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.


Chancellor unveils changes to Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS)

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has announced a series of changes to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) from July that will see furloughed employees able to return to work part-time, but with the value of Government support reducing gradually from August.

Rishi Sunak, Twitter feed 29 May 2020

The changes in summary

  1. The scheme will remain in its present form for those who need it until the end of July with no additional costs to the employer.
  2. From August the employee will still receive 80% of wages when fully furloughed but the employer will no longer be able to reclaim the pension and NI contribution – they will have to meet that as usual.
  3. From September the employer will be required to pay the pension and NI together with 10% of the 80% furlough wages that the employee receives.
  4. From October that contribution from the employer will increase to 20%.
  5. From 1 July there will be the introduction of a flexible furlough scheme where employees may be asked to come in to work on full wages for part of the week and receive the 80% of wages for the time they are not working (subject as above to the contributions set out).

The changes to the scheme

A system of ‘flexible furloughing’ will come into effect from 1 July, allowing employers to bring back furloughed employees for any amount of time on any shift pattern, while still able to claim a grant in respect of the time not worked when they otherwise would.

Employers will have to pay employees at their usual rate of pay for any hours they work, while also covering the cost of Employer National Insurance Contributions (NICs) and minimum employer automatic enrolment pension contributions that this pay attracts.

They will need to reach new flexible furlough agreements with any furloughed employees brought back on a part-time basis.

From 1 August, CJRS grants will cease to cover Employer NICs and pension contributions, with this cost passing to employers. The grant will continue to cover 80 per cent of furloughed employee’s usual wages, up to a cap of £2,500 a month.

However, from 1 September, the value of the grant will fall to 70 per cent of a furloughed employee’s usual wages, capped at £2,187.50 a month. Employers will be expected to contribute the remaining 10 per cent plus NICs and pension contributions to reach a combined total payment to the employee of 80 per cent of their usual wages, up to a cap of £2,500 a month.

October will see the value of the Government contribution fall again to 60 per cent, capped at £1,875 a month, with employers expected to contribute 20 per cent of a furloughed employee’s usual wages plus NICs and pension contributions to reach the total of 80 per cent, capped at £2,500 a month.

At the same time, the Chancellor confirmed the closure of the scheme to new entrants from 30 June. After this point, employers will only be able to furlough employees who have been furloughed for three full weeks at any point before 30 June.

This means the last day an employer can furlough an employee for the first time will be Wednesday 10 June.

Furthermore, after 30 June, employers will not be able to claim for more employees in a claim period than the maximum number they have claimed for in any period under the scheme in its current format.

Full details of how the scheme will operate from this point are expected to be announced on 12 June 2020.

An example 

  • In July you may ask an employee to return from furlough for 2 days per week.  You will pay them 100% of their normal wages for those 2 days and you can still claim the other days at 80% plus pension and NI contributions
  • In August you may bring back more employees (or increase or decrease days of work) from furlough on, say, 3 days per week.  You will pay those employees 100% of their normal wage for those 3 days.  For the 2 days they are not at work you can claim 80% of their wages but you will have to pay the pension and NI contribution
  • In September you bring back more employees on flexible furlough working 3 days per week.  You will pay 100% of wages for the days worked but will still be able to claim 70% of the employee’s wages for the days they do not work.  You will, however, HAVE to pay 10% of their 80% wages (their income does not go down) and the employers’ NI and pension contributions
  • In October the employer contribution increases to 20% plus pension and NI and then closes on 31 October.

The announcement comes against the background of an easing of the lockdown restrictions that have closed down large sections of the economy since late March, with the Government now encouraging certain sectors back to work.

Guidance still to work from home, where possible

Where it is possible to do so the Government guidance is that working from home should continue for those who are able to do so.  People furloughed because of shielding (which has been extended for the foreseeable future) or because of childcare issues will be paid as set out above.

However, those who are struggling with childcare issues should be able to potentially return at least part time when schools and nurseries and other childcare settings such as childminders are allowed to open again.  HOWEVER it is important to bear in mind that with July comes the school holidays and for many it is grandparents who bear the burden of childcare.  We do not yet know whether restrictions will be lifted enough by then for grandparents to take on their usual caring roles.

CJRS and record keeping. 

The CJRS was announced by the Chancellor in March and currently allows employers to furlough any employees who were on a PAYE payroll and reported to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) through the Real-Time Information (RTI) system by 19 March 2020.

Since then, more than a million employers have collectively claimed £15 billion from the scheme in respect of 8.4 million employees, via the Government’s online portal.

The announcement comes days after the Chancellor issued a new Direction to HMRC, updating the record-keeping requirements of the scheme.

Under these requirements, the written agreement that the furloughed employee will, under the current terms of the scheme, cease all work must be retained until 30 June 2025 and:

  • State the main terms and conditions;
  • Be incorporated either expressly or implicitly in the contract of employment; and
  • Be either made or confirmed in writing.

It is widely expected that HMRC will audit use of the scheme retrospectively over the coming months and years, with potentially hefty penalties for those found to have acted improperly.

1.6.2020


Emergency Volunteering Leave

The Coronavirus Act 2020 which came into force on the 25th of March 2020 introduces a new statutory right to take emergency volunteering leave (EVL).  It comes as no surprise that such measures were introduced, given that health and social care workers are under immense pressure to continue providing services and early signs show levels of absenteeism have increased.  In order to incentivise those who may be able to provide critical support, the government have introduced a variety of measures to address these pinch-points.  One of them being the introduction of an EVL scheme.

What is EVL?

The leave was introduced as part of emergency measures to help tackle the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and is a new concept.  Statutory Emergency Volunteering Leave (EVL) will enable workers, employees and agency staff to take unpaid leave to volunteer in health and social care.  This could include a local council, district council or the NHS for example.  As EVL is a statutory right, workers and employees must not suffer detriments or be treated unfairly when exercising this right, although further regulations are required to formally implement the Act in this regard.

How do people apply for EVL?

Where an individual wants to volunteer, and in order to take EVL from their ordinary paid employment, they need to obtain an emergency volunteering certificate from the appropriate authority.  EVL can only be taken once in any “volunteering period” which last for 16-weeks.  The first one began on the 25th of March 2020 at which point the government may decide to set another period.

Employees or workers can choose to take unpaid volunteer leave in blocks of two, three or four weeks, including while on furlough leave.  However, changing from furlough leave to EVL would stop their period of furlough leave, and would mean they are ineligible for furlough pay during this period.  The 3-week minimum furlough claim period will still apply.

Do I have to pay them while they are on EVL?

The regulations suggest that a compensatory scheme will be introduced to financially compensate those for loss of earnings and expenses involved with their volunteer work, to ensure they are not disadvantaged by playing a key role.  As yet, there are no further details on what this scheme might look like, and the secondary legislation will hopefully clarify.  All other employment rights will remain in tact for the employee in the same way they would for any other leave taken, e.g sick leave, maternity leave.

Am I able to say no?

Generally, no, as this is a statutory right  However, there is an automatic exemption if you have a headcount of less than ten staff. If you employ ten or more individuals, you must grant EVL requests provided that the employee follows the relevant procedure, which involves giving written notice to the employer.

There are other categories of employees and workers exempted from insisting on EVL, which include those working in the Police and Military, Crown employees, Parliamentary employees and those others as specified by the Secretary of State.

For further information on this, and for any accompanying advice or documents, please get in touch with our HR experts.