With the announcement of a new lockdown, what do you need to know in terms of work?

The guidance that was released following the announcement is here:

National lockdown: Stay at Home

Working from home

The guidance states ‘you may only leave your home for work if you cannot reasonably work from home’.  It states that where people cannot work from home and provides examples of sectors this may apply in but does state it is not limited to these sectors.  Where people cannot work from home, they should continue to travel to their workplace.  Covid-19 secure measures should continue to be followed in the workplace.

The document states employers and employees should discuss their working arrangements, and employers should take every possible step to facilitate their employees working from home, including suitable IT and equipment to enable remote working.  If you have not done so already you will need to discuss working arrangements, consider whether working from home is genuinely an option and will need to make a decision based on the circumstances.  Please seek advice where necessary.  It is never clear cut, it may be that you need to consider whether parts of a role can be done at home but that certain parts can only be done in the office, or whether flexible furlough is an option if the full role cannot be carried out.  You will need to consider the Covid-19 secure measures in place and discuss the situation with your staff.  If you and are your staff are working from home, keep in touch, communicate and check up on each other.

Travel

Travel is permitted for work where an individual cannot reasonably work from home.

You can provide a letter to your employees who need to travel for work or who cannot work from home and need to travel to the workplace in case they are stopped.

Furlough

Guidance is provided in the Businesses and venues section regarding which must now close and which businesses and venues which can remain open.

You will need to consider whether furlough or flexible furlough is an option for the employees that are eligible who were on an RTI payroll on or before 30 October 2020 (there have been no announcements that this date will change).  If you had already issued furlough or flexible furlough agreements, then these will still cover you if they said the agreement ended when the scheme ends so you will not need to send a new full agreement.  You may wish to send a quick email confirming they are now on furlough/flexible furlough from the date that is applicable.

If you have employees that are not eligible for furlough as they were not on an RTI payroll submission on or before 30 October, did you have a lay off clause in their contract of employment? If so you can enforce this now, if not you will need to agree with them that they will be laid off without pay (they may be eligible for a guarantee payment).  Other options are that they could take some paid annual leave if agreed.  They will need to enquire as to whether they are eligible for Universal Credit.  Also consider if their employment contract allows them to work elsewhere or whether they need approval as you may be asked.  Further guidance on lay-offs can be provided where required.

Guidance on furlough can be found here:

Check if you can claim for your employees’ wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Other types of employees you can claim for

Check which employees you can put on furlough to use the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Check if your employer can use the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Claim for wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Steps to take before calculating your claim using the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Calculate how much you can claim using the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme: step by step guide for employers

Find examples to help you calculate your employees’ wages

Childcare

With the schools now shut until at least after February half term, considerations need to be made for those who have no childcare.  Employees may be able to make a support bubble or childcare bubble if they meet the eligibility rules.  Keyworkers may be able to send their children to school, the school may ask for evidence that they are a keyworker, and you can provide a letter for this purpose.

If the individual has no childcare options, you will need to consider and discuss:

  • Whether their job/hours can be amended temporarily to allow for this period
  • Whether they can work from home
  • Whether they could be furloughed if they meet the eligibility rule of being on an RTI payroll submission on or before 20 October 2020. Furlough is allowed where an individual is ‘unable to work because they have caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus (COVID-19), including employees that need to look after children’ and should be used where possible.
  • If none of the above are options then the individual will have the right to unpaid time off to care for dependants and could also ask to use their parental leave Usually this requires notice, but employers should be prepared to be flexible about this given the circumstances.  Using annual leave is also an option if agreed.

Work and the Clinically Extremely Vulnerable

  • Those who are clinically extremely vulnerable are at a higher risk of severe illness from Coronavirus and should not attend work if they cannot work from home. Please note this does not apply to those living with somebody who is clinically extremely vulnerable, they can continue to attend work if they cannot work from home.
  • Individuals can speak to their employer about an alternative role to enable them to work from home is possible. If this is not possible, you could also consider if the individual may be able to be furloughed if they meet all of the eligibility criteria (Scheme extended until April 2021).  If this is not possible, they can be placed on SSP if they meet eligibility criteria or may be able to claim Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

Pregnancy and Coronavirus

Further guidance was published just prior to Christmas regarding pregnant employees, risk assessments should be carried out prior to 28 weeks of pregnancy if there are no underlying conditions and any risks should be mitigated (i.e. home working where possible).  If the assessment advises it is safe to work, the individual can continue working.  If the risk cannot be managed, you should consider any alternative roles.  If this is not possible, suspension with pay is the only option and of course furlough is an option here with agreement (if eligibility criteria are met).

For those who are 28 weeks pregnant and beyond or if the individual has underlying health conditions the same principles apply but a more precautionary approach should be taken as there is an increased risk of becoming severely ill and of pre-term birth should Covid-19 be contracted.  You should ensure that national guidance on social distancing is adhered to.  Again, a risk assessment should be carried out and if the current role cannot be carried out, there are no alternative roles, and if homeworking is not an option then suspension with pay is the only option and furlough is an option if the eligibility criteria is met.

Other relevant Guidance

Reporting outbreaks of coronavirus (COVID-19)

Please seek advice on individual situations and further guidance where needed.