Employers affected by COVID-19

As a result of the government’s announcement that the country is to enter a state of lockdown, only “key workers” are to travel to work, many businesses within the hospitality sector are instructed to close and there is a decrease in client demand. What does this mean for your business and your workforce?

What is a key worker?

The government has released guidance on individuals classed as “key workers” which includes:

  • Health and social care workers including doctors, nurses, midwives, social workers and other healthcare volunteers;
  • Education including teachers, teaching assistants and specialist education professionals;
  • Public safety and National Security including police, Ministry of Defence civilians, armed forces personnel, fire and rescue service;
  • Key public services including those essential to the running of the justice system (court staff, legal professionals), religious staff, journalists and broadcasters providing public service broadcasting;
  • Local and national government including those essential to the effective delivery of the COVID-19 response;
  • Food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery;
  • Transport including air, water, road and rail passenger transport professionals; and
  • Utilities, communication and financial services including banks, building societies, oil, gas, electricity and water sectors, call centre staff, postal services, delivery drivers.

I need to close my business because of COVID-19

Are you in the hospitality sector now affected by travel restrictions? Are you in retail now affected by government ordered store closures?

Due to COVID-19 preventing businesses operating, many workers travelling into work and due to the fall in client demand, an employer may want to plan in case they need to reduce their workforce or close their workplace temporarily. For the hospitality sector, this is no longer a choice following the government’s instruction to many cafes, pubs, restaurants to close.

If an employer needs to close down their business temporarily, or ask staff to reduce their hours, it is important that they discuss these changes with their employees and contractors as soon as possible.

Options for employers

It will be crucial to carefully review your employees’ contracts during this time. We can be instructed to review your employees’ agreements and advise you on the best course of action.

Working from home

We have seen an increasing use of technology by all types of businesses and the need for the same has only increased since COVID-19.

Where possible, you should be making reasonable adjustments for your staff to work from home. This will include setting up access for employees to work remotely, ensuring you have adequate cybersecurity safeguards in place, providing staff with the use of laptops or any other hardware facilitating their role, organising virtual meetings to ensure your staff are engaged and remain interactive.

Pay

Unless it says in the contract or is agreed otherwise, you will still need to pay employees for this time.

Employees who are “laid off” and are not entitled to their usual pay might be entitled to a “statutory guarantee payment” of up to £29 per day for a period of 5 days from their employer.

Employees and workers must receive Statutory Sick Pay if they become ill from coronavirus or need to self isolate. Employers might offer more than Statutory Sick Pay i.e. contractual sick pay.

Employees should still follow the usual sickness policy you have in place so it is sensible to check this.

Annual leave

You can tell your employees to take holiday if you are planning a business closure and employees will have to use their annual leave entitlement.

You should be explaining clearly why you need to close and try to resolve any employee’s concerns at the earliest opportunity.

Redundancies and lay-offs

Employers should be discussing possible changes to the business with their employees at the earliest opportunity. Where possible, you should take steps to avoid compulsory redundancies e.g. by seeking agreement to voluntary redundancy, asking staff to work flexibly, laying off self employed contractors, reducing overtime and finding alternative work for employees elsewhere in the business.

Subject to what their employment contract says, or an agreed variation to their contract, you can lay off an employee (ask them to take unpaid leave or stay home) when you temporarily cannot give them paid work. This can help avoid redundancies but you will need to agree this with staff first.

If you need to proceed with making staff redundant, you should ensure you are following the process properly and consult with your employees.

We can be instructed to advise throughout the process and we recommend you seek legal advice as soon as possible before making any key changes to your business and its workforce.

Coronovirus Job Retention Scheme

Any employer in the country will be eligible for the Job Retention Scheme providing for furloughed workers. If you cannot cover staff costs due to COVID-19, you may be able to access government support to continue paying part of your staff’s wages. This will allow you to keep employees on payroll and will avoid redundancies and lay-offs.

To qualify for this scheme, employees should not undertake work while they are furloughed which will allow you to claim a grant of up to 80% of their wages for all employment costs up to a cap of £2,500 per month.

Good practice for employers during COVID-19

  • Keep up to date with the government advice on coronavirus;
  • Take extra precautions to protect vulnerable employees such as those who are pregnant, aged 60 or over or who have underlying health conditions
  • Avoid attendance in the office as much as possible and make reasonable adjustments for employees to work from home including holding meetings remotely via teleconference or video conference. We recommend small businesses use facilities such as Google Meet or Zoom which provide these services for free.
  • Have a clear sickness policy in place and make all employees aware of the same;
  • Ensure you have records for all your staff’s emergency contact details;
  • Look out for symptoms of coronavirus amongst your staff, prioritising their well being and that of other employees they will be interacting with; and
  • Ensure there are clean places to enable your staff to wash their hands with hot water and soap.

Useful links

Book an Initial Consultation with a UK Employment Lawyer

If you are an employer, employee, senior executive, or HR professional and require advice on any aspect of UK Employment law, get in touch so our employment team can assess the legal merit of your case and provide you or your business with bespoke UK employment legal advice.

Please note that your legal rights may be subject to limitation and thereby irreversibly time-barred if you fail to take legal action or defend a claim in time, in particular for Employment Tribunal and Court proceedings. You are strongly advised to seek legal advice prior to taking any steps in the employment tribunal or court procedural process. Do not delay in seeking legal advice.

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