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COVID-19: Advice for employers and employees

In response to rapid changes and developments in employment law during the coronavirus outbreak, this page provides an overview of advice, know-how, and the latest developments relating to all your workplace and people issues.

Katherine Zangana

Senior Associate

  • Mergers & Acquisitions
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Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

On Friday 20 March, the Chancellor announced the setting up of a new Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (JRS). This scheme is intended to enable UK employers to access a grant to continue paying part of the salary of employees who may otherwise have been laid off or made redundant as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

The JRS will pay employers a grant worth 80% of an employee’s usual wage costs, up to a maximum of £2,500 a month for each employee, plus the associated Employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions on that subsidised wage.

The JRS is a temporary scheme which will run for at least three months from 1 March 2020.  The Chancellor has confirmed that he will extend the scheme for longer if necessary.

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wage-costs-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/check-if-you-could-be-covered-by-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

Coronavirus Self-Employed Income Support Scheme

Following the announcement of the JRS, the Chancellor then announced the Coronavirus Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) on 26 March 2020.  The SEISS is designed to assist self-employed individuals whose income has been adversely impacted by Coronavirus.  Similar to the JRS, this is achieved by issuing a grant to self-employed people or partnerships of 80% of their profits up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.

Those applying must meet eligibility criteria, which is broadly:

  • That self-employed trading profits are less than £50,000; and
  • That more than half of income comes from self-employment; and
  • That a tax return was submitted in January 2020 (though the deadline for submitting has been extended by four weeks). This means applicants must have been self-employed prior to 6 April 2019.

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-a-grant-through-the-coronavirus-covid-19-self-employment-income-support-scheme

Who are key workers?

Key workers are individuals whose jobs are vital to public health and safety during the coronavirus lockdown.  Because their work is vital, the Government wants to ensure that they are able to carry out their jobs with as few restrictions as possible – such as using childcare facilities and public transport.

The list includes:

Health and social care

All NHS staff, including administrative and cleaning workers. Frontline health and social care staff such as doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, plus support and specialist staff in the health and social care sector.

In addition it includes those working in supply chains including producers and distributors of medicines and personal protective equipment.

Education and childcare

Nursery, teachers – including teaching assistants – and social workers.

Food and other necessary goods

Food chain workers, including those involved in production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery of goods.

Key public services

Postal workers, those required to run the justice system, religious staff, and those responsible for managing the deceased, and journalists providing public service broadcasting.

Local and national government

Local and national government workers in admin roles “essential to the effective delivery” of the Covid-19 response or delivering essential public services, including payment of benefits.

Utility workers

Staff needed to keep oil, gas, electricity, water and sewerage operations running. Staff in the civil nuclear, chemical and telecommunications sectors. Those in postal services and those working to provide essential financial services.

Public safety and national security

Police and support staff, Ministry of Defence civilian staff and armed forces personnel, fire and rescue staff, and workers responsible for border security, prisons and probation.

Transport

Those keeping air, water, road, and rail passenger and freight transport modes operating.

A full list if key workers can be found at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-maintaining-educational-provision/guidance-for-schools-colleges-and-local-authorities-on-maintaining-educational-provision

UK lay-off and short-time working provisions

What you should do if an employee is absent or infected?

The Government guidance is clear that wherever possible, businesses and workplaces should encourage their employees to work at home to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Where an employee or worker becomes unwell with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature, they should be sent home and advised to follow the advice to stay at home.  The NHS guidance stipulates that individuals need to self-isolate for 7 days.

If, after 7 days:

  • you do not have a high temperature, you do not need to self-isolate
  • you still have a high temperature, keep self-isolating until your temperature returns to normal

You do not need to self-isolate if you just have a cough after 7 days. A cough can last for several weeks after the infection has gone.

If you live with someone who has symptoms

Individuals living with someone who has symptoms need to self-isolate for 14 days from the day their symptoms started. This is because it can take 14 days for symptoms to appear.

If more than 1 person at home has symptoms, self-isolate for 14 days from the day the first person started having symptoms.

If you get symptoms, self-isolate for 7 days from when your symptoms start, even if it means you’re self-isolating for longer than 14 days.

If you do not get symptoms, you can stop self-isolating after 14 days.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/guidance-for-employers-and-businesses-on-coronavirus-covid-19

Sick Pay

Where employees are self-isolating they must follow their workplace’s usual sickness reporting process.  Employees can ‘self-certify’ for the first 7 days of sickness. This means following workplace procedure without needing to get a note from a doctor or NHS 111.

Those self-isolating due to coronavirus for more than 7 days can get an online self-isolation note using one of the following methods if required:

  • NHS website
  • NHS mobile phone app – for those registered with a GP in England
  • NHS Direct Wales – use the coronavirus symptom checker

For employees or workers absent due to sickness, by law employers must pay Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) provided the eligibility criteria is met.  This includes:

  • Where an employee or worker has been off sick for at least 4 days in a row, including non-working days
  • Where an employee or worker earns on average at least £118 a week (£120 a week from 6 April 2020), before tax
  • Where an employee or worker told their employer within any deadline the employer has set or within 7 days

Agency, casual and zero-hours workers can get SSP if they meet the eligibility conditions.

Any entitlement to sick pay over and above SSP would usually have been notified in writing.

  • Immigration implications for UK employers

Resources:

Please find relevant guidance from the UK government as well as the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/guidance-for-employers-and-businesses-on-covid-19)

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/advice-for-travellers/

https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus

If you would like to discuss any of the topics raised in the above article, please call us on +44 (0)20 7936 8888, email on enquiries@lawstep.co.uk or contact a member of the team below.

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