Coronavirus - Frequently Asked Questions 

Guidance for Employers 

The current situation with Coronavirus COVID-19 is unprecedented. Both businesses and employees have been affected by advice on social distancing, and need to know their rights. The best outcome will be one that supports both employers and employees to survive through this difficult time.  
 
This page is only general guidance, not legal advice. Please be aware that the situation is changing rapidly as the government introduces new measures and updates it's advice. If you need specific legal advice please get in touch. Many decisions will depend on your particular circumstances, and so we would need to know more about your individual situation to give legal advice. 

How we are helping 

We are reducing our fees for advice related to Coronavirus by 30%, to try and help reduce any unexpected costs you face at this difficult time. We are only offering advice remotely to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. 
 

Government Measures 

Statutory Sick Pay 

The government has extended statutory sick pay (SSP) for absence due to Coronavirus to apply from the first day of absence. Statutory sick pay will now also be available for employees who are advised to self-isolate, as well as those who are ill.  
 
Businesses with less than 250 employees are able to reclaim two weeks’ sick pay paid to eligible employees. As with all statutory sick pay, the extended measures only apply to employees who earn an average of at least £118 per week. 
 
 

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (Furlough Leave) 

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will support companies by helping them pay employees who would otherwise be laid-off or made redundant. Employees subject to the scheme will be kept on their employer's payroll and will receive 80% of their wages. A worker must be furloughed for at least 3 weeks for their employer to be eligible to claim support, and must not undertake any work for the employer during this time. The scheme does not apply to workers whose hours are reduced, but who are still working part time. 
 
The scheme will back date pay to 1st March 2020. Employees taken on since 1st March 2020 are not eligible for furlough leave. Employers may re-employ staff who have been made redundant since 1st March and place them on furlough leave. 
 
If the employee’s contract of employment allows the employer to temporarily lay off the employee, then they may do so and access this support. Otherwise, both the employer and the employee must agree to the ‘furlough’ arrangement. It is likely many employees will agree given the economic climate, as the alternative is likely to be redundancy. 
 
HMRC will reimburse the employer 80% of the employee’s wages, up to £2,500 per month. Employees with variable earnings will be eligible for 80% of whichever amount is the higher, either their earnings for the same period last year or their average earnings for the last 12 months. If the employee has been with the employer for less than 12 months, they will receive 80% of their average earnings over their time with the employer. 
 
Employers may claim the cost of Employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment pension contributions. These amounts will be based on the lower of 80% salary or £2,500 per month, rather than the usual amount. Employers may choose to pay the remaining 20%. 
 
The scheme is currently in place for three months, from 1st March 2020, but may be extended if necessary. The system for informing HMRC and claiming reimbursements is still being developed. 
 
There is no requirement that the employment continue after furlough leave is concluded. However, the normal requirements and protections of redundancy apply during and after furlough leave. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Click on the questions to expand 
Under the Working Time Regulations 1998 an employer can require an employee to use his or her leave as the employer directs. This applies for all of the leave an employee is entitled to in a holiday year.  
 
Notice must be given, specifying the dates on which leave is to be taken. The notice given must be at least twice as many days as the holiday being imposed. For example, if you are enforcing five days of leave, then you must give at least ten days notice.  
A contract can be varied by agreement. If an employee agrees to a change in terms, amendment is possible. The agreement must be genuine, and not forced by improper means. 
 
Some contracts may contain variation clauses. The contract itself will detail if variation is possible, and if so to what extent. 
 
There is little direct authority on variation clauses in employment contracts. Courts scrutinise variation clauses to avoid oppressive results. Courts tend only to uphold clear variation clauses dealing with a particular issue, not widespread powers to fundamentally change the contract. 
There is no general right to lay off staff. The option must be contained in the contract of employment. If the contract does not allow for laying off staff, any attempt to do so will constitute a repudiation of contact and a dismissal. 
We would recommend having an honest discussion with employees to find a clear strategy to deal with the issues you are facing. Try to reach an agreement that is in the best interests of both employer and employee in the circumstances. It is in everyone's best interest that the business makes it through this period. 
Not as yet. But with the rapidly changing situation it is possible that new legislation impacting the employment relationship may be introduced quickly. 

Employment Tribunals 

All in-person hearings currently in progress or listed to commence on or before Friday 26th June 2020 (apart from those scheduled for London Central Employment Tribunal) will be converted to a case management hearing. These case management hearings will now take place remotely by telephone or video conference on the first day allocated for the full hearing. 
 
The parties will discuss and agree on how to proceed. In most cases, Tribunals are being encouraged to hear cases by video conference where possible. Applications for directions or postponements should be sent electronically, as judges may now also be working remotely. If the parties consent, tribunals scheduled to be heard by a panel of three may be heard by a panel of two. 
 
In person hearings listed to commence on or after the 29th June 2020 will remain listed for now as the situation is monitored. The situation will be reviewed on 29th April and 29th May. 

London (Central) Employment Tribunal  

London (Central) Employment Tribunal has closed temporarily and all hearings have been postponed. No in-person hearings will be taking place until, at the earliest, the end of June. Telephone have been cancelled up until Monday 30 March.  
 
We will update the information for hearings scheduled after 30th March when we have more information. 

Appeals 

The Employment Appeals Tribunal will not be conducting any hearings (including telephone or Skype hearings) from Wednesday, 25 March 2020 until Wednesday 15 April 2020. Any appeals lodged with the Employment Appeals Tribunal during this period can only be lodged by email. 
 
We will update on the plans for hearings after Wednesday 15th April as we hear more information.  

Get in touch 

Do you have a legal matter you'd like to discuss with us? Get in touch using the details below or use the form here and a member of our team will be in touch to discuss your enquiry. 
Phone: 0121 452 5130 
Address: Spencer Shaw Solicitors Limited 
Vancouver House, 111 Hagley Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham B16 8LB 
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