HR Support for Employers

Returning to the workplace

CIPD published a useful guide on 12 May with three, people-first tests that will help guide your organisation to a safe and gradual return to the workplace.

Coronavirus Job Retention scheme and furlough

Furlough leave has been temporarily introduced by the government during the coronavirus pandemic to mean leave offered which keeps employees on the payroll without them working. People who get furloughed must not work for the employer during the period of furlough but usually return to their job afterwards unless redundancies follow.

On 15 April, the Government extended the furlough scheme cut-off date to 19 March 2020.

The Treasury has issued a Direction to HMRC under powers conferred by the Coronavirus Act 2020, containing authority and instructions for making payments under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Although amendments are possible, it is likely to be the definitive guidance on how the Job Retention Scheme works.

On 12 May Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the job retention scheme would be extended to October and confirmed that employees will continue to receive 80% of their monthly wages up to £2,500. But the Government will ask companies to “start sharing” the cost of the scheme from August onwards. Employers currently using the scheme would be able to bring furloughed employees back part-time.

The Government published a Step by Step Guide for Employers on 11 May 2020.

Employment law webinar with Michelmores, 22 April 2020

During this free 45-minute long webinar Lynsey Blyth, an Associate within the Employment Law team at law firm Michelmores, discusses the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and answers frequently asked questions about furlough leave:

Which employers does the Coronavirus Job Retention scheme apply to?

Any employer in the country (whatever size) will be eligible for the scheme. Charities, non-profit organisations, and public authorities are included. The government guidance dated 26 March has confirmed that the UK employers that can apply includes businesses

To be eligible the employer must have created and started a PAYE payroll scheme on or before 19 March 2020 and have a UK bank account.

When will the scheme and online portal be operational?

The furlough portal opened on 20 April, you can now claim for wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme here. You will have to apply by 22 April to receive money before the end of the month.

The scheme is backdated and will apply from 1 March. On 12 May Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the job retention scheme would be extended to October but support would now be shared by the Government and employers from August.

Which employees can be furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme?

The employees that can agree to being furloughed are those working for businesses that would otherwise have to dismiss as redundant or lay off part or all of their workforce.

The furloughed employees must have been on the employer’s PAYE payroll on 19 March 2020, including full-time employees, part-time employees, agency employees on agency contracts provided they are not working at all, zero-hour contract workers provided that they are employees albeit on flexible contracts.

What about TUPE’d employees?

A new employer is eligible to claim under the CJRS in respect of the employees of a previous business transferred after 28 February 2020 if either the TUPE or PAYE business succession rules apply to the change in ownership.

Are furlough payments taxable?

Furloughed employees’ wages are subject to Income Tax and National Insurance as usual. Employees also pay their automatic enrolment pension contributions unless opted-out.

However, the government will cover employer national insurance and pension contributions up to a maximum of £300 a month for each member of staff.

The reclaimable NI and pension elements are on the furlough salary, not normal salary.

What can employers claim?

You will receive a grant from HMRC to cover the lower of 80% of an employee’s regular wage or £2,500 per month, plus the associated Employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrollment employer pension contributions on that subsidised wage.

Fees, commission and bonuses cannot be claimed for.

For salaried employees, you must use the actual salary before tax, as of 28 February.

For employees whose pay varies (for example because they work shifts) you can claim for the higher of either: the same month’s earning from the previous year or the average monthly earnings from the 2019-20 year.

No part of the reclaimed grant can be siphoned off to fund benefits; the entire grant must be paid to the employee (with no deductions for fees, administration charges etc.)

How long can employers keep staff on furlough?

The minimum length of furloughing is three weeks. An employee can be furloughed multiple times, subject to the minimum time period of three weeks, as often as the employer and employee agree.

The scheme was open for an initial period of three months (1 March to 31 May 2020) but was extended to 31 June.

What if an employer has already made redundancies?

If employees have been made redundant since 28 February, the employer can give those former employees the option of being rehired and then put straight on the scheme.

Can furloughed employees work?

Employees cannot work for organisations that are linked to the employer, as well as not working for the employer, when on furlough.

Can employers switch employees from sick pay to furlough?

Employers are free to switch employees from sick pay to furlough and vice versa, although this should not be abused by using furlough to ‘top up’ small amounts of SSP for short term absences.  Employers can also furlough ‘shielding’ employees, they do not have to be placed on sick pay.

Can an employee with a work visa be furloughed?
Certain work visas will not be regarded as breaching their visa conditions if they receive funds under the furlough scheme:  “Grants under the scheme are not counted as ‘access to public funds’, and you can furlough employees on all categories of visa.”

Find out more

Carrying over Annual Leave

On 28 March 2020, Business Secretary Alok Sharma outlined a series of temporary relaxation of regulations to ease further the pressure on businesses. These include measures to allow workers to carry-over leave that would have been taken during the lockdown period into the next two years.

Statutory Sick Pay

From 26 May 2020, small and medium-sized employers, with fewer than 250 employees, will be able to apply to recover the costs of paying coronavirus-related Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) payments they have made to their employees.

Employers will be able to make claims to the Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme through a new online service. Employers will receive repayments at the relevant rate of SSP that they have paid to current or former employees for eligible periods of sickness starting on or after 13 March 2020.

HMRC has published online guidance which includes information about who can use the scheme and the records employers must keep. Click here to find out more.


Tips for Managing Remote Employees

Make time for small talk

When managing remote employees, it’s easy to just talk about what needs to get done. However, building a rapport with employees is a major part of management.

Demonstrating that you care is important to them and essential for you to truly understand their motivations. Taking the time to do this will make them like working for you more and give you the benefit of the doubt when you make a mistake or an unpopular decision.

Rapport does not come from doing and talking about work, but from getting to know them as a complete person. Ask them what they’re into, about their family, and where they’re from.

What's your biggest struggle with working remotely

Use video 

Research shows more than half of human communication is nonverbal. If you have connectivity issues, fix it. Don’t let it be an excuse for more downstream problems. See if your company can help cover the cost of better internet/more bandwidth for your employee.

Encourage your team to keep their current morning routine

When you don’t have a commute and your usual work routine, it can be easy to sleep in, start late, or have a harder time getting going each day. While your team won’t be commuting, encourage them to get up at the same time, shower, dress like they’re coming into the office. By keeping their existing routine, minus their commute, it helps make sure they don’t slip into the bad habits. Best of all, if they had a long commute, they can now put that time into something different.

The key is the routine. Habits are easy to set, but all it takes is a few days for them to erode or break. The first step in a habit is the trigger. As a leader, the best thing you can do is keep as many of the positive, work triggers as possible for your team:

  • Schedule a daily call.
  • Keep as many of your routine meetings as possible and shift them to video calls.
  • Start the day at the same time as you did before, being visible in your work based on when you send emails, how you participate in chat, and what feedback you give in your various tools and apps.

Also, by switching to things like video calls, you create accountability for people that they need to get out of bed and be presentable, just like they would coming into the office.

Establish a culture of ownership and accountability for managing remote teams

If existing team members are shifting to remote, trial projects and identifying trust signals may not help. Instead, you need to make sure you invest in establishing a culture of ownership and accountability.

When you say you’re going to do something, do you come through? Do you trust them to get the job done, assuming they’re prepared to handle it on their own? Do you hold them accountable for the results?

The best place to start here is always with you. You’re the example that your team will look to emulate. The better you work to establish this culture of ownership, the easier the transition will be for your team members moving remote to also be accountable.

Most importantly, if someone is not particularly reliable in your office, there’s very little chance that improves remotely.

Encourage your staff to carve out a dedicated work area

This is essential, no matter how small their home may be. If they have flatmates, a spouse or kids, tell them to find a way to keep themselves separate.

A dedicated work area

Fight loneliness by encouraging connection

One of the most often reported problems for remote workers is loneliness, especially if we’re in a Coronavirus quarantine.

To combat this feeling, encourage your team to take some time to still connect with their fellow team members and friends at work, as well as other tactics like:

Have peer one on ones with colleagues they’d benefit from talking with, and now can’t cross paths in the hallway for a quick catch up or collaboration.

Create some time in one of your team wide meetings for everyone to share something they want to outside of work tasks (like say their favourite snack they stocked up on during quarantine).

Transition to remote work by being proactive in how you manage your team and ask questions:

  • How is your morning routine going now that you don’t have to go into work?
  • If you kept the same routine, how would you like to use the time saved on your commute?
  • What is your workspace setup so you can focus and get things done during the day? Do you need anything to help?
  • What are you planning to do to stay connected with the rest of the team and other colleagues at work? I’d encourage you to schedule some extra calls to make up for the lost ad hoc communication from the office.
  • These questions can be the start of a great discussion to make sure they have what they need to succeed. It frames you as supportive while potentially catching problems when they’re small.

Read our Top tips for working remotely