The big news this month is the further extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme announced in the Spring Budget on 3 March. Originally slated to close on 30 April 2021, CJRS will continue until 30 September 2021. The UK Government will continue to pay 80% of employees' wages for unworked hours, with the employer picking up the costs of NICs and employer pension contributions, until the end of June 2021. In July the employer will be required to contribute 10% to wages for unworked hours and in August and September that contribution increases to 20%. The employer remains responsible for the full costs of wages for worked hours.
The Employment Rights Act 1996 (Coronavirus, Calculation of a Week's Pay) Regulations 2020 ("the Week's Pay Regulations") were introduced in July 2020 to ensure that when calculating various statutory payments, including redundancy and notice pay, employers of furloughed employees used the individuals normal week's pay and not the lower furlough pay. Amendments were made in November 2020 to ensure these regulations continued to take effect until 31 March - the original date extended CJRS was due to close. The Employment Rights Act 1996 (Coronavirus, Calculation of a Week's Pay)(Amendment) Regulations 2021 will come into force on 31 March to continue the effect of the Week's Pay Regulations to mirror the extension of CJRS until 30 April 2021. If CJRS is extended into the summer we can expect further amending legislation to ensure this protection is continued.
Analysis of the 5,585 whistleblower reports received by the Health and Safety Executive ("HSE") since March 2020 has shown that almost half of them relate to employers failing to implement social distancing rules at work. Nearly one in ten of them complained about inadequate personal protective equipment. A quarter of the concerns about social distancing were raised in October and November, indicating that employers were struggling to adapt to a Covid secure environment several months into the pandemic. Experts have warned of the public health risks, as well as reputational damage, associated with non-compliance with the rules. HSE investigations can also result in enforcement notices, prosecutions and naming and shaming non-compliant organisations. The HSE has published guidance for employers on social distancing to make workplaces Covid secure.
Statistics published by HMRC on 28 January 2021 have revealed that, following the extension of the CJRS scheme at the end of October 2020, the number of employees on furlough increased by 1.3 million at the start of November to a peak of 4.1 million. This figure slightly reduced to 3.9 million at the end of November and dropped again slightly to 3.8 million at the end December. Unsurprisingly, the accommodation and food & drink services sectors were the hardest hit areas. Young workers aged 25-34 were the most furloughed age group, with 859,000 being furloughed in November, falling to 840,100 by 31 December. London was the area with the highest number of furloughed workers, with 15% on furlough compared to a UK average of 13%. The scheme is currently due to close on 30 April, but there are indications that it may be extended again.
A survey by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) revealed that one in five employees are still going to their workplace despite governmental guidance that they should only be doing this when they "cannot reasonably work from home." The figures also showed that 19% of those continuing to attend work could be working from home, and 40% of those attending work were doing so because of pressure from their managers.
An unfair dismissal claim brought after an employee was dismissed for refusing to wear a face mask at a client's premises has been successfully defended by the employer. The employee in question was a delivery driver. Under the terms of the company handbook, employees were required to treat clients courteously and take all reasonable steps to safeguard their own health and safety and that of others while at work. When visiting a client's premises, the employee refused to wear a face mask in his lorry cab despite repeated requests. The client reported the incident to the employer and banned the employee from returning to their premises. Following a disciplinary procedure, the employee was summarily dismissed. Before the employment tribunal there was little dispute about what had happened. The tribunal were satisfied that the employer had acted reasonably in treating the alleged misconduct as sufficient reason for dismissal. The importance of maintaining good relations with clients, the practical difficulties arising from the employee's ban from the client's premises and the employee's continued insistence he had done nothing wrong were all relevant factors.