ESB Accountancy in Glos explains what is the Government’s ‘Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme’ and when does it come into effect?
The Government has announced a radical job retention scheme that will cover 80% of the wage costs of employees who are ‘furloughed’ by their employer – up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.
ESB Accountancy now has some detailed guidance of how the system will operate but it is not yet up and running. The Government plans to have it in place in time for the April payroll (although we think that is optimistic), and it will be backdated to cover the period from 1 March 2020.
If an employee does not have the virus but is living with someone who does, should they be signed off sick?
They certainly should stay at home. If they are not ill but can work from home then there is no need for them to be treated as being on sick leave. If they cannot work at home then the Statutory Sick pay scheme has been amended to make it clear that the time they spend self-isolating will count as a period of incapacity for work. However rather than place them on sick leave the employer may choose to take advantage of the Government’s proposed job retention (furlough) scheme.
What evidence can I ask for that an employee is genuinely ill or required to self-isolate?
The normal practice of obtaining a fit note from a GP is clearly no longer a feasible option. The Government has introduced an online scheme through NHS 111 under which an employee, after answering a series of questions can be emailed an ‘isolation note’ indicating that they should remain at home either because they have coronavirus symptoms or because they should be self-isolating. This note will be deemed to be adequate evidence of their inability to work for the purposes of SSP – essentially equivalent to a fit note.
Can an employee refuse to come to work for fear of contracting the virus?
If the workplace is not one that the Government has ordered to close then the position remains that employees can be required to work. The strong advice from Government is that the employee should work from home whenever this is possible. But where homeworking is simply not an option the advice is that employees can still travel into work.
This means that in most circumstances the employer can still require the employee to come to work as normal. This assumes of course that the employer has, as far as is possible, put in place the appropriate social distancing measures so that the workplace is as safe as it can be. If the employee reasonably believes the employer is instructing the employee to work in unsafe conditions and refuses to come into work, and is dismissed as a result, that will be an automatically unfair dismissal (and the normal two years’ service is not required).
Employers will want to be sensitive to employees who have good reason to be particularly cautious because of an underlying condition or because of their contact with vulnerable people. In these circumstances – and where home working is not an option – the employee is probably best treated as either being off sick or ‘on furlough’ (see below).
If I am required to close my premises, am I still obliged to pay employees?
That depends on the terms of their contracts. Salaried employees will be entitled to full pay if you close the workplace unless there is a clause in the contract allowing you to lay them off for a temporary period without pay. The same goes for hourly paid employees with a minimum number of guaranteed hours. Where there is no set obligation to provide a minimum number of hours then the employer will not be obliged to pay for hours that the employee is not actually asked to work.
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