New Challenges for Employers
September is seeing a return to school for children. September 1st also saw the first reduction in the Government contribution for furloughed employees (The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme or CJRS). A further reduction is due in October.
The combination of these factors is likely to mean a higher rate of return to workplaces by furloughed employees.
Whilst this is positive, it also creates a new set of challenges for employers. This blog considers the changes and challenges and offers practical guidance to employers.
From 1st September 2020 employers will be required to pay 10% of furloughed employees’ wages (as well as employer National Insurance and pension contributions). The Government will pay the other 70% to bring the pay up to the 80% that furloughed employees are entitled to.
From 1st October 2020, the Government contribution will reduce to 60% of wages, with employers to pay 20%.
- Tough Decisions
The reduction in government contribution means higher wage costs for employers, who might be struggling. Some will have to make decisions as to whether they can afford to bring all employees back from furlough, and whether unfortunately, redundancies need to be considered. You should obtain legal advice from the early stages of any redundancy procedures to ensure you comply with the correct procedures, and about redundancies for those still on furlough. See also our August blog here.
- The Reluctant Returner and a safe workplace
People have reacted to furlough in different ways. At one end of the spectrum are those that have felt excluded, and keen to return. At the other end are those quite happy to have received their 80% wages without being required to work. The latter might be among the reluctant returners. They may be out of practice or feel out of the loop. They might need training/re-training. They might have been designated clinically vulnerable or otherwise have health fears about the workplace or using public transport. Employers have health and safety duties to make the workplace safe and they have a duty of trust and confidence to their employees. This has not changed although there are currently additional measures to comply with COVID-19 guidelines. The Government has a range of guides tailored to different work environments, found here. From a practical point of view, employers can take steps to reassure employees and give them the confidence to return, by letting them know in advance about the new-look workplace and new measures. As regards the commute, the employer is not legally responsible for the health and safety of their employee on the journey to work. However, in practical terms, employers can increase confidence and assist with the issue of the journey to work by taking steps such as introducing the Cycle to Work Scheme, allowing staggered start and finish times to avoid peak travel times, or having a rota so that some work at home while others are in the office, freeing up more parking spaces. Our May 2020 blog on this topic also has some useful pointers.
- Childcare Responsibilities
Although schools have returned, children might need to be collected from school at short notice if a COVID-19 case is identified in their school “bubble”. Do employers have to allow time off for this? There is a statutory right to (unpaid) time off for family and dependents that would probably cover a short-notice situation such as this until the employee was able to make other arrangements. In these exceptional times, employers may also wish to use their discretion as to how they respond.
The return could well see a spike in new cases of COVID-19. The usual sickness absence rules and the employer’s sickness absence policy will apply to those who are sick, but there are complications arising from those who are well but are having to self-isolate if a family member has tested positive. If the employee who has returned from Furlough but then has to self-isolate cannot work from home, how should this be treated by the employer? Employees in self-isolation should follow their workplace’s usual sickness reporting process. They can self-certify for the first 7 days but after that will need a self-isolation note, which they can get online from the NHS website or NHS app.
Back to school and the end of summer, even during Coronavirus, has meant holidaymakers returning from abroad and having to quarantine. It is possible that employees who expected to return from furlough are unable to do so because they are quarantined. In this scenario, if they are not sick they are not entitled to statutory sick pay, and if they have not been contacted by track and trace and told to isolate, they are not entitled to a self-isolation note. Some workplace policies might deal with this scenario, but many will not. An employer could require the employee to take annual leave to cover their quarantine period if they are unable to work from home, or agree it is taken as unpaid leave. You should seek advice. For future travel, it may be sensible to make clear to employees your policy upon quarantine and travel and how this would be treated.
We cannot begin to cover all the challenges here that employers will continue to face during the return to schools and workplaces. Please get in touch if in doubt. For advice on any aspect of employment law, and for details of our Watertight HR & Legal package contact us today.