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.

Case in focus

Ms S Jallow v QBE Management Services (UK) Ltd

An employee who rushed back to work after her boss said that she had “taken too many antenatal appointments” has been awarded £4,000 by a London employment tribunal.

What happened?

Ms Jallow began working for QBE Management Services as an IT Financial Analyst in January 2015.  She had her first child in 2017 and returned from maternity leave in January 2018, therefore she received satisfactory performance ratings that year.  In October 2018 she had a miscarriage which her employer knew about and began suffering with depression, stress and anxiety which she was prescribed anti-depressants for, although she did not report this to her employer.  A few months later, in March 2019, she notified her manager that she was pregnant again and had an antenatal appointment on the 21st of March.

The incident in question

On the morning of her antenatal appointment, the hospital was running about an hour late and Ms Jallow phoned her manager to advise him of the delay.  Apparently, during that phone call, Ms Jallow’s manager said that she had taken too many sick days and antenatal appointments and this was affecting her output, as well as letting her team down. Because of his comments, Ms Jallow rushed back to work and missed her antenatal appointment.

Ms Jallow subsequently brought a tribunal claim for pregnancy-related discrimination in which she also alleged that her manager had made similar comments about her antenatal appointment attendance record in a meeting about her pregnancy in March 2019.

The award

In his evidence to the tribunal, her manager stated that he could not recall making any comments about her antenatal appointments.  The tribunal preferred the evidence from the claimant and awarded in her favour.  She was awarded £4,000 for injury to feelings.

Takeaway  points

  • From day one of employment a woman has a right to “reasonable” paid time off for antenatal care appointments advised by a registered medical professional.
  • Employees can be asked to schedule appointments outside of normal working hours, if they work part-time, for example.
  • If a pregnant employee works a night-shift, you need to give consideration to this and being able to get sufficient rest before an appointment.

You are able to request proof of the appointments with the exception of the first appointment the employee attends.

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).

Guidance on hospitality and tourism VAT published

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has published guidance on temporary cuts to the rate of VAT from 20 per cent to five per cent from Wednesday 15 July 2020 to 12 January 2021 for certain goods and services in the hospitality and tourism sectors.

The reduced rate was announced by the Chancellor at the Summer Economic Update on 8 July 2020 and applies to:

  • food and non-alcoholic beverages sold for on-premises consumption, for example, in restaurants, cafes and pubs
  • hot takeaway food and hot takeaway non-alcoholic beverages
  • sleeping accommodation in hotels or similar establishments, holiday accommodation, pitch fees for caravans and tents, and associated facilities

The reduction also applies to admission to the following attractions, where they do not qualify for the cultural VAT exemption:

  • theatres
  • circuses
  • fairs
  • amusement parks
  • concerts
  • museums
  • zoos
  • cinemas
  • exhibitions
  • similar cultural events and facilities.

The dedicated guidance documents that set out the VAT treatment of catering and takeaway food and hotels and holiday accommodation have also been updated to reflect the temporary change.

The guidance informs small businesses that use the Flat Rate Scheme that certain percentages have been reduced in line with the new temporary five per cent rate of VAT.

Further guidelines also set out the arrangements that apply where supplies straddle the temporary reduced rate.

VAT is a complex tax and therefore if you would like support with any of this detail please don’t hesitate to contact us on 01522 81 5100.

Details of the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme confirmed

The Government has now confirmed details of the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme, announced by the Chancellor at his Summer Economic Update on Wednesday 8 July.

The scheme covers the cost to restaurants, cafes and pubs that sell food of providing a 50 per cent discount, capped at £10 per head, on food and non-alcoholic drinks purchased for consumption on the premises from Mondays to Wednesdays in August.

The scheme is open to businesses that were registered with their local authority as food businesses on or before 7 July 2020, provides or shares a dining area for eat-in meals and sells food for consumption on the premises.

HM Revenue & Customs says this could include:

  • restaurants
  • cafés
  • public houses that serve food
  • hotel restaurants
  • restaurants and cafes within tourist attractions, holiday sites and leisure facilities
  • dining rooms within members’ clubs
  • workplace and school canteens

Participating businesses are expected to provide the offer throughout their opening hours on the days that the scheme is in operation, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday throughout August.

The scheme applies to food or non-alcoholic drinks, meaning that a coffee purchased without food to drink in a café’s seating area would be eligible for the discount.

The guidance also gives details of how businesses should apply the discount to customers’ orders. Service charges are not covered, while the £10 a head cap is based on the number of people at the table, including children. This means that the discount available to a table of six would be capped at £60, even if the discount for one or more individuals exceeds the £10 cap, assuming the table is covered by a single bill.

The scheme does not apply to takeaway food and drink, or catering services for private functions. It also does not apply to mobile vans or takeaways that provide tables and chairs on the pavement.

However, the guidance does confirm that the scheme can still be used where a customer orders food for dining in but then takes away the remainder of their meal.

The scheme also cannot be put towards:

  • alcoholic drinks
  • tobacco products
  • food or drink that is to be consumed off-premises
  • food or drink that is sold as part of a private party, event or function taking place within an eligible establishment.
  • food and drink combined with another service, like B&B.

Eligible businesses can register to take part in the scheme using an online portal, which is set to go live from 13 July 2020 here.

The discount can be provided alongside existing offers and comes in addition to a cut in VAT from 20 to five per cent for food and non-alcoholic drinks, as well as for accommodation and admission to attractions, which will apply from Wednesday 15 July until 12 January 2021.

HMRC guidance is also available. This has some handy worked examples of how the scheme will interact with other items you might find on bills like alcoholic drinks and service charges.


Summer “mini-budget” introduces further support measures for business

(Updated 8 July 2020)

On Wednesday (7.7.2020), Chancellor Rishi Sunak made a speech entitled “Summer Economic Update” where he unveiled further Government supports and he unveiled the Government’s plan for jobs which he described as the “Second phase in in the Government’s economic response to the crisis.”

As with announcements in the past few months the detail will follow and as we know the devil is certainly in the detail. There were some interesting points raised and we wanted to let you know the highlights . We will update you on the details in the next few days as the Government publishes the specifics of the support.

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and NEW Job retention bonus 

The CJRS ends in October and the Chancellor looked to cushion expected redundancies with the announcement of a Job Retention Bonus (JRB). The new scheme will give employers £1,000 for each previously furloughed employee they retain and keep in employment until January 2021, as long as they are paid at least £520 a month. Further details of the scheme are expected later in July.

NEW Kickstart scheme and measures to help people find work 

In order to support people finding jobs, the Chancellor announced the Kickstart Scheme, which will provide £2 billion to support the creation of “high quality” six-month work placements for 16 to 24-year-olds on Universal Credit and at risk of long-term unemployment.

The Government will provide employers that offer the placements funding equivalent to 100 per cent of the relevant level of the National Minimum Wage (NMW) for 25 hours a week. It will also cover the associated Employer NICs and minimum automatic enrolment pension contributions.

Rishi Sunak also outlined additional measures, including funding for traineeships and employers that hire new apprentices, as well as funding for several careers and job-finding programmes.

The apprenticeships funding will provide £2,000 to employers in England for every apprentice hired under the age of 25 and £1,500 for each newly hired apprentice aged 25 or older. This funding is in addition to schemes already in place to support employers in taking on apprentices.

VAT reduced for hospitality and tourism sectors 

The Chancellor outlined a VAT rate cut for the Hospitality and Tourism sectors from 20 per cent to five per cent. The measures relate specifically to food and non-alcoholic drinks and to accommodation and admission to attractions, with further details expected to be published later.

The VAT rate change comes into effect on Wednesday 15 July 2020 and will be in place temporarily until 12 January 2021.

Read our blog post on the temporary VAT changes (last updated 10.7.20)

Eat Out to Help Out

The “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme will provide a discount of 50 per cent of up to £10 a person on eat-in meals, including non-alcoholic drinks, at participating establishments on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays for the month of August.

Restaurants, cafes and pubs can sign-up for the scheme on a new website on Monday 13 July 2020.

Read our blog post on the details of this scheme. (last updated 10.7.20)

Stamp Duty Land Tax holiday

There is a temporary cut in Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) from 8 July by raising the nil-rate band from £125,000 to £500,000 until 31 March 2021. The Treasury estimates that, as a consequence, around nine in 10 people buying a main residence will pay no SDLT.

If you purchase a residential property between 8 July 2020 to 31 March 2021, you only start to pay SDLT on the amount that you pay for the property above £500,000. These rates apply whether you are buying your first home or have owned property before.

As outlined above we will keep you up to date with these and other measures as the Government releases further details. Please talk to us if you need any help during this time by contacting us on 01522 81 5100. 

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