New year, new lockdown – here are the key points for employers

As we go into this new lockdown period, the guidance from the government is now more familiar to employers.

So although there are inevitably going to be difficulties arising from the restrictions on work and closure of schools, for most it is not quite the #startling new world we found ourselves in in April.

Some of the key points to be aware of over the next few weeks are set out below and, as always, if you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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Working from home

When employees first started working from home, there was not sufficient time for employers to carry out assessments to make sure that they were working in a suitable space, without risk to their health for example caused by cramped work conditions or unsuitable IT equipment.

The expectations on employers this time around are likely to be greater, with more questions being asked if appropriate assessments aren’t carried out. If you have not already done so, you may also wish to introduce a home working policy to set out the ground rules for working from home.

New Dawn Resources has previously circulated DSE (display screen equipment) self-assessments that can be used with employees to assess their workspace at home as well as the office, as well as a home working policy which you can adapt.

Do you want us to send one or both of these free documents to you? Please get in touch!

Furlough

 You must make sure that you’re informing employees that they’re on furlough and obtaining some form of written agreement from them that you can keep on record in case HMRC ask for it.

Records need to be kept for at least five years and we would recommend also keeping any documents or data that support the furlough claims, such as information about cancelled work, reduction in turnover, etc. If you need an updated furlough leave agreement, please let us know and we’d be happy to help with this.

  • The flexible furlough scheme is set to continue until 30th April 2021, with the expectation that the contribution from HMRC will remain at 80% of pay up to a total of £2,500 per month.
  • Furlough can be used for employees who are shielding in accordance with government advice for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable – this is a business decision, but should be applied in most cases so as to avoid the risk of a disability discrimination issue.
  • Furlough can be used for employees who cannot attend work or work from home due to school closures – for the time being, this remains a business decision and should be applied following investigation of an employee’s situation including any arrangements that might be made for them to come in to work including on amended hours, for them to work from home, or for them to establish a support bubble that will help them with childcare. You can refuse to furlough an employee who cannot work at all, but may risk a constructive dismissal and/or sex discrimination issue and so we would recommend taking advice before doing so.
  • Furlough cannot be used to cover periods of holiday, unless the employee is already being furloughed and would not have been able to work during the holiday period due to COVID related reductions in work. Where employees are on furlough, you can still require them to use up some holiday by giving them notice in writing that is at least 2x as long as the amount of holiday to be taken e.g. 2 days’ notice to take 1 day’s holiday.
  • Furlough cannot be used to cover notice periods.
  • Employers claiming under the furlough scheme will now be named and the amount claimed disclosed by HMRC online.
  • The timescales for submitting furlough claims have been reduced, you must get your claim in by the 14th of the month after the month you’re claiming for.

Employee wellbeing

Even the most robust employees are feeling the stresses and strains of this continuing situation. Employers have a duty to take care of both the mental and physical health of employees, and so factors such as the isolation of working at home or being furloughed for long periods and the stresses of high workloads need to be taken into account and addressed where possible.

Where employee resilience starts to fall, it can impact on their productivity and result in time away from work. There are practical things that you can do to help them boost resilience and respond to challenges in a way that is better for them – and for your business.

We provide employee resilience assessments, personal toolkits for developing resilience and workshops for managers and employees on how to become more resilient. For more information please contact us.

We are currently offering 20% off our next two workshops (26th January and 25th February) for people on our mailing list – up to two people per company.

If you would like to sign up, email us - Kate.Booth@newdawnresources.co.uk. We send out employment law updates twice a year and have been sending out regular COVID related updates over the last few months. Please see details of the workshop attached.

Self-isolation

The period of self-isolation after developing symptoms, being in contact with someone with COVID (or suspected COVID), being contacted by NHS Track and Trace, or returning from abroad has been reduced from 14 days to 10 days.

Self-isolation is to be paid at Statutory Sick Pay rates from day 1 if an individual cannot work from home (any other sickness will be paid from day 4 as usual).

If we can help you with any HR or employment law matter, get in touch!