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Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Lockdown - Guidance Changes Employers Need to Know

on Friday, 15 January 2021.

England has now entered a third national lockdown which is expected to remain in place until the middle of February 2021 although it may be that this is extended. What do employers need to know about lockdown guidance this time around?

Have Any Changes Been Made to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme?

The provisions relating to the amount which can be claimed remain the same so employers can furlough employees until 30 April 2021 and claim 80% of an employee's usual salary for hours not worked up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.

While the above provisions remain unchanged, the Government has issued new guidance to confirm employees are eligible for furlough where they are unable to work or on reduced hours due to caring responsibilities. This will be particularly pertinent to employers whose employees have limited or no childcare provision due to the closure of schools.

The guidance which can be found here also notes that where employees are clinically extremely vulnerable or at the highest risk of severe illness then they too will be eligible for furlough.

For employers it is advisable to be proactive and start discussions with employees to identify those who face the difficulty of juggling care responsibilities and work and to discuss options.

Working From Home - What Does an Employer Need to Do?

The guidance now in place stipulates that an individual can only leave home for work where it is unreasonable for that individual to do their job from home. Further the Government requires employers to "take every possible step to facilitate their employees working from home". The guidance goes on to suggest these steps could be through the provision of IT equipment and remote working. This guidance places responsibility on employers to identify and address issues to allow their workforce to continue to work from home. It seems likely that after two lockdowns employers who can have invested in systems to allow remote working, but the guidance suggests an increase in the level of responsibility on employers to facilitate remote working.

Where working from home is not possible, employees can still attend the employer's premises but the employer will need to consider whether this is necessary and whether any additional steps could be taken to allow that employee to work from home. There are very limited areas whereby in-person attendance is envisaged as necessary (examples given are manufacturing and construction). If an employer is to permit employees to attend the workplace, strict COVID-19 measures need to continue to be in place and should be reviewed regularly.

Has Shielding for the Clinically Extremely Vulnerable Been Reintroduced?

Yes. If an employee has been previously advised they fall in this category by the NHS or their GP then they should follow shielding guidance. Those individuals who have one or more of the conditions listed here or identified as clinically extremely vulnerable by their clinician or GP should also follow the shielding guidance.

The Government is advising those who are clinically extremely vulnerable to remain at home as much as possible. If an employee who is clinically extremely vulnerable cannot work from home they should not attend work. It may be that the employee is eligible for furlough, if remote working is not possible, or for Statutory Sick Pay. An employer will need to consider who in their workforce this affects and begin conversations with that employee if they have not done so already.

Employees who live in a household with someone who falls within the clinically extremely vulnerable category are required to follow the general lockdown rules currently in place and therefore, where permitted under current lockdown rules, can attend work. It may be for some employees that the re-introduction of shielding affects members of their household and caring responsibilities. Where an employee is uncomfortable attending their place of work (if permitted under the lockdown rules) due to a member of their household being clinically extremely vulnerable, an employer may need to consider and agree with the employee changes to their role, hours or their eligibility for furlough.

What Is an Employee Entitled to If They Need to Self-Isolate?

An employee who is required to self-isolate must do so for a period of 10 days (this being reduced from 14 days). Statutory Sick Pay is available for the period which employees are required to isolate. Guidance on eligibility for Statutory Sick Pay can be found here.

How We Can Help You As an Employer

The situation and guidance is rapidly changing and for employers it is key to recognise those changes and identify how they might affect the workforce.

We can assist in providing tailored advice on furlough issues and calculations and the requirements to which an employer needs to adhere to ensure a COVID-19 safe workplace along with the policies and data protection issues this entails. Keeping the workforce appraised of changes and liaising with employees who are likely to be affected by caring responsibilities or may be clinically extremely vulnerable is crucial. Negotiating temporary changes to roles and / or hours may be necessary and we can assist with the necessary documentation.

Coronavirus guidance employers

If you have any queries or require advice please get in touch with Michael Halsey in our Employment team on 07554 432 829 or complete the form below.

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