Advice for businesses during the current virus outbreak – Dianne Hughes FCIPD, ACC. Executive coach, HR professional
My own health warning! These are unprecedented and exceptional times. As information, guidance and legal decisions emerge, the details lag behind and being clarified on a daily basis. This update is written in an attempt to simplify and headline changes for employers. Wider information is available from www.gov.uk
My source is the government website, the CIPD and ACAS, along with using my professional experience and the significant collective knowledge from my HR network all working within differing organisations
My advice today is:
- Document your decision making
- Keep employees informed
- If you are challenged in a decision, listen and ask yourself “am I being reasonable, will I be able to justify my decision in the future? You cannot be criticised for listening, responding and indeed changing your mind if that is the right thing to do.
- Read the new section 8 FAQ’s
If you have questions not addressed here, then do call me
1 Working from home NO CHANGE
Where work can be done at home, you can:
- ask staff who have work laptops or mobile phones to take them home so they can carry on working
- arrange paperwork tasks that can be done at home for staff who do not work on computers
- Employees will continue to be paid as they are working
School closures NO CHANGE
- As schools are now closed employers can expect there to be some disruption to a person’s ability to work as normal, depending on the child’s age.
- Potentially, many may be able to work from home although health and safety of the children and the employee have to be considered. The employee could continue to be productive by working outside of usual working hours.
- Alternatively, some may choose to take this time off as holiday so normal processes and pay apply. If an employee is unable to work from home, this could be granted as emergency time off or unpaid parental leave.
2 Lay-offs and short-time working NO CHANGE BUT READ FAQ SECTION
In some situations, you may need close down your business for a short time or ask staff to reduce their contracted hours. The Government will fund 80% of basic pay up to a maximum of £2,500 per month
What are your options?
- If you have written into your contract that you are able to reduce pay during such times then you can proceed to place people on ‘furlough’ by simply advising that this is the case and putting it in writing; a sample letter ‘A’ can be found at the end of this update.
- If your T&C’s do not allow for this then it is not permissible to just reduce pay, however you are able to talk to your employees and explain that accepting 80% of pay is a reasonable option to accept rather than face potential redundancy (if your business will not survive without making such cuts). Letter ‘B’ is attached that can be sent AFTER a conversation.
- There’s no limit for how long an employee can be laid off or put on short time. They could apply for redundancy and claim redundancy pay if it lasts for:
- 4 weeks in a row
- 6 weeks in a 13-week period
- A note on redundancy: if you believed the company may be at risk of going out of business completely then you may decide to reorganise work and place employees under consultation with their jobs at risk.
- You cannot place an employee on furlough and then provide work to top up their pay. They are either furloughed or you pay them as normal to allow them to work.
- You could consider reducing the hours and reducing pay to allow them to work (but you cannot then claim the government support). This advice is based upon the government information that says to employees:
If your employer cannot cover staff costs due to COVID-19, they may be able to access support to continue paying part of your wage, to avoid redundancies.
If your employer intends to access the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, they will discuss with you becoming classified as a furloughed worker. This would mean that you are kept on your employer’s payroll, rather than being laid off.
To qualify for this scheme, you should not undertake work for them while you are furloughed. This will allow your employer to claim a grant of up to 80% of your wage for all employment costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month.
You will remain employed while furloughed. Your employer could choose to fund the differences between this payment and your salary but does not have to.
If your salary is reduced as a result of these changes, you may be eligible for support through the welfare system, including Universal Credit.
We intend for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to run for at least 3 months from 1 March 2020 but will extend if necessary.
- You can also place someone on furlough for a period of time and then take them off furlough and pay them as normal for another period of time.
3 Closing the workplace temporarily NO CHANGE
If you need to close temporarily then contractual employees must still be paid but take note of the advice above.
4 Taking time off to look after dependents NO CHANGE
Employees are entitled to time off work to help someone who depends on them (a ‘dependant’) in an unexpected event or emergency. This would apply to situations to do with coronavirus. For example:
- if they have children they need to look after or arrange childcare for because their school has closed
- to help their child or another dependant if they’re sick, or need to go into isolation or hospital
There’s no statutory right to pay for this time off, but some employers might offer pay depending on the contract or workplace policy.
The amount of time off an employee takes to look after someone must be reasonable for the situation. For example, they might take 2 days off to start with, and if more time is needed, they can book holiday.
As a last resort they remain as an employee but take unpaid leave. You are not at this stage placing them on furlough, they are not attending work.
5 Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for self-isolation NO CHANGE
Many people will need to self-isolate based on official guidance.
The Government has announced a range of new measures around SSP. If employees or workers needs to self-isolate, they are entitled to SSP. This includes individuals who have been told to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111, those who have COVID-19, or who have the symptoms, or if someone in their household has symptoms. It also applies to people caring for those in the same household who display COVID-19 symptoms and have been told to self-isolate. If someone has symptoms, everyone in their household must self-isolate for 14 days. If someone lives alone, they must self-isolate for seven days.
The Government has also announced that Statutory Sick Pay will be made available from day one (instead of from day four) for those affected by coronavirus when self-isolating. These provisions will become law in the forthcoming COVID-19 Bill.
The Budget also announced measures whereby employers with less than 250 employees can claim a refund for COVID-19 related SSP costs (up to two weeks per employee).
Medical evidence for SSP
Employees can currently self-certify for the first seven days, and Government advice is that employers should use discretion around the need for medical evidence for absence where an employee is advised to self-isolate in the current exceptional circumstances.
In the 11 March Budget, the Government announced it will introduce a temporary alternative to the current fit note in the coming weeks for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak whereby those in self-isolation can obtain a notification via NHS 111 to use as evidence for absence from work.
An alternative option to providing sick pay is to allow people who are asked to self-isolate, but are not unwell, to work from home wherever possible, and continue to pay as normal.
6 Communication NO CHANGE
Reassure employees and keep them well informed about your policies and contingency plans. Make sure everyone, including managers, understands which sick pay and leave policies apply and how these will be implemented. Actively communicate this advice with your people, customers and suppliers.
Think about your internal communication strategy so that employees are aware of measures being taken to manage the situation in your organisation. Understand that some people may have real concerns about catching the virus, while others may have worries about family or friends stranded in an affected area or in a higher-risk group. It’s important to strike the balance between your organisation and its people being prepared for the significant spread of the virus whilst reassuring people that there is no need to panic.
Ensure that line managers are regularly informed about the organisation’s contingency plans and how to discuss the situation with any concerned employees, and where to signpost people to for further advice or support, including employee assistance programmes and/or counselling if they are anxious.
Promote any resources you have available to support people’s health and well-being generally. If large numbers of people are now working from home in line with government advice, provide ongoing support and communications. Employees may start to feel isolated and/or anxious about the situation. Listen to their concerns and take care of their mental well-being.
The mental health charity Mind has published guidance on coronavirus and well-being.
7 Business Continuity Planning NO CHANGE
You are best placed to manage your business but please think now about succession if one of you as a senior leader becomes unwell: who takes over what? Do they have access to files they will need etc?
Without wanting to be alarmist, senior managers need to think of their response should the worst happen and one of your employees becomes seriously ill or worse. Its important to know if there is death in service insurance in place, possibly through the pension scheme. It’s vital to agree who would be the appointed family liaison person.
I understand this is something none of us want to think about however being prepared for this as a real possibility is essential; such an event would have an effect on everyone.
8 Frequently asked questions (FAQ) NEW
We confirm that you are laid off with effect from DATE which means you will be treated as a “furloughed worker” from that date and until further notice. Under the government scheme, you will be paid 80% of your normal basic pay up to a limit of £2,500 per month. That will be paid through the payroll in the usual way.
Please remain available during this time in case we are in a position to return you to normal duties.
If you have any questions, please contact NAME .
I refer to my meeting with you today, during which we discussed the Company’s proposal to lay you off due to a temporary cessation of work available for you to do. This has been caused by the Coronavirus outbreak.
We propose that the lay-off will take effect from XXXXX and you will be treated as a “Furloughed Worker” from that date and until further notice. Under the Government scheme, you will be paid 80% of your normal basic pay up to a limit of £2,500 per month. That will be paid through the payroll in the usual way.
You should remain available for work and we will let you know when we need you to return to work.
The date when the lay-off arrangement will come to an end depends on several external factors, so this estimated date is subject to change. If you agree to the lay-off arrangement we have proposed, we will keep the position under review, and continue to keep you updated.
Please complete the attached acceptance slip and return it to me to confirm that you are willing to accept the lay-off arrangement that we have proposed.
I consent to the lay-off arrangement proposed in your letter dated XXXXX and agree to be a “Furloughed Worker”