Guidance and legislation
More details were announced on 29 May of the changes to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme taking effect from 1 July, and a second (and final) Self-Employment Income Support Scheme grant was confirmed. A Government factsheet is available detailing the changes and our overview can be found here.
The UK Government published its COVID-19 recovery strategy for England. While maintaining the line that workers should continue to work from home wherever possible, it confirms the Government's intention to work with businesses and unions to enable individuals to return to workplaces safely. The Coronavirus outbreak FAQs: what you can and can't do guidance was updated and Guidance on staying alert and safe (social distancing) was published (both applicable to England only).
Five roadmap taskforces are to be established by the UK Government to aide planning for the reopening of pubs and restaurants, non-essential salons, recreation and leisure, places of worship and international aviation. Each taskforce will be chaired by a minister from the relevant government department with the aim of opening certain businesses by no earlier than 4 July 2020.
The UK Government has updated its Access to Work guidance to include information on claiming Access to Work during the COVID-19 outbreak. This clarifies that employees who have a disability or a physical or mental health condition that makes it hard for them to do their job and who need to work from home can still get help with access to work. If working from home impacts on the support needs then this could impact on the amount of the award. Employees who are no longer working cannot continue to claim this support.
ACAS has updated its COVID-19 guidance for employers and employees to reflect the change in message in England from stay at home to actively encouraging workers to go to work if they cannot work from home (albeit acknowledging those who can work from home should). This includes a new section on planning a return to the workplace. ACAS also published guidance for employers and employers on managing mental health during the pandemic.
As businesses are considering how to manage a safe return to the workplace the HSE has published a COVID-19 risk assessment toolkit. The toolkit provides example risk assessments for a variety of different sectors, a risk assessment template and links to detailed assessments tools as well as The health and safety toolbox: How to control risks at work.
Some employers may be considering workplace testing - such as temperature checks - as employees return to the workplace. The Information Commissioners Office has published Workplace testing - guidance for employers in the form of FAQs highlighting the need to comply with GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018 - necessary because testing involves processing information relating to an identifiable individual.
The Pensions Regulator has updated its Automatic enrolment and DC pension contributions: COVID-19 guidance for employers. A new section covering automatic enrolment duties for furloughed staff provides practical guidance on enrolling employees who become eligible during furlough leave, automatic re-enrolment and requests by furloughed staff to join a pension scheme.
BEIS has updated its guidance on claiming back SSP that is paid to employees because of coronavirus. The Regulations that entitle employers with fewer than 250 employees to claim back SSP came into force on 26 May 2020. Employers are able to make their claims through a new online service.
As the track and trace system is introduced in England regulations adding another category of person who will be deemed to be incapable of work for the purposes of SSP have taken effect. From 28 May a person who is isolating because they have been advised by relevant notification that they have had contact with a person who at the time of contact was infected with coronavirus and who is staying at home for the required period (usually 14 days) will qualify for SSP.
One area where there has been a degree of confusion during lockdown is how holiday entitlement and pay should be dealt with during the pandemic. The UK Government has attempted to address this by publishing Holiday entitlement and pay during coronavirus guidance. It deals with the position of both furloughed employees and those who have continued to work. The guidance provides some clarity around accrual, holidays not breaking furlough, pay during holidays and the right to carry holidays in to the next annual leave year. However, it also manages to create some confusion as to whether any leave taken during the pandemic meets the EU legal test of allowing a worker to rest, relax and enjoy leisure time. It appears that this assessment is being left up to individual employers.
The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme opened for claims on 13 May. Those eligible to make a claim will have been notified that they can do so by HMRC. Grants worth 80% of average monthly trading profits, to be paid in a single instalment covering a three month period, up to a maximum of £7,500 can be claimed.
The Telegraph newspaper has reported an employee's right to work from home could be enshrined in law following the end of lockdown. It is understood the suggestion is supported by unions and is intended to protect employees from being compelled to return to the workplace. It may also limit costs for employers trying to comply with social distancing rules.
Not unexpected but disappointing just the same - in the first month of the CJRS nearly 800 reports of people defrauding the scheme were made. Reports include employees who are being made to work while on furlough, those who are not being paid what they are due, and claims being made for times when employees were not on furlough. An online reporting service is available.