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Coronavirus Advice for Employers

Advice on the coronavirus response can be a minefield when it comes to HR. With official advice and guidance rapidly evolving and often long-winded, we have broken it down into a simple, easy-to-read guide of the most frequently asked pandemic questions.

The furlough scheme has been extended again recently until the end of September 2021. The extension sees employees continue to receive 80% of their salary for hours not worked until the scheme ends. The Government’s contribution will gradually lessen, with employers contributing 10% in July, increasing to 20% in August and September.

We are regularly updating our documents and policies for our clients to reflect this change. If you need further help or guidance, don’t hesitate to give us a call on 0161 603 2156 for a free, no-obligation chat around how we can help protect your business.

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COVID-19 FAQs

Q: What are the main furlough scheme terms for Employers?

Employers (including those who have not used the furlough scheme before) can furlough staff and claim 80% of their salaries, up to a cap of £2,500 from the government.

You still pay employer NICs, pension contributions and an element of holiday pay.

The scheme has now been extended for the fifth time until the end of September 2021. The government’s contribution remains at 80% until June 2021. Then the government contribution will be tapered:

  • From July 2021, the government will contribute 70% and employers will have to pay 10% for hours not worked plus NICs and pension contributions;
  • In August and September 2021 the government will pay 60% and employers 20% plus NICs and pension contributions.

Until September 2021, furloughed staff will continue to receive up to 80% of their pay for hours not worked. Flexible furlough continues to apply, so staff can receive their usual pay for any hours that they work and receive the grant for the remaining unworked hours.

Who’s eligible?

Employees whose Real Time Information (RTI) submission notifying payment for them was made to HMRC on or before the extension was announced, are eligible for grants under the furlough scheme extension.

Periods on or before 30 April 2021

Employers can claim for employees if:

  • they were employed on 30 October 2020; and
  • a PAYE Real Time Information (RTI) submission was made to HMRC for that employee between 20 March 2020 and 30 October 2020.

Periods on or after 1 May 2021

Employers can claim for employees if:

  • they were employed on 2 March 2021; and
  • a PAYE Real Time Information (RTI) submission was made to HMRC for that employee between 20 March 2020 and 2 March 2021

I haven’t previously used the furlough scheme but I now need to. Can I?

You’re eligible to claim for employees who have not previously been furloughed. This includes staff who worked continuously between March-October 2020 for the claims before 30 April 2021. Similarly, staff who worked before 2 March 2021 can be included in the furlough claims from 1 May 2021.

My staff aren’t permanent employees. Does this matter?

You can claim for staff on any type of employment contract, including full-time, part-time, agency, flexible or zero-hour contracts. Foreign nationals can be furloughed. Employees on all categories of visa can be furloughed and grants under the scheme do not count as access to public funds for the purposes of visa conditions.

Further detail about the extension of the furlough scheme continues to emerge and so employers should refer to the government website for the latest information.

Do I need to seek agreement from staff before furloughing them?

Employers seeking to extend furlough until the end of September 2021 will need to obtain agreement from staff before furloughing them. If you are in any doubt around this area, please contact us on 0161 603 2156 to see how we can help.

What dates should I be aware of during the transition from one furlough scheme to another?

The following dates are relevant during the transition from one scheme to another:

  • 15 March 2021: Claims for furlough days in February 2021 must be made by 15 March 2021.
  • 30 April 2021: The end date for claims under the fourth extension to the furlough scheme. For periods ending on or before this date, employers can claim for employees as long as a PAYE RTI submission for them was made to HMRC between the 20 March 2020 and 30 October 2020.
  • 1 May 2021: Claims under the further extended furlough scheme start. You don’t need to have previously claimed for an employee before the qualifying date of 2 March 2021 to claim.
  • 1 July 2021: The government contribution reduces to 70% towards the furlough grant and you will have to pay 10% for your staff’s hours not worked.
  • 1 August 2021: From today until the end of September, the government pays 60% towards the furlough grant and you will have to contribute 20% for your staff’s hours not worked.
  • 30 September 2021: The furlough scheme is currently extended until the end of September 2021.

What if a member of staff has a second job?

If a furloughed employee works elsewhere there are two main possibilities:

Staff who continue an existing second part-time job: Staff members with two or more jobs are eligible for the scheme. The government has confirmed that each job should be treated separately. So, if a staff member has multiple Employers, they can be furloughed from one job, or both jobs. The £2,500 cap will apply to each employment individually.

Employees who take on work elsewhere during their normal contractual hours: The amended Government guidance confirmed that employees can be furloughed in one job and receive their 80% furlough payment and can start working for another employer during the hours they would normally be working for the employer who has furloughed them. They will receive the furlough payments from the first employer and their normal wages from the new employer.

Employees should consent to the furlough arrangements including any ability to work elsewhere and the pay reduction in writing.

When and how can I make claims under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme between May-September 2021?

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been extended until 30 September 2021. There should be no gap in eligibility for support between the previously announced end date of the scheme and the extension. Payments should arrive within six working days after the claim. Employers can no longer submit claims for claim periods ending on or before 31 October 2020.Employees who were first reported on the payroll between 31 October 2020 and 2 March 2021 can be furloughed from 1 May 2021.

Claim deadlines

  • Claims for November 2020: deadline = 14 December 2020
  • Claims for December 2020: deadline = 14 January 2021
  • Claims for January 2021: deadline = 15 February 2021
  • Claims for February 2021: deadline = 14 March 2021
  • Claims for March 2021: deadline = expected to be 14 April 2021
  • Claims for April 2021: deadline = 14 May 2021
  • Claims for May 2021: deadline =14 June 2021
  • Claims for June 2021: deadline = 14 July 2021
  • Claims for July 2021: deadline =16 August 2021
  • Claims for August 2021: deadline = 14 September 2021
  • Claims for September 2021: deadline = 14 October 2021

If employees are on furlough leave can they participate in disciplinary and grievance processes?

Furloughed staff can participate in disciplinary and grievance processes. However, in some cases the furlough grant may be jeopardised depending on whether the furloughed employee is the manager conducting the hearing, the witness, or the employee the proceedings are about.

ACAS guidance on handling disciplinary and grievance proceedings during the pandemic suggests that staff can chair and take notes at hearings, as well as giving witness statements or acting as witnesses. The potential problem for some employers operating their disciplinary and grievance processes is that during full furlough or furloughed hours employees must not generate revenue or provide services to the employer. Give us a call on 0161 603 2156 to find out more.

Can I require furloughed staff to use up their holiday leave during furlough?

Yes, you can require furloughed employees to use up their take holiday leave during furlough. You may want to do this to reduce outstanding annual leave to be taken once the lockdown ends and businesses return to normal.

By law, you can require workers to take holiday provided you give twice as many days’ notice as the period of leave the worker is required to take. For example, if you require the worker to take two week’s annual leave at a certain time, you must give the worker at least four weeks’ advance notice (or whatever is outlined in the employment contract).  You can ask workers to take or cancel holiday with less notice but need the workers’ agreement to do so.

How much holiday pay are furloughed staff entitled to?

You have to pay full holiday pay to your staff if holiday is taken during a furlough period.

If you require furloughed employees to take holiday, you can claim the 80% grant money from HMRC for staff on annual leave, however you must contribute the 20% top up to ensure the holiday pay is at the full amount. This is in contrast to the furlough period, whereby you can choose to top up the 80% pay to 100% (or not).

Can I place staff on furlough instead of SSP?

Employees on who are on sick leave or self-isolating should normally get Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). However:

Furloughing an individual employee already on sick leave

If an employee is on sick leave or self-isolating due to Coronavirus, the employee should be on SSP. The illness or self-isolation should not be a trigger in deciding whether to furlough an employee. Employers can place employees on furlough leave after their sick pay period if appropriate. The furlough scheme is not intended as an alternative for sickness absence, the illness may be short term and furlough periods are at least 3 weeks.

Furloughing employees including those already sick

If employers are in the process of furloughing employees anyway for business reasons and some employees are off sick, the employer can furlough the sick employees with other staff. In these cases, the employee will receive furlough pay instead of SSP because the furlough will end their sick pay entitlement.

Furloughed employees who become ill

If an employee is already on furlough leave when they become ill the guidance confirms that it is the employer’s choice whether to keep them on furlough, at their furloughed rate of pay, or end the period of furlough and move the employee onto SSP.

If, when deciding between SSP and furlough, the employer chooses to move the employee onto SSP the employer must cease the claim for the furlough salary for that period.

Coronavirus sick pay rebate scheme

Employers may qualify for a rebate for up to two weeks of Statutory Sick Pay. Employers can claim a grant under both the furlough scheme and the sick pay rebate scheme for the same employee, but not for the same period of time.

Long-term sickness

Although employees who are receiving Statutory Sick Pay cannot claim furlough pay, employees who are on long-term sick leave can be furloughed. HMRC guidance on the scheme was updated to confirm that the scheme is not intended as an alternative for short-term sickness absences, but employers can furlough employees who are on sick including those off on long-term sick leave if there is a business reason.

How do I bring a staff member back from furlough?

In your initial written furlough agreement with staff, you should state a proposed end date, and if extensions are needed then this should also be confirmed in writing, so that the staff member is aware of their employment status at all times. Our clients have access to a plethora of coronavirus and furlough template documents and policies. If you think your business would benefit from this, and also our 24/7 advice line, please give us a call on 0161 603 2156 today for a no-obligation, free chat about how we could help protect your business.

 

Please kindly note that the guidance for Employers in response to the Coronavirus is ever-changing, and so any advice within this article is intended as guidance-only and not binding legal advice. You should always check the latest coronavirus advice from the UK government website.

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