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Archive for the ‘covid-19’ Category

10 Questions Employers are asking about Furlough

In covid-19, Uncategorized on June 7, 2021 at 12:14 pm

If you still have employees furloughed under the scheme, now is the time to start planning for the future. Here are the top questions employers are asking:

1. How is the grant available under the JRS changing?

From 1 July 2021, the Government grant will reduce to 70% of furloughed employees’ wage costs for unworked hours. Pay for furloughed employees must remain at a minimum of 80% which means that employers must contribute 10% from their own pocket.

From 1 August 2021 until the closure of the JRS, the Government grant will reduce to 60% of furloughed employees’ wage costs for unworked hours. Employer contributions will therefore increase to 20%.

This means that from July 2021, employers will have to cover a portion of the employee’s actual wages, as well as the national insurance and pension contributions that they have been liable for for some months now.

2. When do I want my employees to return to work?

If there is work available for the employee to do, then you can get them back into the workplace as soon as possible. It should be remembered that there will be additional costs to the employer for keeping an employee on the JRS from 1st July 2021, so this may also be a factor in making your decision

3. How much notice must be given about a return to work?

There is no minimum notice period required for returning from furlough, but it is advisable for employers to talk to staff about any plans to end furlough as early as possible and address any concerns or problems there may be. Should you have any employees who are returning from abroad, consideration should also be given to allowing for any quarantine periods that may be necessary before their return.

4. What do you do if your employee has Health and Safety concerns about returning?

You may want to consider informing employees what health and safety steps you have taken to make the work-place safe. You can give them a copy of the risk assessment if required (An example risk assessment is available on our website)

Note that there is new legislation that means workers (as well as employees) cannot be subjected to a detriment by their employer for leaving or refusing to return to their workplace or for taking steps to protect themselves in circumstances of danger which the workers reasonably believe to be serious and imminent.

These rights are contained in a piece of legislation which comes into force on 31 May 2021 and the full text of which can be found at: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2021/618/pdfs/uksi_20210618_en.pdf

5. Do I need to confirm the end of Furlough Leave in writing?

You should confirm to the employee in writing the end of the furlough leave period. This letter is required as a record for your audit trail for HMRC. A template letter for your use can be found on our website.

6. Can annual leave be taken at the same time as furlough and can holiday pay be claimed through the scheme?

Yes, but the employer must top up to 100% pay. It can be taken during both full and flexible furlough.

80% can be claimed through the scheme until the end of June 2021. From July 2021, employers can claim 70%; this drops to 60% in August and September. The remainder must be made up by the employer.

7. Can you enforce annual leave during furlough?

Yes. Government guidance confirms that employers can require a worker to take annual leave when on furlough.

8. What about shielding for clinically extremely vulnerable employees?

Shielding was paused in England and Wales from 1 April 2021 and in Scotland from 26 April 2021. However, guidance confirms that clinically extremely vulnerable individuals are still eligible for furlough even though shielding advice is not in place. It also confirms that there is no requirement for an organisation to be closed or experiencing a wider reduction in demand in order to furlough someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable.

9. Can I make someone redundant when they are on furlough?

Although the JRS is in place to try and avoid redundancies, it is inevitable that some businesses will assess that redundancies are required. The Government guidance confirms that employees can be made redundant while they are on furlough. Redundancy processes are still subject to the normal rules when carried out during furlough and, to prevent an unfair dismissal claim, reasonableness of the decision will be a key factor. This includes the financial position of the employer. As part of the process, employers should consider why furlough, with its ability to claim capped wages from the JRS, was not suitable in the circumstances.

10. Can I make a claim for wages payable during the statutory notice period?

No. This was permitted in the early stages of the JRS, however, guidance was subsequently amended to confirm that, for claim periods starting on or after 1 December 2020, a claim cannot be made for any days on or after that date during which the furloughed employee was serving a contractual or statutory notice period (this includes people serving notice of retirement or resignation).

If you have any further questions about the return to work procedure, or on the JRS in general, then please don’t hesitate to contact your consultant.

Making Flexible Working Work

In contracts, covid-19, family, Uncategorized on March 16, 2021 at 11:03 am

Flexible working arrangements are now helping to keep many businesses operational amidst restrictive coronavirus regulations. Many companies that once thought flexible working arrangements could not work for them, are now functioning with remote working and flexible working hours. The picture is very mixed. At one end of the spectrum Microsoft has decided that some jobs will no longer return to the office. This is diametrically opposed by Goldman Sachs saying that home worker is “a temporary aberration” that does not fit their dynamic interactive culture.
 
In our experience there is a place for homeworking. For the majority that is not full time but a portion of the working week. The “closed-minded” approach of an employer may now find some kickback!
 
This can include reduced stress to better engagement. It is recognised that employees able to achieve a work-life balance are more likely to be happier and more productive at work. It could be that it’s simply different working hours or some days working remotely. There are recruitment and retention benefits too. Opportunities for flexible working is likely to be a question from candidates in the future and some employees may start to seek out an employer who has a flexible working policy in place.
 
However, we suggest that now is the time for employers to assess potential benefits as part of the inevitable excess of re-examined job roles and functions upon return to the workplace post-Covid and in the foreseeable future.
 
There will be some compliance issues: working hours are subject to the Working Time Regulations. A change in location must be preceded by a health and safety risk assessment in respect of that workplace and equipment being used.
 
A foundation of trust is also needed for flexible working practices to be effective. For example, remote staff or out-of-hours working can mean less day-to-day visibility. Staff surveillance software is available, but this may undo all the good that flexible working can achieve and does not always make for a good relationship between the parties.
 
Also, consideration needs to be given to the impact of changing working procedures for some that can impact significantly on others, from employee workflow to client relations.
 
Just because a working pattern has been in place since lockdown, it is not necessarily the best thing for your business. It might be, but it might not. The sooner steps are taken to have those discussions the “returning” or “non-returning” workers the better! 
 
Changes that you agree to should improve and not hinder your business in the long run. If you wish to discuss how flexible working might work in your business, email us to book a flexible working strategy call. 

Covid-19 vaccination: What can an employer do if an employee refuses to have a vaccine?

In covid-19, Employment law, Equality on March 10, 2021 at 11:00 am

Most people will welcome the opportunity to be vaccinated against COVID-19, but there will be a minority who will be reluctant or refuse to have the vaccine. The reasons could be many and varied, including individuals who cannot have the vaccine (for example, on medical grounds), those who can have the vaccine but refuse (for example, on religious or spiritual grounds) and those who can have it but have concerns and are uncertain (for example, due to a fear of vaccinations generally).
 
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 obliges employers to take reasonable steps to reduce any workplace risks; this duty gives employers justification for encouraging their employees to be vaccinated to protect themselves and everyone else at the workplace. COVID-19 is also a reportable disease under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (known as RIDDOR) which strengthens employers’ encouragement that employees should agree to vaccination.
 
It may be prudent now for employers to begin planning for the wider rollout of the vaccine. Perhaps encourage concern staff with impartial, factual information or at least guide them towards it. Staff will need to be informed about the workplace controls measures and the impact and risks of COVID-19. Experience has shown that this needs to be repeated.
 
The press has reported that some employers want to make vaccination mandatory. One example Pimlico Plumbers (no strangers to the employment courts) stated that all new workers would have to receive or have received the vaccine. The phrase ‘no jab – no job’ was coined. Interviewed on Radio 5 the owner actually confirmed that he had no intention of firing anyone, or indeed enforcing the policy.
 
What we know for sure is that employers cannot forcibly vaccinate employees or potential employees. Mandatory vaccination is an intrusion on an employee’s body and would be an assault. More relevant in the workplace is forcing a vaccine may amount to indirect discrimination on the grounds of disability or religious or philosophical belief. Some employers would have a justification to act in that way, but this is not the answer in every case. The government has so far shown no intention of introducing legislation to make vaccines mandatory, but we may have to watch this space.
 
So, what if employees refuse vaccination? For the employer to discharge their health and safety duty, they may need to consider other steps. An employer could consider potential disciplinary proceedings for failure to follow a reasonable instruction in certain settings (such as health or care), but this approach is not without risk and any employer considering this should seek specific advice from us before doing so.
 
Can the employer insert a clause into the employment contracts for new employees? Existing employees can be asked to agree to a compulsory vaccination clause as a variation to their existing contracts of employment.  However, even if employees agree to vaccination in their original employment contract or a variation of it, employers still cannot physically enforce this as an individual’s consent is always required for any medical intervention. Employers enforcing a change without employees’ agreement would be in breach of contract and employees could resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal.
 
Failure to follow an employer’s reasonable instructions can lead to disciplinary processes and dismissal. Whether an instruction to have a COVID-19 vaccine is reasonable has not been tested in the tribunals and courts. As there is at least a risk of unfair dismissal, discrimination and other claims, employers should consider their position very carefully before moving towards disciplinary processes and dismissal. Being a test case as one of the first employers to dismiss on the grounds of vaccine refusal is likely to be time consuming and potentially expensive.
 
Every employment contract contains an implied term that employees must follow their employer’s reasonable instructions. Whether an instruction to be immunised is reasonable depends upon the facts of each case, for example the nature of the role, the numbers of clinically vulnerable colleagues, the size and layout and people contact in the workplace. For example, employers in a nursing home may be able to issue a reasonable instruction to employees to be vaccinated because refusal could put vulnerable people at risk. Employers in another sector such as accountancy, where it has been shown that work can be done effectively from home, may be in a weaker position and an instruction to be vaccinated may not be deemed reasonable.
 
This is clearly not an area without risk and organisations should ensure they have up to date risk assessments and policies in place. As always if you wish to discuss this topic further please contact your consultant.