The business landscape is changing as more sectors look at returning to work in the safest way possible. The next phase of the CJRS scheme has been announced and Government guidance has been issued for 8 specific sectors. We look at procedures businesses should be considering before opening up. Here’s a link to our short video on Risk Assessments.
The CJRS will now continue until 31 October 2020, with the level of grant to be tapered during this period. The Chancellor provided further details on Friday 29 May 2020. This includes:
- Wednesday 10 June 2020 is the last day that employers can place new employees on furlough.
- Furloughed employees being able to return to work on a part-time basis from 1 July 2020. To be eligible, staff must have been furloughed by 10 June 2020. Individual firms will decide the hours and shift patterns their employees will work on their return, so that they can decide on the best approach for them. Employersw ill be responsible for paying 100% of twages while and employee is in work i.e. if one of your furloughed employees worked for two days in the week beginning 6 July 2020, you would pay this employee 100% of their wages for these two days, and for the remaining three days you could claim 80% of their wages under the CJRS.
- The government continuing to pay 80% (subject to the £2,500 cap) of people’s salaries for June and July, including employer national insurance contributions (ER NICS) and pension contributions i.e. you can carry on applying for grants from the government for 80% of any furloughed employees’ monthly salaries (subject to the £2,500 cap) until this time.
- August: The government will pay 80% of wages up to a cap of £2,500. Employers will pay ER NICs and pension contributions.
- September: The government will pay 70% of wages up to a cap of £2,187.50. Employers will pay ER NICs and pension contributions and 10% of wages to make up 80% total (up to the £2,500 cap).
- October: The government will pay 60% of wages up to a cap of £1,875. Employers will pay ER NICs and pension contributions and 20% of wages to make up 80% total (up to the £2,500 cap).
- The cap on the furlough grant will be proportional to the hours not worked. Employers will be required to submit data on the usual hours an employee would be expected to work in a claim period and actual hours worked. Employees who believe they are not getting their 80% wages can also report any concerns to the HMRC fraud hotline. HMRC will not hesitate to take action against those found to be abusing the scheme.
These changes will allow for a phased return to work, which will hopefully provide a boost to businesses to reopen in a measured way and to minimise redundancies. However, we appreciate that this is difficult for small businesses. You should consider your options, including whether extending furlough until July is appropriate and (although we do not yet have all of the detail) how you may be able to transition in August and what your business needs might be. As with any contractual variations, you will also need to obtain individual consents from employees in order to change their hours of work to part-time.
It may also be necessary for original furlough agreements to be amended by a side letter, or for a fresh furlough agreement to be entered into, which permits the employee to work during furlough on a flexible basis and deals with the circumstances in which the employer can require the employee to work.
The prospect of a phased return is particularly difficult for those of you in industries with restrictions remaining, for example hospitality, leisure and retail. It is possible that there may be exemptions for employers in sectors which have not yet been allowed to start trading at the time when employers are expected to start making contributions towards pay. At present there is only speculation in this area and we will keep you updated as and when developments occur.
If you have already begun a redundancy process and/or you are considering this option as you make changes to the business, you are not obliged to keep your employees on furlough until the end of July. However, you will need to show that this is reasonable and we would urge you to take legal advice before doing so. As always, we are here to help you test your decision making and help to devise appropriate procedures.
Working from home
With “work from home whenever you can” being the key message, as a director and as an employer you will need to think about what this means for your business and workforce. You will need to reconsider whether and to what extent you and your employees can work from home. All reasonable steps should be taken by employers to help people work from home by:
- discussing home working arrangements
- ensuring they have the right equipment, for example remote access to work systems
- including team members in all necessary communications
- looking after their physical and mental wellbeing
Covid-19 secure working: health and safety
For those who cannot work from home and whose workplace has not been told to close, the government’s message is: you should go to work.
As an employer you have a duty to protect the health and safety of your employees. Whether you are preparing to return to work now or in subsequent months, this will have significant health and safety implications. You need to be prepared and so do your employees.
The new guidance imposes an obligation to consult with employees regarding your return to work health and safety risk assessment if you have more than 50 employees. If you fall beneath this threshold it is still advisable to consult with your employees. The more you communicate with your employees, they less anxious they are likely to feel about returning to work physically and the more likely they are to accept your instructions. You must:
- Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment, in consultation with workers, or trade unions where appropriate. You should ensure that your risk assessment is in line with Health and Safety Executive guidance. It is also important to conduct surveys with employees to get their input on perceived risks and areas of concern.
- Share the results of the risk assessment. Businesses with over 50 employees must publish the results and those with less than 50 are expected to do so where possible. We would advise all employers to share the results with your workforce.
- Establish what guidelines to put in place and what steps need to be taken, to protect against the risk identified.
- Cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures should be in place, in line with guidance. This includes, for example, more frequent cleaning, paying close attention to high-contact objects like door handles and keyboards, providing handwashing facilities or hand sanitisers at entry and exit points and hand sanitiser around the workplace. You should also actively encourage people to follow the guidance on handwashing on hygiene.
- Employers should re-design workspaces to maintain two metre distances between people. For example, by staggering start times, creating one-way walk-throughs, opening more entrances and exits, or changing seating layouts in break rooms, putting up signs to remind workers and visitors of social distancing guidance, using floor tape or paint to mark areas and seeing visitors by appointment only if possible.
- Where people cannot be two metres apart, manage transmission risk, for example by looking into putting barriers in shared spaces, creating workplace shift patterns or fixed teams minimising the number of people in contact with one another, or ensuring colleagues are facing away from each other.
- Then, having set up, make sure that it is working (i.e. eliminating or limiting the risk identified). It is an ongoing process, not a one-off tick box exercise. You must keep the risk and measures under continuous review.
Importantly, the guidance sits within health and safety legislation. This framework of legislation contains more stringent requirements than the guidance and you must ensure that you comply with this, not just the COVID-19 guidance. If you are unsure of your wider obligations, please speak to us or a health and safety adviser.
Industry specific guidance
The Government, in consultation with industry, has produced guidance to help employers, employees and the self-employed understand how to work safely. There are eight guides covering a range of different types of work:
- Construction and other outdoor work. (Guidance for people who work in or run outdoor working environments.)
- Factories, plants and warehouses. (Guidance for people who work in or run factories, plants and warehouses.)
- Labs and research facilities. (Guidance for people who work in or run indoor labs and research facilities and similar environments.)
- Offices and contact centres. (Guidance for people who work in or run offices, contact centres and similar indoor environments.)
- Other people’s homes. (Guidance for people working in, visiting or delivering to other people’s homes.)
- Restaurants offering takeaway or delivery. (Guidance for people who work in or run restaurants offering takeaway or delivery services.)
- Shops and branches. (Guidance for people who work in or run shops, branches, stores or similar environments.)
- Vehicles. (Guidance for people who work in or from vehicles, including couriers, mobile workers, lorry drivers, on-site transit and work vehicles, field forces and similar.)
Each guide covers practical considerations, including: thinking about and managing risk; who should go to work; social distancing at work, cleaning, PPE, managing your workforce, customers, visitors, and inbound and outbound goods. The guidance breaks down steps/actions and the objective behind these. For example, the objective for shift patterns and working groups (as part of workforce management), is to change the way work is organised and create distinct groups and reduce the number of contacts each worker has.
If you operate more than one type of a workplace – e.g. an office, factory, store and delivery vehicles – you should refer to more than one of the guides as appropriate.
They serve as helpful basis points for you to translate to the specific actions that you need to take for your business. However, you should always be mindful that the guidance does not supersede Health and Safety legislation, nor is it as detailed. You should always refer to your Health and Safety obligations and seek advice if you are unsure or want to test your risk assessments and decision making.
As the lockdown measures ease and the government prepares for a gradual return to business, things are moving increasingly quickly. If you have any questions at all, you can contact us via 020 3709 9670 or firstname.lastname@example.org