Apprenticeships and Work Placements

The Government announced support for those looking to for a new job and needing to learn new skills, particularly young workers.

As an employer, you may want to consider an apprentice. In England, if you employ a new apprentice between 1 August 2020 and 31 January 2021, you will receive a payment of £2,000 for each new apprentice you hire aged under 25, and a £1,500 payment for each new apprentice you hire aged 25 and over.

The Government wants to create six-month work placements aimed at those aged 16-24 who are on Universal Credit and are deemed to be at risk of long-term unemployment. Funding will be available for each placement. It will cover 100% of the relevant National Minimum Wage for 25 hours a week, plus the associated employer National Insurance contributions and employer minimum automatic enrolment contributions.

Furlough Scheme

The current furlough scheme has been extended to the end of October 2020.

The deadline to furlough an employee for the first time was 10 June 2020.

You have until the end of July to make a claim for June wage costs.

The number of furloughed employees claimed for after 1 July in any one claim period cannot exceed the maximum number claimed for in any one claim made prior to that date.

Furloughed staff can now return part-time for a minimum period of one week.

We strongly advise that you keep records of your agreements with your employees to place them on furlough or to move them to flexible furlough and retain those records for at least 5 years.

Travel/Quarantine

On 10 July the Government’s travel advice changed, with exemptions removed for travelling to certain countries and territories that no longer pose a high risk for British travellers’.

As an employer, we recommend you work with your employees to understand what their travel plans are. Look at the best way of supporting employees to get the break they need and consider family or financial commitments they may have as a result of decisions made before COVID-19. They may be able to look at whether they can delay their travel plans or transfer their travel to a destination without quarantine restrictions.

If you do have employees that need to quarantine upon returning to the UK you need to consider if they can work from home or if you could provide alternative work which can be undertaken from home.

If an employee cannot do their job from home, possible options are:

  • They need to take extra annual leave to cover the 14 days of self-isolation. In some cases, this might mean their annual leave request is refused.
  • Place an employee on furlough for the time they’re self-isolating.
  • Provide the opportunity for employees to make up the hours taken to observe quarantine over an extended period of time
  • Ask your employee to use additional annual leave to observe quarantine
  • Ask you, employee, to take unpaid leave.

If you wish to cancel an employee’s planned annual leave you must give them at least the same number of days’ notice as the original holiday request. We strongly recommend you consider your reasons for wanting to cancel an employee’s holiday and have a conversation with your employee if this is something you want them to do and document the outcome.

If you would like an employee to take their annual leave at a specific time you must provide notice which is double the length of the period of holiday you are asking to be taken, i.e. two weeks notice of a one week holiday and four weeks notice of a two week holiday.

 

What if I have employees who are shielding?

The government has announced that shielding will be paused from 1 August 2020.

As an employer, you need to consider whether shielding employees can continue to work from home.

If they can’t, you need to undertake a risk assessment of the work environment, alongside an individual COVID-19 risk assessment prior to the employees return to work.

Please refer to the blog post – “Employees Returning to Work” .

Childcare over the summer holidays

You may have some employees who will struggle to find childcare over the summer holidays.

Encourage employees to research childcare arrangements available in your local area and to share information with each other.

Subject to business requirements, your employees could take annual leave but remember this may be for an extended period.

You could continue to furlough staff.

We recommend that you are flexible and work with your employees to find a solution that works for all parties and as always, document any arrangements you make.

Job Retention Bonus

On 8 July 2020, the Government announced the Job Retention Bonus to encourage employers to retain furloughed employees or workers.

The bonus is to be paid to jobs furloughed before 5 July 2020.

The bonus is a one-off payment of £1,000 for every furloughed employee who remains continuously employed through to the end of January 2021.

You need to remember that employees must earn above the Lower Earnings Limit (£520 per month) on average between the end of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the end of January 2021.

Payments will be made from February 2021.

What Do We Know?

In all cases, the health and safety of your employees must be a priority. This is not only their physical safety, but their mental health must be considered too.

Where you employ staff, who are known to be clinically vulnerable (have received a letter or text from their GP for example), you should do all you can to support working from home or in a COVID safe environment. A COVID safe environment is one which has enabled social distancing and implemented the appropriate mitigation. Key to this process is the use of a personal health risk assessment and a work environment risk assessment.

Employees Returning to Work

As your employees return to work, you should undertake a COVID-19 risk assessment in consultation with your employees and trade unions and if you employ over 50 workers you are expected to publish it on your website.

You need to consider the two-metre social distancing rule and it should be enforced wherever possible to manage the transmission risk. Where you cannot provide two-metre social distancing you can seek to provide 1 metre + arrangements with appropriate mitigation such as screens and additional PPE. It is important to keep exposure to riskier activities as short as possible. You should consider the use of screens or barriers to separate people from each other and use back-to-back or side-to-side working rather than face-to-face. Look into the option of the use of ‘fixed teams or partnering’ so each person works with only a few others. It is also important to reinforce cleaning processes and good hand hygiene.

Legislation does provide statutory protection for employees who reasonably believe there to be serious and imminent danger and who refuse to undertake duties or attend the workplace as a result. What is reasonable will depend on the facts in each case. It is very important you have an open dialogue with employees who raise concerns or those you know could be impacted by their workplace environment. Always record these meetings in writing to accurately reflect the conversations.

For tips about a COVID Secure Workplace check out our friends at Grounded Safety.

As an employer what do I need to know about changes to how we manage COVID?

Over the past few weeks, the Government has moved to provide more support to employers and have been relaxing their guidance for clinically vulnerable people who are currently shielding.  The advice is updated regularly and as an employer, you will need to monitor this advice proactively to ensure legislation and guidelines are understood and followed.

There is so much to consider as we adapt to the new normal. Over the next few days, we are going to provide a mini-series of blog updates – HR In The New Normal.

The key is to have an open dialogue with your employees and where possible include them in your thinking especially regarding their return to work, if they have to make additional plans for childcare over the summer holidays and if they have holiday plans.

Recognising and respecting the rights of pregnant employees and those on maternity leave

Picture of a pregnant worker

Our in-house HR Consultant – Jo Brooks says that the recent award of just under £18k made by an employment tribunal to a former Liz Earle employee is a salient reminder to employers that care should be taken to recognise and respect the rights of pregnant employees and those on maternity leave. 

Jo would firstly like to remind us that we cannot possibly be aware of all of the contributing factors leading to this outcome and Liz Earle did admit to falling short of their usual high standards.

There is forthcoming law expected in October 2020 or April 2021 to protect expectant mothers from the point of announcing their pregnancy until up to six months after returning from work which will make the position clearer.

However, in the meantime, it is good practice to ensure that pregnant employees are afforded protection to ensure they are not unwittingly discriminated against, during a redundancy selection process.

HR Wise’s framework provides an affordable framework for small and medium-sized businesses to help them navigate challenging circumstances such as these.

Coronavirus/epidemics/pandemics – what should employers be considering?

 

Thermometer, Temperature, Measure

Coronavirus is in the news right now but good planning is required to manage any severe outbreak of illness or any other matter which might impact the continuity of your business.

Here is an update on what should you be thinking about if you employ staff by our in-house HR Consultant – Jo Brooks.

Please find some suggestions below:

    • Employers should regularly monitor the situation taking into account advice from Public Health England and the World Health Organisation.
    • Where you are thinking of making changes to how you operate because of the virus, you should try to consult with staff and their representatives, wherever you can, where appropriate.
    • Remember to put in place measures that are proportionate and reasonable when considering the risk and circumstances. Seek to remain consistent so that your team(s) know where they stand.

First of all – Consider the risk and appropriate steps you could take to mitigate that risk, perhaps the provision of hand sanitisers for staff and masks (although a recent interview on BBC News with a clinical expert indicated that masks may not be as effective as other hygiene measures). If appropriate, other measures could include requiring employees to report any symptoms and/or requiring employees returning from a high-risk area to work at home for a few weeks (or potentially those who have close contact with someone who has and is displaying symptoms). Please take care to ensure that this situation is managed carefully though, as colleagues (or customers) may be very concerned and behave differently towards a staff member believed to be at risk of having the virus.

You may need to adapt your current policies in the event of staff absences or changes in the behaviour of your customers. If you think you might need staff to work differently or at a different location talk to them about this and understand any challenges this may present for them. Ultimately you may well be able to request this of your staff contractually however, securing agreement is always the better way to go.  If you do transfer staff or redeploy them, remember to make sure that your staff are trained appropriately to carry out the new role, or their existing role in a new location, for example, if it requires operating of machinery or providing orientation of the new location is required in circumstances where the task is fast-paced or high risk.

You may need to show greater flexibility if your staff cannot attend work, for example, because they are caring for dependants, schools are shut or public transport is affected. In these circumstances consider your current policies and procedures, are they still broadly appropriate?  Ensure you meet your statutory requirements to accommodate requests for time off work or flexible working. Consider allowing staff to work from home or another location, can meetings can be conducted online?

Are you dependant on a small number of staff performing a highly-skilled role?  You may wish to think about adapting working arrangements to protect your business continuity.

Give some thought to how you might manage circumstances where staff are willing but unable to work, because they are quarantined or unable to travel; or they are able but unwilling to work because they are concerned about their chances of contracting the virus. Your response should take into account the level of risk your staff are facing and how much protection you have been able to put in place to help mitigate that risk.

For staff who are unwell, their contract will outline their entitlement to sick pay but you may need to be flexible if medical certificates cannot be provided due to staff being asked not to attend the surgery, GP surgeries being overwhelmed or in some cases closed.

You will need to think about staff travelling for work, especially if abroad, when alternative guidelines may be provided in that country.  What if staff fall ill when abroad, can you get them home, or moved? How will your travel insurance and employee liability insurance policies work?

If you want to discuss how you might go about managing this type of situation now or in the future, please contact us.

** please note – actions required may vary from country to country, dependant upon prevailing law.

Image by Wynn Pointaux from Pixabay