With the colder weather, often comes more staff absences. December, January and February are renowned for increasing levels of absence within companies. But why is this? Many people are struck down by the flu or a cold and stay at home to avoid spreading it round the office. This year, most of us have become more accustomed to regular hand washing, hand gel and wiping down surfaces, however this is essential to keep all winter germs at bay – not just Covid-19! You must have hand sanitiser available to all employees, which will ensure they are disinfecting their hands in-between washes. Additionally, you can promote healthy living, maybe through offering a virtual yoga or mindfulness session or creating a step count challenge for teams to compete in; this could also raise morale and create a fun challenge.

How does wellbeing link with absence?

Winter months can be difficult for many people, the dark mornings and early sunsets can mean that many people don’t see the light of day at all from Monday to Friday, unless they find time for a lunchtime walk.  This can lead to people struggling with their mental health, it is crucial that you check in with your employees and offer any support you have available. Some people may be absent from work as they are finding it difficult to go about their day as they usually would. Furthermore, often people feel stressed in the run up to Christmas with the extra pressure the season brings, both socially and financially. Consequently, people may suffer from stress, exhaustion and anxiety which may result in them taking extra time off. A way to combat this could be to provide stress management and resilience training. If employees feel supported, they will be more likely to share how they are feeling, and their stress or anxiety could be managed together.

Absence and remote working

For many organisations, absences have declined since remote working has gained popularity through the pandemic. This is due to the fact that, with many individuals working from home, they perhaps don’t stay off work with things like the common cold as they can crank up the heating and wear more comfortable clothes than maybe they would in the office – also germs would not be spreading throughout their colleagues. However, people may be absent from work for mental health issues, if this is the case they should be supported in the right way and have regular communication with their line manager to see what methods can be put in place to help them.

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – Furlough

Following the announcement of lockdown 2.0, it was stated that the Job Retention Scheme would be extended from 1st November 2020 to 31st March 2021, with the conditions of the scheme set to be reviewed in January 2021. The eligible employers and employees do not need to have benefitted from the scheme before in order to qualify for it this time round. The government will pay 80% of employees’ usual wages for the hours not worked, up to a cap of £2500 a month. As before, employers are required to pay their National Insurance and employer pension contributions.

If the decision is made to furlough employees, employers are obligated to confirm in writing to employees that they are being furloughed, even if the employer is topping up from 80% to 100% pay. Furthermore, a written record of this must be kept for five years. Regarding employees who have previously been furloughed, employers need to communicate that the arrangement has been extended. Employers are able to claim for employees who were employed on 30th October 2020, as long as they have made a PAYE RTI submission to HMRC between the 20th March 2020 and 30th October 2020, notifying a payment of earnings for that employee.

From 1st December, notice periods will not be covered by furlough, this may affect the restructuring decisions for employers and the timescales on this. Furthermore, the Job Retention Bonus of £1000 per employee is no longer available, and we are awaiting further guidance as to whether anything will replace this or not.

Virtual Working and Change Management

Covid-19 has created momentous changes to the workplace globally. There has been a rise in redundancies as well as the closure of many businesses. Other places of work have opted to close offices either temporarily or permanently in favour of remote working. Millions of people around the world have swapped their daily commute for a short walk to their home office,  kitchen table or even sofa. Many businesses have been pro-active in providing remote working resources for their employees, to make the transition from the office smoother and to ensure that the quality of work from their employees doesn’t suffer due to the lack of necessary equipment. However, are employers putting enough focus and effort into the wellbeing of their employees? People need the support more than ever during these times.

Employers need to help their employees, and themselves, navigate how to become comfortable with the innumerable rapid changes that have taken place this year. One of the essential parts of this, is to keep employees informed; the government advice and regulations change regularly, however having a Coronavirus news bulletin for example could help employees process information and be kept up to date. Communication is essential. You need to be in regular contact with your team to assess how they are coping with the situation and ascertain whether or not more support needs to be implemented. It is crucial that Health and Safety is managed effectively, for those who aren’t working remotely, employees need to be safe in the knowledge that the workplace is Covid-19 secure and all of the precautions have been put in place. If this change is managed efficiently, the disruption to your business won’t be felt as strongly and you will have a stronger workforce as a result.

If you would like help putting your employees first or have any HR issues you would like to discuss please contact Laura Reilly on 01522 81 5100.

Important HR dates for your diary in November and December 2020

1st November 2020 to 31st March 2021

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will run from 1st November to 31st March. The Job Retention Scheme is designed to protect employers and employees who are affected by Covid-19. The option to furlough employees will help keep people employed during the winter months.

9th December 2020

International Anti-Corruption Day:  The United Nations’ International Anti-Corruption Day aims to raise awareness of corruption and what the public can do to fight it.

10th December 2020

Human Rights Day: Human Rights Day recalls the day the General Assembly of the UN adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. This is the most translated document around the world and is available in over 500 languages.

Ask the Experts

If employees refuse to be placed on furlough can we make them redundant?

Yes, if employees fail to agree to be furloughed, then employers have the option to dismiss by reason of redundancy, provided that the redundancy definitions are met, and a formal process is adhered to. It is important to emphasise the fact that employers should not select employees just because they are unwilling to go onto furlough leave – and that the process for redundancy must follow all the usual employment laws.

The majority of employees realise that furlough is a means to avoiding redundancies, therefore they are likely to agree. The government guidance states that employees are required to give written consent to furlough arrangements, ceasing work or the terms of any part-time working arrangements in place. Employees should also consent to the pay reduction although existing lay off provisions in some contracts may provide partial consent.

Some employers may feel that the predicted long-term effect on their company leads to inevitable closure or rationalisation. Due to this, It may be useful for employers to select employees to furlough using a process similar to redundancy selection. This would consist of using objective criteria, such as a scoring system that looks at skills, productivity, previous appraisals and so on.

Can employees that were made redundant in Autumn 2020 be placed on the extended furlough scheme instead?

Yes, employees  who were made redundant in the weeks that led up to the announcement furlough scheme was being extended can be re-employed and furloughed, as long as they were on the payroll on 23rd September 2020 and have since been made redundant or ceased working for the employer. The employees who were on fixed-term contracts that have expired since 23rd September are eligible to be re-hired and then furloughed. It is not a requirement for employers to rehire and furlough their employees, but they have the option to and if requested by the employee, it needs to be considered.

Employers may decide against re-hiring and furloughing due to a variety of reasons, such as the National Insurance Contributions cost, pension contributions, and the expense of accrued holiday. Also, the employer may be in a process of restructuring and the employees that were made redundant many not be needed post-furlough and the redundancy process would need to be repeated. If the redundancy process was ongoing or subject to an appeal, then employees may also be able to challenge the fairness of selection for redundancy, if furlough was not considered as an alternative.

“CJRS Extended” Employment and HR FAQ’s

On Saturday the 31st of October 2020, the government announced that the furlough scheme was going to be extended until the 2nd of December 2020.  Employers were in the difficult position of having to consider redundancies to coincide with the end of the furlough scheme.  The scheme was due to be replaced by the Job Support Scheme (’JSS’) which was somewhat less generous.  Effectively, this change in direction puts us back in the same position that we were in during August; the government paying 80% of an employee’s pay (subject to the cap of £2,500) with employers being liable for national insurance and other contributions which would normally be payable.  The scheme will allow employers to fully or flexibly furlough their employees.

Frequently asked questions

Can I put an employee on the scheme who wasn’t eligible for furlough before?

Yes – employers will be able to furlough employees full time or part time, but to be eligible for the grant an employee must have been on an RTI submission made to HMRC before 23.59 on 30 October 2020.  There is no requirement for them to have been furloughed previously.

Can we pay 100%?

If you choose to then yes, but we advise this is clearly documented to employees and they know they are on furlough leave for any hours not worked.  The government scheme can only be claimed against when you are paying 80% of unworked hours as a minimum, it cannot be claimed to off-set any private furlough schemes which may be ongoing between employer and employee.

Can I use furlough to cover notice pay?

This is not yet clear, but there is nothing to suggest you can’t use it for notice period, and this was permitted under the furlough scheme as it was before.  The exception to this is where notice pay is paid as a lump sum – known as pay in lieu of notice.  Furlough payments cannot cover this unless the employee is actually working their notice period.

Can employees take holiday whilst on furlough?

There is nothing to suggest that they can’t – it would appear that the terms of the old scheme still continue to apply.

Is there a minimum period for furloughing an employee?

When claiming the CJRS grant for furloughed hours, employers will need to report and claim for a minimum period of 7 consecutive calendar days.

When can I begin claiming?

It is anticipated that claims can be made from December 2020 but we await further guidance.

What will happen to the job retention bonus?

This is not yet clear, but it is likely that the dates may need to be changed, or the scheme re-evaluated.  This is because it is unlikely that the government will allow qualifying wages to be made from the public purse, and for this to allow employers to claim further public money.  However, this is an educated guess rather than a fact.

Do I have to put this into writing?

Yes, as per previous guidance this will need agreeing in writing – unless you have a lay-off clause which permits you to lay staff off without pay.  This should be kept on file should HMRC choose to audit your business.

Job Support Scheme and Job Retention Bonus

Job Support Scheme

(Updated 2.11.2020)

The Job Support Scheme introduction has been delayed due to the second lockdown and the extension of the CJRS. More information here on the CJRS extension.

Updated 30.10.2020)

31st October 2020 marks the end of The Job Retention Scheme – or furlough – which was introduced by the government to aid businesses and support employees. In it’s place is The Job Support Scheme, which has been created to support individuals and businesses with the challenges created by Covid-19 in recent months. This scheme has recently been updated and the changes will be detailed below. It will come into force from 1st November 2020 and will run for six months, until 30 April 2021, with a review of the terms due to occur in January. All employers with a UK bank account and UK PAYE schemes can claim the grant.

  • Neither the employer nor the employee needs to have benefitted from The Job Retention Scheme (furlough) in order to be qualified for the Job Support Scheme.
  • The employee will be required to work a minimum of 20% of their normal hours and will be paid normally for these hours.
  • Employees will receive 66.67% of their usual pay for the hours not worked – paid in part by the employer and in part by the government.
  • The employer will be required to pay 5% of the hours not worked, up to a maximum of £125 a month – they may pay more if they desire.
  • The other 61.67% will be paid by the government, up to a maximum of £1541.75.
  • Employees must be on an employer’s PAYE payroll between 6 April 2019 to 23:59 23 September 2020.
  • Large businesses (250 + employees) will have to meet a financial impact test. SMEs and charities will not have to take the test.

Due to these conditions, employees that are eligible for the scheme will continue to receive at least 73% of their normal wage, where they earn £3125 a month or under. From 8th December 2020, employers will be able to make a claim online through Gov.uk and they will be paid on a monthly basis.

Job Retention Bonus

The Job Retention Bonus is a one-off taxable payment of £1000 to an employer for each eligible employee that was furloughed and continuously employed by you until 31st January 2021. The bonus can be claimed between 15th February 2021 and 31st March 2021 – this money does not have to be paid to your employee. The eligible employee cannot be serving a notice period on 31st January 2021. You must also meet the minimum income threshold.