Coronavirus Guidance for Employers 

How We Can Help 

Advise on your rights as an employer or employee, including issues around holiday leave, implementing government support schemes and changes to employment contracts 
Help update your policies, including working from home 
Ensure redundancies are fair and legal 
Advise on issues around Self-Isolation and Statutory Sick Pay 
Advise on whether whistleblowing protections apply in your situation 
Draft or advise on settlement agreements 
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 advice. Many decisions will depend on your particular circumstances and employment contract, and so we would need to know more about your individual situation to give legal advice. 
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Job support schemes 

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (Furlough) 

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, better known as Furlough Leave, was due to end on 31st October. It has now been extended until September 2021. 
 
The Government will resume payments of 80% of employees' usual salary, up to £2,500 (previously this support had been reduced). Employers will not need to make contributions towards employees' wages for the hours they haven't worked, but will continue to pay National insurance and pension contributions for hours not worked.  
 
The scheme maintains the flexibility for employees to work part time, paid as normal by their employer, while being furloughed for their remaining hours. There are no requirements on the number of hours to be worked, or the shift pattern worked.  
 
Employees do not need to have been placed on the scheme previously in order to make use of it now.  

The Job Support Scheme 

The Job Support Scheme was initially scheduled to replace Furlough in October 2020, and last until April 2021.  
 
The scheme was split into two streams - open, for businesses legally permitted to open but facing reduced demand, and closed, for businesses legally required to close.  
 
With the Job Retention Scheme extended until September 2021, it remains to be seen whether the Job Support Scheme will be revived after furlough.  

What other measures are there to help businesses? 

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 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 Working Time Regulations 

Amendments to the Working Time Regulations will allow employees to carry leave over to use in the next two years if they have not been able to take it due to COVID-19. 
 
The Working Time (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 will allow employees to carry up to four weeks of unused leave into the next two years. Businesses usually face penalties for failing to encourage staff to take this time, but these will be relaxed for 2020. 
 
Whether the remaining eight days may be carried over still depends upon the agreement between the employer and employee. If parties agree to carrying these days over, they may only be carried forward one year. 
 
These regulations give businesses the flexibility to manage their staffing levels while protecting workers holiday rights. This is particularly important for businesses delivering key goods and services throughout the epidemic, who cannot spare staff while demand is high.  

Employees in Self-Isolation 

Employers who force or allow staff (including agency workers) to come into the workplace when they should be self-isolating will face fines of between £1,000 and £10,000. Even where an employer is not forcing the employee to come to work, simply allowing them to come into the workplace is an offence, and it is therefore important that employers take proactive action. 
 
Employees legally must inform their employer when they are told to self-isolate, as soon as practicable and before they are next expected at the workplace. Employees who fail to do so could face a separate fine. 
 
This includes workers who have not tested positive themselves, but who live with somebody who has. 
 
A £500 support grant is available for people on low income who lose income while self-isolating. To be eligible, workers must be unable to work from home and in receipt of Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit, income-based Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit and/or Pension Credit. The grant will be paid on top of Statutory Sick Pay or benefits. 
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Reopening the Workplace 

The government is now recommending that people should work from home where they can. People who cannot work from home are expected to travel to work. 
 
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 imposes a legal duty on employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all employees at work, so far as reasonably practical. Employers must provide a safe work environment with adequate facilities and without risks to health. 
 
Employees may report breaches of safety guidelines to the local authority and the Health and Safety Executive. Employees who report concerns will be covered by Whistleblowing protection, and so cannot be penalised for reporting the failings. 
 
The Employment Rights Act 1996 provides that employees who reasonably believe they are at risk of serious or imminent danger at work can leave work and refuse to return while the danger persists. 

What if employees are still reluctant to return? 

Refusing to work without a good reason is generally a disciplinary matter. However, if the employee does have reasonable cause to believe they face serious danger they would be protected by legislation and possibly whistleblowing protection. In these circumstances, an employee may be able to claim for unfair dismissal without needing the minimum period of service and may be eligible for increased compensation. This would be a risky path to take unless employers are entirely satisfied that they have taken every measure to reduce the risk to staff. 

Guidance from the Health and Safety Executive 

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Risk assessments: Before opening you must carry out a COVID19 risk assessment, involving employees and trade unions where appropriate. Businesses with more than 50 employees must publish this assessment on their website. 
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Social distancing: Maintain a two-metre distance between people wherever possible. 
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Working hours: Help reduce the risks of commuting by allowing staff to travel at quieter times or providing additional parking so that staff can drive to work. 
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Insurance: Under the Employers Liability (Compulsory) Insurance Act 1969 you must be insured against liability for injury and disease and so should consider the effect of coronavirus on your insurance. 
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Vulnerable employees: Consider the additional risk to certain groups of people, including pregnant women, older people, and those with existing conditions. Failure to keep these employees safe could lead to age, sex, or disability discrimination claims. 
The government has also released detailed guidance by industry
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Employment Tribunals 

Most tribunals are now operating remotely. 
 
There is currently a backlog of cases waiting to reach the tribunal, not helped by lockdown measures. The number of cases heading to the tribunal is likely to increase as more businesses plan to make changes to their workforce. 
 
Several changes are being made to help the tribunal work through the backlog more quickly. These changes include: 
 
More cases being heard virtually 
Non-employment judges hearing cases, where certain criteria are met 
Relieving judges’ workload by allowing legal officers to carry out some administrative work 
Allowing multiple claimants and respondents to use the same forms, where reasonable 
 
We can help you navigate these changes. 
 
Visit the gov.uk courts and tribunal tracker for up to date lists of the status of each court. 
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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. 
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Phone: 0121 817 0520 
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Address: Spencer Shaw Solicitors Limited 
St Mary's House, 68 Harborne Park Road,  
Harborne, Birmingham, B17 0DH 
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Saturday, Sunday & Bank Holidays - Closed 
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