Relevant COVID-19 Information and Advice
As in previous briefings, the best information we can provide is to check NHS Inform and other reputable sources of public health information.
The update from the Government in the days past indicated a direction of travel, but not necessarily absolute clarity on the steps we need to take today. As you can imagine, any update can be overtaken by events pretty quickly as the situation evolves.
The Government has announced measures that we should all take which are:
- Everyone should avoid gatherings with friends and family, as well as large gatherings and crowded places, such as pubs, clubs and theatres
- People should avoid non-essential travel and work from home if they can
- All “unnecessary” visits to friends and relatives in care homes should cease
- People should only use the NHS “where we really need to” – and can reduce the burden on workers by getting advice on the NHS website where possible
- By next weekend, those with the most serious health conditions must be “largely shielded from social contact for around 12 weeks”
- If one person in any household has a persistent cough or fever, everyone living there must stay at home for 14 days
- Those people should, if possible, avoid leaving the house “even to buy food or essentials” – but they may leave the house “for exercise and, in that case, at a safe distance from others”
This is not lockdown as it has been implemented in some other countries however – specifically, attendance at work is nor precluded by the above measures, but we should always fall back on reducing the risk to those vulnerable. It looks unlikely that staff who have symptoms, and potentially even the virus will be able to provide medical certification in line with your own expectations or policy, therefore you as an employer will need to be pragmatic.
It’s clear that these measures and their effects will have a significant effect on the economy and our members.
It may also be that we are not able to shield our employees from the financial impact on the potential downturn in business created by these measures and the lack of economic activity, so please see our separate briefing on Lay offs and Short Time Working and Redundancy.
Dealing with reductions in work – Lay Offs and Short Time Working
Being realistic, the impact of the measures taken by the Government in relation to Coronovirus and the impact of the lack of economic activity is likely to lead to exceptionally difficult times for most companies. The Government has released details of measures designed to maintain economic activity, but it is clear that we will need to consider how we react as employers to reductions in orders, work, activity and confidence.
In such circumstances, companies are bound to consider what steps they will take in relation to staffing. It seems likely that this situation will not be over quickly – whilst the numbers of new people with the virus are reducing in China, our strategy is to delay such that the impact is lesser, but lasts longer.
We have outlined a range of steps which companies can consider based on the impact, or likely impact of the situation.
- Short Time Working
Short Time Working is where employees work shorter hours and consequentially lower pay, officially lower than 50% of their normal weekly earnings
However, in order to reduce pay, you will need to ensure that there is either a contractual clause – and this is not always the case – or to do it via agreement with your employees collectively if that is how pay is determined, or individually if not.
In lieu of salary, the employer makes a relatively token payment of £29 (increasing to £30 from 6 April 2020) for each non working day, entitled Guaranteed Minimum Pay. So, in basic terms someone normally working a five day week who works on a short time two day week, they would receive two fifths of salary plus £29 for the missed days.
Guaranteed Pay, no matter the length of the Short Time Working period is paid only for the first 5 days of missed work in any 3 month period, so a maximum of £145. An employer can of course pay more than that and for a longer period, but this is the statutory minimum.
If Short Time working continues for either of 4 weeks continually, or for 6 weeks in any 13 week period (with no more than 3 in a row), staff are entitled to apply for redundancy if their weekly earnings are less than 50% of their normal earnings.
It is vital if you are considering it that we outline clearly to staff the reasons behind it – and I think given the circumstances all will be aware of the context – and consider any and all alternatives; using leave, unpaid leave etc.
We have a full practice note which cover al eventualities if you move to Short Time Working, such as consideration of sickness pay and other statutory benefits; if this is something you are considering and would like a chat on it, please contact one of the legal team.
- Lay Offs
Laying people off is essentially standing them down from any and all work for a period of time, but short of dismissing on redundancy. Lay Offs occur normally when there is serious but relatively short term impact on the ongoing operation of a business – a fire or flood for example. Similar rules apply as to when you can operate lay offs – with contractual provision (collective or in individual contracts) or if you can demonstrate that such practices are common place within your organisation. If they do not apply, then it would need to be an agreed change of contractual terms with the employee. Similar rules apply as to the employers right to claim redundancy if the situation carries on over a period of time as above.
Redundancy is when work of a type diminishes to an extent that the employer needs to reduce their workforce by dismissing staff. There are a number of procedural steps to take prior to any dismissals, which are in broad terms:
- Inform: Staff at risk of redundancy should be formally informed of the reasons behind that, which could be a change in business focus, reduction in order or any other organisational or economic factor which means that it is envisaged that fewer roles are required. At this stage it is ‘roles’ that are at risk, not necessarily people and any discussion should focus on that.
- Consult: It is a requirement for employers to consult with staff on potential for redundancy, either individually or collectively. If you have union representation then consultation will normally happen with representatives from Trade Unions; if not, then there is a process to allow staff to select and vote for employee representatives who will represent them during the process. Many companies offer a mix and match approach, with some collective meetings and at least a couple of meetings with individuals – more if they are required or requested. There are rules regarding length of consultation relating to how many people you are making redundant – If more than 20, then the period should be a minimum of 30 days, more than that is 45 days. There is no minimum period for numbers less than 20, but it should be reasonable and fair and allow them the opportunity to discuss all that they need to do, and for you to consider all appropriate alternatives.
- Select and Confirm: By fair means you will select people for redundancy – competence, skills etc. if there are not alternatives roles or patterns that reduce or negate the need for the roles to be reduced. There are rights to appeal both selection for redundancy and any dismissal by reasons of redundancy.
Please discuss any of these requirements with our legal team who will guide you through these processes, or with any other advice during this time.