have had a pretty easy time of it. They’ll have been locked down in a nice environment, friends and family will have stayed safe and well and they aren’t individuals who have a condition that make them more vulnerable. For others the opposite will have been true.

If people are expressing concerns over safety in the workplace, ask them to detail to you exactly what it is that they are concerned about. You should ensure that you communicate with all employees the steps that you are taking to ensure their safety and hopefully this will offer sufficient re-assurance to most employees.

The bigger challenge, and the concern that we’re hearing expressed most frequently, is that people are concerned about their safety on public transport. There is little that you can do or say to address this concern. You should consider offering flexible working hours to help people to avoid travelling in rush hour. You should remind people that the guidance is that they cover their nose and mouth whilst on public transport. You should remind people that they need to wash their hands/use hand sanitiser frequently and definitely on arrival at their final location. But that’s really all you can do.

There is no magic wand to make this concern go away but people do need to start adjusting to the fact that we need to live with this virus for the foreseeable future.

Again, if you find yourself with a particularly difficult situation with this, give us a call.

These are very challenging times and we can’t stress enough the importance of open and honest communication with your employees and in getting tailored professional guidance (preferably from us!) before you take any action.

Employment laws still apply

When making changes to working hours or other terms and conditions, assuming your employment contract does not already allow for that, normal employment law applies – refer to our post on employment law: Job Retention Scheme – Employment Laws Still Apply (23-Mar-20).

Also, the employer must be careful not to discriminate in deciding who to offer furlough too – refer to our post on furlough discrimination: Furlough Decisions – Beware of Unintended Discrimination (24-Mar-20).

“Returning to Work” Series

As businesses now start to consider how they can get back to some semblance of normal, we are providing a series of blog posts providing guidance to business owners and managers regarding the issues with getting employees back to work. The articles in this series so far are:

In the coming days we will also be publishing a post on Health and Safety considerations when returning to work.

“Guidance for Managers” Series

You can find all our guidance notes on managing your business during the coronavirus crisis in our Coronavirus COVID-19 – Guidance for Managers series.

If you’d like help with the impact of Coronavirus or any other HR matter, contact us on 0203 319 1649 or fill in the form below.

Contact Us

If you’d like help with the impact of Coronavirus or any other HR matter, contact us on 0203 319 1649 or fill in the form below.

Contact Us

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