With the easing of the lockdown and more businesses now re-opening, employers are facing fresh challenges and having to find new ways of working. In this blog, we bring you up-to-date on some of the latest and upcoming changes for employers to be aware of as employees return to work.
Return to work
Government guidance remains that people who can work from home should continue to do so. But employers and employees should discuss and agree working arrangements to best suit the needs of the business. This is a change of emphasis from before in favour of the employer's business needs.
We have also seen more types of workplaces reopening with further easing of the lockdown on 4 July, such as pubs, bars and restaurants. More businesses have now been given the green light to reopen later in July. To help employers understand how they can reopen safely and the steps they need to take to do this, the government has updated its Covid Secure Guidelines to cover other types of workplaces that can now reopen. Key to this is carrying out Covid-19 risk assessments and taking steps to ensure the business operates in a Covid-secure way.
In relation to travelling to work, the Staying Safe Outside Your Home guidance says people should walk or cycle wherever possible to reduce demand on the public transport network. People are advised to try to avoid peak times if they have to use public transport. Employers should consider staggering working hours, expanding bicycle storage facilities, providing changing facilities and providing car parking.
People in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are required to follow the specific rules in those parts of the UK.
Clinically vulnerable and extremely vulnerable people
The government has updated its guidance and, from 1 August, people in England who are clinically extremely vulnerable will be advised they can go to work, as long as they are able to maintain social distancing as much as possible and their workplace is Covid-secure. It remains the case that if they can work from home, they should continue to do so (as with all other employees).
Where homeworking is not possible, they should be offered the option of the safest on-site roles enabling them to maintain social distancing guidelines (two metres or one metre with risk mitigation where two metres is not viable, is acceptable). Importantly, the guidance makes clear that 'if they cannot maintain social distancing, you should carefully assess whether this involves an acceptable level of risk' and employers will need to give careful consideration to this issue.
Where employers are considering asking vulnerable employees who cannot work from home to return to the workplace, we recommend undertaking a specific risk assessment and considering taking bespoke risk mitigation steps for them. If the risks cannot be adequately controlled then the employee should remain at home.
We also recommend talking to the employees concerned about what steps have been taken to make the workplace Covid-secure and ensuring employees' questions and concerns about returning to work are addressed.
Employers will need to ensure that they handle employees returning to work in a sensitive and understanding way. If an employee is unhappy about returning, and furlough or home working are not viable options, it is open to employers to stop paying or dismiss, but before doing so they should consider the risk of any potential discrimination and/or whistleblowing claims being made and follow a fair process.
New Regulations brought in on 6 July mean that SSP is payable where an individual self-isolates because they are in a "bubble" (an extended or linked household) with another household, and someone in their bubble has COVID-19 symptoms or has received a positive test result. Previously, SSP was only payable where an individual was living in the same household as the person with symptoms.
Under the latest rules, SSP will stop being payable if a person with symptoms tests negative for COVID-19.
SSP entitlement will also end where someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable receives a notification to end shielding.
People who are self-isolating for 14 days because they have been notified that they should do so by the NHS test and trace service qualify for SSP under rules brought in on 27 May. This will cover people who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19, even if they are not themselves showing any symptoms. People who can work from home will not be entitled to SSP and will be entitled to their usual pay.
Employers will need to consider whether company sick pay is payable as well in these situations. This will depend on the wording of the company sick pay policy or rules.
Travel and quarantine
On 4 July 2020, the FCO updated its advice against "all but essential" travel, allowing travel to destinations no longer considered to pose an unacceptably high risk of COVID-19.
From 10 July 2020, people returning to England will not have to self-isolate if they are travelling or returning from one of the countries with a "travel corridor" exemption, as long as they have not been to or stopped in a country that is not on the travel corridor exemption list within the previous 14 days.
If they have been to or stopped in a country that is not on the travel corridor exemption list, they will still have to self-isolate for 14 days after leaving that country.
These changes mean that fewer workers returning from holiday or business travel will need to self-isolate for 14 days, but employers should consider their position in relation to any workers returning from abroad who are required to self-isolate and are unable to work from home, and communicate this to workers in advance of their holiday.
There may now be some scope for international business travel to resume, although the risks to workers involved in air travel would still need to be carefully considered.
Job Retention Bonus Scheme
The Chancellor announced on 8 July that businesses will receive a one-off Job Retention Bonus of £1,000 for each furloughed worker they bring back to work and retain in continuous employment until at least 31 January 2021. The bonus will apply to workers who earn an average of £520 per month between the end of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the end of 31 January 2021. The bonus will be paid from February 2021. Further details about the scheme are expected to be released later this month.
Further support was also announced for employers to take on young people for six-month traineeships and new apprentices.
For more information or advice on these or any other issues, please get in touch with your usual contact at Clyde & Co.