COVID-19: Daily Update – Wednesday 25 March 2020

COVID-19: Daily Update – Wednesday 25 March 2020

Recent announcements and the questions being asked.
 
Boris Johnson’s address to the nation
We have received a number of questions following the Prime Minister’s address on 23 March. The government has since released further guidance on its enhanced social distancing policy requiring individuals to stay at home save for limited situations including essential shopping, exercise, medical purposes, or work which cannot be done from home. 
For clarification, if work cannot be undertaken at home, employees are still permitted to attend work as required by their employers. This applies to all work and is not limited to key workers or “necessary” work. 
These stricter instructions will last for three weeks from 23 March and will be enforced by local authorities and the police service who have temporarily been given additional powers.
Advice: Ensure any employees who can work from home are permitted to do so. All other employees should attend work in the usual way unless agreed in advance with their employers. Social distancing measures should be strictly applied in all operating workplaces. 
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, wage deductions, and contractual benefits 
Our most frequently received questions relate to the uncertainty of the reimbursements promised under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Government guidance has, as of yet, been silent on the details of the scheme, including (but not limited to):
  • any eligibility criteria – e.g. are employers going to be required to prove a reduction in work?
  • the scope of the payment recovered – e.g. will the grant cover wider employment costs such as Employer NIC’s etc? 
  • will other employment benefits such as holiday continue to accrue or not?
  • can the scheme be accessed intermittently? If so, is there a minimum period requirement.
We will continue to update our clients as new information becomes available. In the meantime, if you would like to start planning for the implementation of this scheme into your business, please contact our employment team. 
 
Apprenticeships and employees in training
The government have produced guidance for training providers relating to apprenticeships and employees in the course of on-going training. The concern here is that due to illness, caring responsibilities, and operational disruptions there will be additional challenges facilitating necessary training and assessments. Where possible continuity through e-learning and remote assessments is encouraged though this may not be possible in all situations.
Apprenticeships may already take ‘breaks’ which only need to be reported when they exceed a 4-week period. Breaks of this length have the effect of temporarily suspending funding to the training provider. Although the apprentice must usually decide to initiate a break in learning, training providers temporarily have this option available to them under recent government guidance. Apprentices who are deemed ready for assessment but cannot be assessed because of the impact of Covid-19, may reschedule their assessments. Assessments which are subject to specified time requirements may be deferred for up to 12 weeks under current guidance. 
 
Advice: If employer business decisions will affect apprentices or employees undergoing training, there are extra considerations. Where furlough or unpaid leave is necessary, a break in learning may be appropriate using the ‘pause’ facility in the apprenticeship service. Where redundancy is necessary, the training provider may use the ‘stop’ facility in the apprenticeship service but must assist the apprentice in finding a suitable alternative placement to continue their training within a 12-week period. For further advice on managing apprentices please contact our employment team.
 
Shielding and sick pay
Since the government released guidance on social distancing for vulnerable individuals their entitlement to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) has been a particularly grey area. Until recently vulnerable individuals have been advised to socially distance themselves where possible, however, it has been arguable that this does not constitute sufficient grounds for entitlement to SSP.
However, recent updates now explain that as part of the ‘shielding’ effort, those individuals who are considered ‘extremely vulnerable’ will now receive a letter by Sunday 29 March 2020 instructing them to remain at home among other measures. A list of those individuals who may receive letters can be found HERE, along with details of other measures to expect from the letter. If an employee receives the letter from the NHS, they will be entitled to access SSP over the 12-week period if they are unable to work as a consequence of their isolation. Albeit, if the employee can still work from home during this period, they would be entitled to full pay in the usual way. 
Those vulnerable individuals who do not receive a letter will be excluded from SSP entitlement. 
For further advice on sick pay please contact our employment team.
 
Statutory Self-Employment Pay
The House of Commons Public Bill Committee has proposed the introduction of ‘Statutory Self-Employment Pay’ to the Coronavirus Bill, compelling the government to introduce measures similar to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for employees. The proposed form would see the government guarantee that self-employed workers receive the lower of 80% of their average monthly earnings and £2,917 per month. The Coronavirus Bill 2019-21 is currently proceeding through the House of Lords with the remaining stages expected to be completed today. For further information please contact our employment team.
 
Pay gap reporting deferred 
The Government Equalities Office and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have suspended gender pay gap reporting for 2019/20. The deadline for the public sector was due to be 30 March 2020 followed by 4 April for private companies. The new position is that reports will not need to be submitted to the government or published online until 2021, however, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development is recommending that businesses volunteer their reports once they have the breathing space to do so.
 

For further information please contact our employment team

Claire Knowles – Partner

Mark Alaszewski – Associate

Rebecca Mahon – Solicitor

Adam McGlynn – Trainee Solicitor

 

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