Flexible working in the digital era webinar

We are holding our July webinar on Friday 24th July at 12:30 on the topic of Flexible working in the digital era.

This will cover:

  • How to manage remote employees
  • Flexible working requests
  • How to use Zoom
  • Legal & Safety obligations

We will close with a Q&A session followed by an exclusive after party for all YOU; our HR retained clients.

If you’d like to join us please sign up here:


How to make your Workplace COVID-secure

Whilst it’s positive news that workplaces are beginning to reopen, there are steps which all businesses have to take to ensure the safety for their employees. You’ll need to comply with the guidance issued by the government: Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19)

Physical distancing is important, as is practicing good hygiene including frequent hand-washing and sanitising hands regularly. There may be the possibility that masks will become compulsory in the future so ensuring you undertake your risk assessments, share them with employees and regularly review them will be crucial. It is expected by the government that businesses with over 50 employees will publish their risk assessments on their websites.

What next?

The guidance is still that people should continue to work from home where possible which could pose issues when bringing employees back from furlough is concerned – we recommend taking a risk approach to minimise the risk of discrimination claims and ensuring employee concerns are listened to and addressed. It may be that you can consider employees being flexibly furloughed, working alternative hours or a different shift pattern. Some employees may also consider a reduction in their hours if the other alternatives aren’t possible and they aren’t eligible for furlough. They key is communicating regularly with employees, not making assumptions, and keeping good notes on steps you have taken to support employees throughout the pandemic.


Government measures – Jobs Plan

The Chancellor presented his “Plan for Jobs” this week, providing a number of financially supportive measures, designed to kick-start the economy.  We have published a separate blog on this point on our website here.

Job retention bonus

There will be a new one-off payment of £1,000 to UK employers for every furloughed employee who remains continuously employed until at least 31 January 2021. Employees must earn above £520 per month on average between 1 November 2020 and 31 January 2021. Payments will be made from February 2021 and further details about the bonus will be announced by the end of July 2020.

New apprenticeships

From 1 August 2020 to 31 January 2021, employers in England will receive a payment of £2,000 for each new apprentice they hire aged under 25, and £1,500 for each new apprentice they hire aged 25 and over. These payments will be in addition to the existing £1,000 payment that the government already provides for new 16-18-year-old apprentices.


Ask the Experts

How do we deal with childcare issues?

The safest approach is to manage these situations through risk – having childcare difficulties is a reality for many working parents as childcare facilities struggle to cope with the current measures and reduced operating capacity in place.  In situations where childcare is posing an issue to returning to work, we recommend keeping the employee on furlough for as long as possible.

If the primary carer is a female, forcing her to return could constitute indirect sex discrimination (women are more like than men to care for children, so it’s harder for her to return).  If you have a legitimate business interest for requiring her back and there was no alternative but to require her to return, a tribunal might think the request was a reasonable one and that you acted proportionately.  There are as yet, no test cases of this type in the employment tribunals.

If you haven’t already, you may look to reduce furlough to the minimum level possible (80%) for employees in this situation.  They could also use unpaid parental leave, which is a statutory right, and is capped at 4 weeks per year to a maximum of 18 weeks before the child turns 18.  You could also allow some annual leave or unpaid leave to be taken.  It is advisable to keep reviewing the situation and ensuring the employee feels able to return at the right time.

Can I make a pregnant part-timer redundant?

A dismissal will automatically be unfair (from day one of employment) if the only motive for dismissing is because of the pregnancy.  You must show there is a genuine redundancy situation and follow a fair procedure by treating everyone equally who performs that role.

The risks in doing this are indirect discrimination (as women are less likely to be able to take on full-time work than men because of caring responsibilities).  Part-time workers cannot be treated any less favourably because they are part-time workers, again, there has to be a genuine redundancy situation with a legitimate business aim.  You should explore all the alternatives before progressing down this route, and be able to prove there was no alternative to your proposal.

Consultation is important with the affected employees – entering into genuine discussions about how the aim can be achieved through other methods (where possible).


Flexible Furlough Scheme – new rules from 1 July 2020.

Flexible Furlough Scheme – FAQs

Published 13th June 2020

After much anticipation, the guidance was finally published last Friday to make clear the rules surrounding the Flexible Furlough Scheme which is due to launch on the 1st of July 2020. The deadline for putting employees onto the current Furlough Scheme has now passed in order to meet the 3-week minimum requirement. What do these new rules mean for employers? We have put together some frequently asked questions our HR experts received in the lead-up to the scheme.

Can I put an employee onto the scheme who has been on maternity, shared parental, adoption, paternity or parental bereavement leave?

It appears that this is permitted even if you are furloughing them for the first time. You can do this on the proviso that you have previously submitted a claim for any other employee in your organisation in relation to furlough for at least 3 consecutive weeks between 1st March 2020 and 30th June 2020. This means that if you have not used the scheme before for any other employee, you won’t be able to furlough your employee who is returning from one of the leave types mentioned above. They also need to have been on your PAYE payroll on or before the 19th of March 2020 with the relevant RTI submission being made.

Do I have to put an employee on for a minimum period?

No, the only requirement for this is any employees who are furloughed between the period of 1st March 2020 to 30th June 2020. From the 1st of July 2020, provided that an employee has been on a previous claim you have made as the employer for at least 3 consecutive weeks, you are able to flexibly furlough them as you need to, and in line with all employment laws.

If I’ve made someone redundant, can I bring them back and flexibly furlough them for a longer period?

Yes, provided they were made redundant after the 19th of March 2020, met the previous criteria, and have been on a previous furlough claim you have made for them as their employer. Depending on the period of time between making them redundant and bringing them back, there may be tax implications in relation to any statutory redundancy payment made, therefore employers should take advice as necessary on their situation.

Is there a minimum requirement for how long someone can be brought back for?

No – not from the 1st of July 2020, it is a flexible arrangement subject to them qualifying for it. There is a minimum claim period of 7 calendar days, though.

Will they be paid at 80% when they work for me or will this be 100%?

Employees can either remain fully furloughed at 80% (no 3-week minimum period) from the 1st of July 2020 which would be at 80% or greater depending on your agreement with them, or they can return to work flexibly, receiving the agreed furlough amount for the hours they aren’t working and their normal pay for the hours they are. It is worth noting that National Living Wage and National Minimum Wage increased in April 2020 so any hours being worked must be paid at the relevant statutory rates.

How do I claim for the money?

Using the same portal as before, presumably there will be some sections which will be re-worded, but you must keep records of how many hours your employees work and how many they are furloughed for, for five years.

Do I need a new agreement with my employees?

Yes, the newly issued guidance on the 12th of June 2020 states that you’ll need to agree this with the employee and keep a new written agreement that confirms the new furlough arrangement for five years, ensuring it complies with all employment laws. We are happy to provide this agreement complimentary to Nicholsons clients – please email hrmail@nicholsonsca.co.uk to request a copy.

It is worth bearing in mind that legislation will be added to the Finances Bill very shortly which will allow tax officials to recoup erroneously claimed public funds, which comes with a risk of criminal prosecution. This is understandably the last thing employers will need given the current outlook, so ensure you take professional advice on your circumstances if you are unclear.


Cash is king, we know that but more so now. Five tips for proactive cash management

Over the last two months monitoring cash flow has been a top priority for most businesses. For most, this has been activity thrust upon them by the current situation. Even though the shock of lockdown is becoming a distant memory monitoring cash is still a vital activity and one that should be led by senior leaders/ owner-managers.

For many SME owner-managers, proactive and systematic cash management is not something done routinely. We know from the results of research that cash flow hiccups are often identified at the eleventh hour giving little time to identify and arrange a suitable funding solution.

“Instead of looking through the telescope the wrong way round business owners should be looking through it normally to spot cash challenges in the distance and give time to deal with them.”

Without cash a business is doomed and therefore its management should be the number one priority of every senior team or owner-manager.

Outlined below are five tips to help your business become more proactive around cash management.

Make cash management everybody’s priority

Communication is important. Inform senior managers why cash management is important. Let them see the plan, the challenges, risks of not being proactive and the numbers involved. Focusing the minds of leaders, senior managers and budget holders and asking them to communicate to their teams makes cash management an important task for everybody, part of every employees role. Communicating, top-down ensures there is no misinformation within the team and everybody knows how important a task it is.

Manage cash inflows

For most businesses that need to consider managing incoming cash, managing Aged Receivables is where the focus should be. Consider automating the routine day to day debt collection with an app like Chaser leaving your teams time free to focus on that stubborn debt.

Think too about how to make it easy for your customers to pay you. Adding payment links to digital invoices and collecting retainers by Direct Debit may speed up payment times too. Check out Xero support for how to do this to invoices in Xero.

Finally consider undertaking credit checks on all new major customers. This will help you evaluate the risk of non payment before you start to raise sales invoices but may also enable you to negotiate different payment terms.

Have you taken advantage of all government schemes?

There have been almost weekly announcements of support for businesses and you would have been forgiven for missing one of the non mainstream support packages.

Review the .gov website for details and follow them up.

Talk through cash flow shortfalls early

We all have people that support us when we need it. Whether that is an employee or your external accountant, talk to them about cash worries and challenges. Identify the challenge and find a solution to deal with it. For help and assistance with managing cash and finding a solution talk to either Richard Hallsworth, Stephanie Smith or Steve Robinson, our funding specialists.

Revisit your cash flows regularly

This is a vital activity. Amend cash flow models and forecasts as things become more certain. If you are establishing plans to bring income forward or steepen the cash coming in curve on the way out of lockdown make amendments showing the impact of each measure.

Add in changes to government backed support schemes as they are secured and update predicted cash coming into the business when you speak to debtors.

Technology

There are lots of examples of apps that pull data from your accounting software but as yet I am to be convinced on how accurate a picture they present. For now in our business we still use a spreadsheet to forecast cash over the current month and then the next 90 days. This is a daily summary and reconciled each day to the bank.

Final thoughts 

The management of cash flow has never been so important as it is now. Understanding where any gaps might be, how deep they may become and the impact on the position of the business is vital if long term health is to be preserved.

Leading from the front with a clear and proactive message on the importance of good cash management should be a top priority in any sMe whilst owner managers in Smes should focus on cash and ensure they understand the position themselves.


Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) extended

The Chancellor has confirmed the extension of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), with the announcement of a second and final grant to support the income of self-employed individuals during the Coronavirus outbreak.

The first and current round of grants under the scheme allows self-employed individuals to claim a taxable grant worth 80 per cent of three months’ average monthly trading profits, capped at a total of £7,500 and paid in a single instalment.

It has seen 2.3 million claims to date, collectively worth £6.8 billion.

Applications for this round of grants will close on 13 July 2020. However, the Chancellor has now announced that self-employed individuals will be able to claim a second grant in August. This will be worth 70 per cent of three months’ average trading profits and will be capped at £6,570 in total, also paid in a single instalment.

Individuals do not need to have claimed the first grant to be able to claim the second.

Unlike the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) for employees, self-employed individuals may continue working, begin a new trade or take on new employment while in receipt of a grant.

The full criteria for qualification for the scheme remain unchanged. Applicants must:

  • Be self-employed or a member of a partnership;
  • Have lost trading/partnership trading profits due to COVID-19;
  • File a tax return for 2018-19 as self-employed or a member of a trading partnership;
  • Have traded in 2019-20; be currently trading at the point of application (or would be except for COVID-19) and intend to continue to trade in the tax year 2020 to 2021; and
  • Have trading profits of less than £50,000 and more than half of their total income come from self-employment. This can be with reference to at least one of the following conditions:
    • Trading profits and total income in 2018-19
    • Average trading profits and total income across up to the three years between 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19.

The scheme is not available to people working through their own limited companies.

Further details about how to apply for the second and final grant will be announced on 12 June 2020.