Employment Law and Covid-19
Following the new government guidelines on social distancing, employers have been forced to adapt quickly and take on new measures in order to comply with the advice.
The most important thing that employers and employees can do during this period, is open a clear line of communication as soon as possible and make every effort to come to a mutual agreement about their situation.
With the public now only allowed out in a limited number of circumstances there will be an inevitable impact on everyone’s working life. Employers should put procedures in place to allow their employees to work from home, unless this absolutely cannot be done. Where employees are able to work from home, employers should pay them in full; keep in regular contact and regularly check on their health and well-being.
It may not be possible for some people to continue working if they fall into a vulnerable group as they are particularly at risk of serious illness. If any employees fall into this category, employers should take extra steps to accommodate their needs and should be aware that unreasonably pressuring someone to go into work or disciplining them for not doing so could be considered unfair discrimination.
If your workplace has to close or you cannot continue to employ your full workforce, you can put some or all of your staff on temporary leave. The Government’s furlough scheme opened on 20 April 2020 and is designed to enable employers to retain their workforce even if they are not able to give them any work. Employers should select staff for furlough in a fair way and should get agreement from the employee in writing. The agreement should be clear on how much the employee will be paid, when the furlough will start and when it will be reviewed. (A template furlough agreement can be found on the ACAS website.) Employers are able to claim up to 80% of an employee’s salary up to a maximum of £2,500.00. If you choose to do so you can make up the other 20% of the wages but you are under no obligation to do so.
Another option that employers and employees could discuss, is using paid holiday during the lockdown period. Employers have the right to tell employees when to take a holiday but it is a good idea to come to a mutual agreement with employees and to be as flexible as possible. It may not be possible for everyone to take all of their holiday entitlement during the current year; if this is the case, a temporary law has been introduced to allow employees to carry over up to four weeks of paid holiday into the next two years. This applies for any worker who does not take all of their holiday because of the coronavirus.
Employers may need to be particularly mindful of any staff who have children of school age. As schools are now closed for the majority of children, employers should consider offering flexible working such as working from home or a change of the employee’s normal working hours. They should talk to anyone affected early on and have regular discussions so that both parties can plan ahead.
In general, there are a number of simple, practical steps that employers can take to ensure that they continue to provide staff with a good duty of care:
• Ensure all staff are practicing ‘social distancing’ in the workplace;
• Be especially mindful of vulnerable groups;
• Hold meetings as remote calls where possible;
• Make sure managers know how to recognise symptoms;
• Make sure there are clean areas for staff to wash hands with hot water and soap;
• Provide hand sanitiser and tissues for all staff;
• Ensure everyone’s contact details and emergency contacts are up to date;
• Keep everyone up to date on actions being taken to reduce risk of exposure;
• Keep up to date with the latest government advice (www.coronavirus.advice.on.gov.uk)
If you would like any further information on your rights during this uncertain time, please contact one of our employment law team, who will be happy to help.