Lockdown 3: An essential reminder for businesses as COVID restrictions bite once more
As the country is plunged into another lockdown the Head of our Employment team, Teresa Thomas, offers a reminder to business owners of their workplace and employee responsibilities, as well as the Government support available to them in these unprecedented times:
Furlough, a reminder: With lockdown 3 here I anticipate that many businesses will need to place more staff on furlough leave. As I am sure most of you know, this financial intervention from government has now been extended until the end of April to ensure your workers are given 80 per cent of their salary, up to a maximum of £2,500, and kept on the payroll. The employee must have been on your PAYE payroll by 23:59 on 30 October 2020. Legally, if you place someone on furlough it means your employee cannot undertake any work for the business or an associated employer, but they are able to undertake some training.
If you still need some work to be undertaken, then consider utilising flexible furlough. The Government’s guidance is clearly explained if you follow the link below, outlining the do’s and do nots of the furlough scheme, covering such topics as apprenticeships and furlough, employees on fixed term contracts, holidays, and employees’ furlough requests due to childcare issues. If you have remaining outstanding queries, our team here will be happy to advise you.
Redundancies during furlough and lockdown: As has been the case over the last 10 months, employers continue to face extremely challenging times and for those whose structures must change, redundancies may now be inevitable. Whether your employees are furloughed or not, the redundancy rules remain unchanged. A fair process and selection must take place for employers to avoid being on the wrong end of unfair dismissal claims. One important point to note is that employees under notice (whether made redundant or them having resigned) cannot be placed on furlough, they need to be paid in full for this period.
Discrimination risk: Employers need to be aware that just because a worker does not fall within the prescribed list of clinically extremely vulnerable or vulnerable people, it does not mean that they are not disabled under the Equality Act 2010. If they fall under the Equality Act then they will have a wide degree of protection if they are treated unfavourably, for example, by not paying them when they self-isolate, or dismissing them for unauthorised absence. Each case will need to be considered on its facts, so please seek advice from the team before making decisions in relation to employees with disabilities.
Keeping employees safe at work: For employees who cannot work from home, employers must continue to ensure the workplace environment is as risk-free as possible, steps include the carrying out a COVID-19 risk assessment, and guidelines on this can be found at https://www.hse.gov.uk/coronavirus/working-safely/index.htm
There will be many of you who originally did this back in March. Such employers may well wish to consider repeating it as measures may well have slipped. Those who are working from home should be assisted to do so and again, it would be prudent to ensure regular conversations with any home-workers to ensure they are happy and do not require any further help.
With restrictions continuing over such a long period, there is a risk of employees and even employers taking their ‘eye off the ball’ with regards to the necessary procedures. Ensure there are regular checks and balances and keep everyone updated. A handy checklist may include:
- Extra checks on any ‘vulnerable group’ employees
- Do you have updated contacts lists?
- Are those in managerial positions fully versed and updated on COVID-related HR issues?
- Focus on your employees’ mental wellbeing. Unfortunately, we are not blessed with good weather during this lockdown.
As we move through this latest lockdown and the likelihood for further challenges into 2021, businesses may well need to respond quickly and in a variety of different ways. In response to that need, Wilkin Chapman has Adapt HR. This bespoke employment law and HR advice line provides cost-effective legal advice 24/7 for a fixed annual fee. It also allows businesses to tailor the service to their requirements, by adding valuable bespoke services such as targeted training for either owners or managers.
For more on that, or any other assistance, Teresa can be contacted on 01472 262637 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.