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24 March 2020

Catch me answering these questions live on Tracy Heatley's "Mind Your Own Business" radio show - listen again via this link, or if you want to read for yourself what the top 3 employment related questions I've been asked about this week during the coronavirus pandemic crisis are - read on:

1. What is furloughed status (this relates to the 80% payment scheme that the Government announced on Friday)?

The scheme, which has been termed the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was announced by the government on Friday 20th March and is open to all UK businesses. The employers who go into these measures will then be able to recover 80% of the wage costs for employees being placed on ‘furlough leave’. They can top the payment up to 100%, but that is voluntary.

The term “furlough” has come over from the States and a lot of the detail surrounding the scheme is still unknown. However it has been introduced as an alternative for employers who might have otherwise implemented redundancies, lay-off, unpaid leave, short-time working or other measures for their employees. I heard Martin Lewis of Money Saving Expert describing it as putting employees into standby mode, like you would with your TV, without switching it fully off and I thought that was quite a good analogy.

The scheme will be available for at least three months from 1 March 2020 and will be extended by the government if necessary.

The absolutely critical thing for employers is that you need to look at the provisions in your employment contracts before taking action so it is essential you speak to your HR adviser or your Employment Law Solicitor to avoid any potential ‘breach of contract’ claims later down the line. Those employers without properly drafted lay-off clauses must get employees written consent to being put into furloughed status.

2. Do I need to pay Sick Pay if some-one is self-isolating?

The short answer to this one is yes, and you need to pay it in line with your contracts of employment. So if the contract states employees get Company Sick Pay, you should pay that (providing it has not been exhausted through other sickness absences); and if you pay Statutory Sick Pay (or SSP), again provided it hasn’t been exhausted through other sickness absences you would pay that.

Employers need to remember that the Government announced the SSP for people self-isolating under Government advice, so that is whether it’s for them or because they live with someone who has symptoms, that it is payable from day one and employers with less than 250 staff will be able to reclaim up to 14 days SSP from the Government.

3. I don’t understand whether my work is classed as essential or not

I’ve had this question raised a few times today. The key thing as we stand right now is, and bearing in mind we’re seeing a picture that’s changing on a daily basis, that a number of what’s classed as none essential Retail and public premises have been ordered to close. The full list of these has been published online on the Government website, but it is still confusing for people.

For example, the Government’s own information says that all non-essential premises must now close but that “online retail is still open and encouraged” and postal and delivery services will run as normal. So, that causes confusion for people who work for online retailers, as I would say for now, they can go into work, providing they comply with the government guidance around distancing and increased hygiene measures.

Therefore, my understanding is that, if there is essential work that needs to be done (ie to service any remaining client orders or they work in one of the areas that are deemed essential) then, providing people are observing the distancing and hygiene rules, then can remain in work, for now.

In fact, I’ve seen just this evening that Health Secretary Matt Hancock said today that "where people absolutely cannot work from home they can go still go to work, indeed it's important that they do to keep the country running".  See the BBC news story here


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