Returning to the workplace
Advice for employers will change from 1 August. Companies will have more discretion to bring staff back to workplaces if it is safe to do so.
CIPD published a useful guide to help you plan your organisation’s next steps following a period of furlough or once lockdown measures start easing.
COVID-19 is a new risk that must be incorporated into workplace risk assessments. Employers must therefore carry out a new COVID-19 risk assessment if they have not already done so. The Health and Safety Executive has published guidance to help you conduct a risk assessment.
Employers have a duty to consult their workers, and unions where applicable, as part of their risk assessment. Involving workers in this will help build trust and confidence that all reasonably practicable steps are being taken to reduce risks of COVID-19, so that people can return to work safely. Employers should share the risk assessment with workers and consider publishing the risk assessment on their website.
Guidance on the NHS test and trace service for employers and businesses
The NHS test and trace service supplements the risk mitigation measures taken by employers by identifying people who have had close recent contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus and advising them to self-isolate. This will reduce the risk of a rise in infections among the general population.
This workplace guidance explains how employers and businesses can play their part in the programme to slow the spread of the virus.
The role of employers
The NHS test and trace service will help to manage the risk of the virus re-emerging as restrictions on everyday life are eased, as far as it is deemed safe to do so. It is vital that employers play their part by making their workplaces as safe as possible and encouraging workers to heed any notifications to self-isolate and supporting them when in isolation.
Employers must continue to follow health and safety workplace guidance for their sector such as:
- Making every reasonable effort to enable working from home as a first option.
- Where working from home isn’t possible, identifying sensible measures to control the risks in the workplace.
- Keeping the workplace clean, maintaining safe working separation, and preventing transmission through unnecessary touching of potentially contaminated surfaces.
Supporting workers who need to self-isolate
Employers should support workers who need to self-isolate and must not ask them to attend the workplace. Workers will be told to isolate because they:
- Have coronavirus symptoms and are awaiting a test result
- Have tested positive for coronavirus
- Are a member of the same household as someone who has symptoms or has tested positive for coronavirus
- Have been in close recent contact with someone who has tested positive and received a notification to self-isolate from NHS test and trace.
Employers should continue to communicate with workers in self-isolation and provide support. This includes allowing people to work from home if they remain well and if it is practicable to do so. This might include finding alternative work that can be completed at home during the period of self-isolation.
If people can’t work from home, employers must ensure any self-isolating employee is receiving sick pay and give them the option to use their paid leave days if they prefer. Employees in self-isolation are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay for every day they are in isolation, as long as they meet the eligibility conditions.
The NHS test and trace service will provide a notification that can be used as evidence that someone has been told to self-isolate.
An employee can ask to take their paid holiday for the time they’re off work, entitling them to full pay for the duration of their leave, as opposed to Statutory Sick Pay, if they choose.
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.
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.
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.
The job retention scheme has been extended to October and 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. Businesses will be expected to pay a greater share of their staff salaries, starting with covering National Insurance and pension contributions. From September the government will cover only 70% of salaries, to a cap of £2,190 and from October it will pay 60%, to a cap of £1,875. Employers will make up the shortfall to get salaries back to 80% of pre-Covid lockdown levels.
From 1 July 2020, businesses will be given the flexibility to bring furloughed employees back part time.
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 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.”
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.
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.
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