COVID-19, Workplace Safety and Furlough
As a result of the Lockdown imposed to address the threat from COVID-19, some employers have been required to close their businesses entirely, whilst some have been able to continue part or all of their businesses. Many, however, have made redundancies, exercised contractual rights to lay-off employees or put them on short-time working, agreed changes to terms and conditions with employees and furloughed staff under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
The scheme covers employees or workers provided that they:
- Were on a UK employer’s PAYE payroll and notified to HMRC on an RTI submission on or before 19 March 2020
- Are furloughed for the first time on or before 10 June 2020
An employer can claim in respect of the following:
- Full-time employees
- Part-time employees
- Employees on agency contracts
- Employees on flexible or zero-hour contracts
- Non-UK nationals
provided that they agree to being furloughed.
Until the end of July 2020, employers can claim up to the lower of 80% of usual monthly wage costs capped at £2,500 gross per employee, plus the associated employer national insurance contributions and minimum auto-enrolment employer pension contributions on the capped furlough pay. Between the beginning of August and the end of October 2020 employers will be required to cover a proportion of the costs of furloughed employees
As Lockdown continues to be eased, employers will need to take a flexible approach in designing how their businesses operate, particularly in the early phases – bearing in mind that, in certain circumstances, Lockdown may need to be reintroduced.
The COVID-19 Secure guidelines are supported by five key steps to working safely which employers need to implement as soon as practicable. These are to:
- Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment
- Develop cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures
- Help people to work from home
- Maintain two metre social distancing, where possible
- Where people cannot be two metres apart, manage transmission risk by:
- Considering whether an activity needs to continue for the business to operate
- Keeping the activity time involved as short as possible
- Using screens or barriers to separate people from each other
- Using back-to-back or side-to-side working whenever possible.
- Staggering arrival and departure times.
- Reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using fixed teams or partnering.
Employees and, in some cases, workers have the right not to be dismissed or treated detrimentally where they raise health and safety concerns so it is important that these are addressed by employers.