COVID-19 – Your HR Questions Answered

Date: Tuesday, 24th March, 2020

The rapid advancement of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) has changed the way we all live and work and the measures taken by the UK Government to try to control the spread of the virus has led to employers and employees asking numerous questions about the future of work.

It is advisable to keep a watch on the latest official announcements and of course we will aim to summarise what these might mean for employers as soon as we can. 

However we have tried to provide answers to some of the key HR questions (answers correct as of 24/03/2020). Please note that these relate to the UK with crisis measures announced by the UK Government.

We also have a dedicated COVID-19 landing page which contains additional information on this topic – https://content.hrrevolution.co.uk/en-gb/coronavirus-employer-advice

  • Will I be paid if I’m unwell and have to self-isolate?

The latest Government advice is that if you are displaying symptoms of coronavirus (a high temperature or a new, continuous cough), then you should stay at home for 7 days.  If you live with someone who has symptoms, you’ll need to stay at home for 14 days from the day their symptoms started. This is because it can take 14 days for symptoms to appear.

Sick pay can vary from company to company.  But unless your organisation has a sick pay policy then, as a temporary measure, emergency government legislation states that Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) relating to coronavirus is payable to eligible individuals from day one of sickness absence. This overwrites previous SSP rules.

  • How much will I be paid if I receive SSP?

Eligible employees (earning over £118 per week) who are too ill to work are entitled to £94.25 per week Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), for up to 28 weeks.

Employees staying at home because of COVID-19 can now claim SSP. This includes individuals who are caring for people in the same household and therefore have been advised to do a household quarantine.

The Government is legislating for SSP to be paid from day 1, rather than day 4, of absence from work due to COVID-19. Once the legislation has been passed, this will apply retrospectively from 13 March 2020.

As of February 2020, all small businesses (employing less than 250 staff ) will have the cost of providing a maximum of 14 days of statutory sick pay refunded by the government in full, as part of the emergency measures.

  • A family member has symptoms so I now am told to self-isolate, however I can work from home so will I still receive full pay?

If you live with someone who has symptoms, you’ll need to stay at home for 14 days from the day their symptoms started. This is because it can take 14 days for symptoms to appear.  However, if you are able to work from home and can carry out your usual working duties then you will be paid as usual. However it is advisable to speak to your employer to ensure that you have everything you need to work from home and you should not come into the workplace if you have been told you must self-isolate.

  • A family member has symptoms so I am now told to self-isolate, however my job doesn’t allow me to work from home – am I entitled to SSP?

If you are staying at home because of COVID-19 you can now claim SSP. This includes individuals who are caring for people in the same household and therefore have been advised to do a household quarantine.

The legislation around this means that you should be eligible for SSP form day one of your self-isolation.  You will need to let your employer know and check via the NHS 111 Website (https://111.nhs.uk/)  You are able to download a self-certification form digitally on the website should you show symptoms.

To check your sick pay entitlement, you should talk to your employer, and visit the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) page for more information. (https://www.gov.uk/statutory-sick-pay)

  • If I need to take time off to care for my children, do I have to take this as holiday or unpaid leave?

It might be possible to speak to your employer and arrange for you to work from home while your children are at home. This might be easier if you have older children compared to those with much younger children.

You could discuss a more flexible working arrangement, be realistic with everyone’s expectations, you might be able to arrange with your employer to adjust your working day to perform your work duties but at times that suit your childcare needs. For example starting work earlier in the morning or finishing later into the evening.

If you can’t make suitable arrangements, your employer might request you take unpaid leave and/or allowing you to use any accrued annual leave. Your employer might instruct you to use your holiday allowance by giving you notice equal to twice the number of days annual allowance they ask you to take – for example, taking five days holiday would require ten days’ notice from your employer.

You can take reasonable unpaid time off work to care for a dependant when necessary because of an unexpected event. You are allowed a reasonable amount of time off to deal with the emergency but it should be used in order to make alternate care provisions.  Your employer, you may choose to pay you during this period but it will be at their discretion.

Read more in our dedicated blog on this subject – https://hrrevolution.co.uk/schools-out-for-well-to-be-honest-who-knows/

  • Can my employer lay off staff at short notice or reduce hours? What support will I receive financially? Am I entitled to any pay from my employer?

The Government has recently introduced measures to try to prevent employees from being laid off due to the economic slowdown.

Your employer will need to classify all relevant employees as “furloughed workers”. This means that you are kept on the payroll but does no work for the employer while furloughed.

The employer grant will cover up to 80% of your employment costs (including employer’s NIC and pension), up to a cap of £2,500 per month. The employer may fund the difference but does not have to.

The full guidance on the Furlough Scheme issued by the Government is here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wage-costs-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme 

There is also additional financial help if you need it. Mortgage borrowers in England and Wales can apply for a three-month payment holiday from their lender. Interest will continue to be charged on the amount owed.

Tenants can apply for a three-month payment holiday from their landlord. Guidance will be issued to landlords in due course. Buy-to-let mortgages are also eligible for the mortgage holiday.

Also, no one can be evicted from their home or have their home repossessed over the next three months.

  • Can I be forced to take my holiday now?

Your employer might request you take unpaid leave and/or allowing you to use any accrued annual leave. Your employer might instruct you to use your holiday allowance by giving you notice equal to twice the number of days annual allowance they ask you to take – for example, taking five days holiday would require ten days’ notice from your employer.

  • As an employer I am experiencing difficulties due to the economic slowdown. Is there any support available?

Yes, absolutely, the Government has announced a series of measures to help employers and their employees during this difficult time, these include;

Statutory Sick Pay relief package for SMEs – Small and medium-sized businesses and employers can reclaim up to two weeks’ Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) per eligible employee paid for sickness absence due to COVID-19. The rate of SSP is £94.25 per week. While the Government have yet to announce the process for reclaiming this money, employers should maintain records of staff absences and payments of SSP, but employees will not need to provide a GP fit note. If one is required, employees who are self isolating can obtain one from the NHS111 website.

Deferral of VAT payments – The next quarter of VAT payments will be deferred, meaning businesses will not need to make VAT payments originally to the end of June 2020 this has now pushed to April 2021.

Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme – Loans of up to £5 million, interest free for 12 months. The borrower remains liable for 100% of the debt. The lender receives a guarantee of 80% of the loan amount from the Government to enable more loans to be approved.
Delivered by lenders that partner with the British Business Bank. All the major banks will offer the Scheme – for more info visit https://www.british-business-bank.co.uk/ourpartners/coronavirus-business-interruption-loan-scheme-cbils/accredited-lenders

Pay for furloughed employees – Employers can now access grants from the Government to avoid the need to lay off staff as part of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

In order to qualify, an employer will need to classify relevant employees as “furloughed workers”. This means that the worker is kept on the payroll but does no work for the employer while furloughed.

The grant will cover up to 80% of the employee’s employment costs (including employer’s NIC and pension), up to a cap of £2,500 per month. The employer may fund the difference but does not have to.

  • I am employer and due to the coronavirus think I may need to lay some employees off, what should I do?

Please see point 8 above for details of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Where employees’ salary is reduced as a result of these changes, they may also be eligible for support through the welfare system, including Universal Credit.

The scheme is intended to run for at least 3 months from 1 March 2020, but will be extended if necessary.

  • I’m self-employed – what support is available for me?

We hope that new legislation will be passed this week to help with the self employed / freelance industries petitions have been put in for an amount to be paid which equates to an average of the last 3 years wages or approx. £2,500 – £2,900 to help cover earnings – once this is announced we will update this information.

As it stands currently: Individuals not eligible for SSP – those who are self-employed or earning below the Lower Earnings Limit of £118 per week – who have COVID-19 or are advised to stay at home, can make a claim for Universal Credit and/or new style Employment and Support Allowance.

If you are eligible for new style Employment and Support Allowance, it will now be payable from day 1 of sickness, rather than day 8, if you have COVID-19 or are advised to stay at home.

For more information visit https://www.understandinguniversalcredit.gov.uk/coronavirus/

If you need any HR advice and don’t know where to turn, please do contact our team who will be happy to help and advise. Contact us on hello@hrrevolution.co.uk

 

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