Government Updates

Latest announcements from the Chancellor 24/9/2020

Winter Economic Plan including information on Job Support Scheme / Extension to Coronavirus loan schemes etc.. 

https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/winter-economic-plan

 

Here we look at the Government’s latest advice on self-isolation and respond to some frequently asked questions from our members.

Latest Government advice on who should self-isolate

https://publichealthmatters.blog.gov.uk/2020/02/20/what-is-self-isolation-and-why-is-it-important/

Latest Updates from UK Government
  • 1) Additional Covid-19 symptoms:
    The UK Chief Medical Officers have released a statement saying that individuals will need to self-isolate immediately if they develop a new continuous cough or fever or,  anosmia. Anosmia is the loss of or a change in the normal sense of smell. It can also affect the sense of taste as the two are closely linked.

    2) Expansion of testing to everyone across the UK:
    Now everyone in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland who is showing coronavirus symptoms is eligible to book a swab test to find out if they have the virus.

    Full details of Matt Hancock’s statement to Parliament can be found using the link above.

    3) Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme:
    The Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme will repay employers the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid to current or former employees.

    The repayment will cover up to 2 weeks starting from the first qualifying day of sickness, if an employee is unable to work because they either:
    – Have coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms;
    – Cannot work because they are self-isolating because someone they live with has symptoms; or
    – Are shielding and have a letter from the NHS or a GP telling them to stay at home for at least 12 weeks.

    The online service you’ll use to reclaim SSP is not available yet. HMRC will announce when the service is available and the guidance linked above will be updated.

    4) Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre:
    The government will invest up to £93 million to accelerate construction of the new Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) which, when completed, will have capacity to produce enough vaccine doses to serve the entire UK population in as little as six months. The funding will ensure the centre opens in Summer 2021, a full 12 months ahead of schedule.

    5) Future Fund update:
    Eligibility details for the Future Fund, which was set up to provide government loans to UK-based companies ranging from £125,000 to £5 million, subject to at least equal match funding from private investors, has been updated. Please note that applications for the Fund will open on Wednesday 20 May 2020.

    Where a business is failing to observe the Department for the Economy / HSENI guidance and breaching the legal duty on health and safety, the statutory authorities will take robust action, which may include prosecution for criminal offences with fines of up to £5,000.

  • Where necessary, The Executive Office will also use its power of direction to close or restrict businesses that do not ensure the safety of their employees.
Latest update from NI Executive

the Northern Ireland Executive has introduced new laws   which will place significant restriction on how we lead our lives.  Included was more clarity on how business should function and placing these in to law too.

This includes:

  • Anyone who can work from home, must work from home;
  • Employers must facilitate working from home where it is feasible;
  • No employer should compel an employee to come to work if it is feasible to work from home;
  • Every employer must take all reasonable steps to safeguard the health, safety and well-being of employees during the COVID-19 emergency, whether working from home or in the workplace;
  • Every employer must have particular regard to the safety of employees in the workplace and must put into effect the guidance on social distancing;
  • Every employer has a legal duty to ensure, so far as it is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees;
  • Where a business is failing to observe the Department for the Economy / HSENI guidance and breaching the legal duty on health and safety, the statutory authorities will take robust action, which may include prosecution for criminal offences with fines of up to £5,000.
  • Where necessary, The Executive Office will also use its power of direction to close or restrict businesses that do not ensure the safety of their employees.
Government Advice on Business Closures

The latest information on closures is below. This will be updated as soon as anything changes.

Click here for further information

Government Financial Support for Northern Ireland Businesses

 Information on the Coronavirus jobs retention scheme

  • All employers, large or small, including charitable and non-profit, will be eligible to apply.
  • The HMRC grant will cover 80% of the salary of an employee laid off but not made redundant up to a total amount of £2,500 per employee.
  • The scheme will cover the cost of wages backdated to 1st March and will be open initially for a 3 month period, but will be kept under review.

Full details on how to apply for the grant haven’t been announced.

HMRC is working on changes to their IT systems, to facilitate the coronavirus jobs retention scheme. They have advised that it will take until April as it will require changes to the PAYE system.

 

What about staff on Zero Hours Contracts?

The jobs retention scheme covers everybody who is on PAYE through the company. Zero hours covers a variety of situations, but it may well be you are on a PAYE scheme and have a set of regular earnings and it will be covered depending on your particular circumstances.

The guidance, once issued, should provide further clarity.

 

What about deferred VAT payments?

  • Business VAT payments will be deferred until the end of June.
  • Companies will be given an extension until Dec 2020 to settle VAT bills outstanding, as a result of the three-month waiver period.
  • HMRC and software providers will need to update Making Tax Digital Software so that there is a new dual system for those that do not use the waiver.

 

What about the Business interruption scheme?

  • The loan will be interest-free for the first 12 months and not 6 months, as originally announced.
  • The loan scheme will be available from Monday 23rd March 2020.

Click here for futher details

 

Our Partners KPMG Northern Ireland have summarised The Government’s suite of financial support measures to preserve the funding positions and help improve cashflow of businesses and also protect jobs during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

Click here for futher details. 

Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme

The Coronavirus Business Interuption Scheme has been introduced as a temporary measure with the aim of supporting the continued provision of finance to UK SMEs during the COVID-19 outbreak. Timing, the scheme has been live for SMEs since 23rd March 2020.

  • It is a generous scheme designed to provide lenders with a government-backed guarantee, potentially enabling a ‘no’ credit decision from a lender to become a ‘yes’.
  • CBILS is available to existing EFG accredited lenders and in due course to newly accredited lenders.
  • The British Business Bank intend to offer an expedited accreditation process for the CBILS overdraft variant to allow for rapid alleviation of working capital issues.
  • The government has announced that CBILS will be demand-led and will be resourced accordingly.

Click here for more information
CBILS – 1 April

BEIS Letter to the Construction Industry

Alok Sharma, the Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, has written to the UK construction industry.

Read his letter here: Secretary of State Letter to UK Construction Industry

Frequently asked questions 

If employees self-isolate, are they entitled to be paid?

Where an employee self-isolates because they have been instructed to do so by either their doctor or NHS 111, they will be entitled to receive statutory sick pay (and, if relevant, contractual sick pay), as they will have been deemed to be incapable of work. They will likely be given written guidance or advice from NHS 111 in these circumstances (which may vary in consistency). 

 If, however, an employee chooses to self-isolate without either symptoms or without following an instruction from a doctor or NHS 111 requiring them to do so, they will not be entitled to any sick pay (see further guidance in question 2 below).

If employees self-isolate, are they entitled to be paid?

Where an employee self-isolates because they have been instructed to do so by either their doctor or NHS 111, they will be entitled to receive statutory sick pay (and, if relevant, contractual sick pay), as they will have been deemed to be incapable of work. They will likely be given written guidance or advice from NHS 111 in these circumstances (which may vary in consistency). 

 If, however, an employee chooses to self-isolate without either symptoms or without following an instruction from a doctor or NHS 111 requiring them to do so, they will not be entitled to any sick pay (see further guidance in question 2 below).

What if an employee does not have symptoms, but is choosing to stay away from work because they are worried about getting coronavirus?

Employers may face a scenario where an employee shows no symptoms of coronavirus and is not in one of the groups that PHE has advised to self-isolate (see above), but is choosing to stay away from work because they are worried about being infected.  This might be because, for example, an employee is worried about travelling on public transport to work, or dealing with members of the public in their role, or if one of their colleagues has recently returned from a high risk area albeit displaying no symptoms. 

Where an employee has genuine concerns, the employer should listen to the employee’s concerns and, where possible, try to accommodate them.  Employers have a duty to take reasonable steps to provide a safe working environment.  In particular, employers should be mindful of anyone who is at higher risk of developing severe coronavirus and/or may have compromised immunity such as:

  •        those aged 60 or over;
  •        those who have an underlying condition (such as a respiratory condition, cardiovascular disease or diabetes); and
  •        pregnant women.

Employers also have an obligation to make reasonable adjustments where someone has a disability.

Often the simplest solution where an employee is refusing to come to work out of concern of contracting the virus will be to allow the employee to work from home receiving their normal pay, if this is possible.  Alternatively, the employer may agree to the employee taking paid annual leave, or unpaid leave – if these options are realistic taking into account the employee’s role and the operational needs of the business.  

If, however, an employee is self-isolating solely because they are scared of being infected (i.e. they have not received guidance from a doctor or NHS 111 to do so) generally they will not be entitled to any pay (see question 1 above).  In some circumstances, it may be appropriate for an employer to consider whether an employee’s refusal to come into work in these circumstances could constitute employee misconduct. 

Keeping abreast of evolving government advice on coronavirus is important for any employer who is deciding what approach to take in relation to an employee who is not willing to come to work, as the guidance may change.

What if an employee ignores coronavirus-related hygiene rules?

If an employer has instructed its employees to follow certain rules to contain the virus and an employee fails to comply with those instructions, the employer will be entitled to take disciplinary action. 

Can an employer restrict an employee’s personal travel?

Employment contracts do not generally include an express right for an employer to restrict an employee’s personal travel plans.  But it may be reasonable for the employer to do this where a restriction can be justified by the employer’s duty to protect the health of safety of its workforce, or those with whom the workforce comes into contact.

The proposed destination of personal travel will be important when deciding whether a restriction is justified.  For example, it will be easier to justify restricting employees from travelling to countries which are categorised by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as being higher risk.  Certain organisations, such as schools and hospitals, may find it easier to justify a restriction than others.

What if an employee’s child’s school has closed due to coronavirus, or an employee needs to look after a child who has (or may have) the virus?

Employees have a statutory right to a reasonable amount of unpaid time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependent.  “Dependent” includes a spouse, partner, child or parent, or a person who lives with the employee (but not a lodger).

So if an employee’s child’s school has closed, or an employee’s child is unwell, the employee could take emergency time off to care for the child.  The employee should inform their employer as soon as reasonably practicable of the reason for their absence and how long they expect to be away from work. 

 If you subject an employee to detrimental treatment for taking emergency time off, or dismiss them or subsequently select them for redundancy because they took, or sought to take, emergency leave then they will be entitled to make a claim of detrimental treatment or unfair dismissal to an employment tribunal regardless of their length of service.

In the situation described, both you and the employee need to be flexible. It might be that arrangements can be made for her to work from home, or if this is not practicable, maybe working flexibly for a temporary period with staggered start and finish times may assist.

What legal obligations should employers keep in mind when making decisions relating to coronavirus?

In addition to express and implied obligations in employment contracts, employers should be mindful of the following duties:

  •        To protect the health, safety and welfare at work of the workforce and others who might be affected such as customers, suppliers and visitors.  There is also a common law obligation to take reasonable care of the health and safety of their workforce.
  •        Not to discriminate against staff with protected characteristics, and to make reasonable adjustments for those with disabilities.
A final thought for now: think about attendance management policies:

Attendance management policies require particular consideration, as these typically state that certain reviews will be carried out by HR/management if an employee’s levels of absence exceed set thresholds.  A trigger system presents difficulties in the context of coronavirus, as strict trigger points may discourage employees who have developed (or are at risk of developing) coronavirus from staying away from work. 

With this in mind, we suggest that employers may wish to make clear to employees that in most cases any period of absence for which they have received a written coronavirus notice from a doctor or NHS 111 covering the absence will not be taken into account when determining whether absence thresholds have been met.  This will be particularly relevant where an individual’s disability places them at a higher risk of contracting coronavirus.