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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.


All employers in the UK have a responsibility to prevent illegal working, the current right to work check (up to 31 December 2020),  includes obtaining original versions of at least one acceptable document such as a passport, checking that the document is valid and real and then retaining a copy for your records as their employer. As an employer, you should conduct a right to work check before employing an individual to ensure they are legally allowed to do the work in question for you.

On the 31 December 2020, freedom of movement between the United Kingdom and European Union will come to an end. Replacing the freedom of movement will be the UK government’s planned points-based immigration system. This proposed system will not distinguish between EU and non-EU nationals. It is intended to attract individuals who can contribute to the UK’s economy regardless of their nationality. This new immigration system will apply to people arriving in the UK from 1 January 2021 and EU citizens moving to the UK to work will need to get a visa in advance. EU citizens applying for a skilled worker visa will need to show they have a job offer from an approved employer sponsor to be able to apply. If you’re an employer planning to sponsor skilled migrants from 2021, and are not currently an approved sponsor, you should consider getting approved now.

When the new points-based immigration system is introduced in the UK from January 2021, the government has said that employers will be required to check that an EU citizen has a valid UK immigration status, and not just an EU passport or national identity card. Employers will still be required to retain evidence that they have checked the right to work of their employees and keep record of this.

Diary Dates

31st December 2020

On the 31 December 2020, freedom of movement between the United Kingdom and European Union will come to an end. Replacing the freedom of movement will be the UK government’s planned points-based immigration system.

18th January 2021 

Blue Monday: Blue Monday is a name given to a day in January (typically the third Monday of the month) reported to be the most depressing day of the year. It is important to reach out to employees throughout January and place a focus on wellbeing and support.

Case in Focus

Uber B.V. v Aslam Court of Appeal – December 2018

What happened?

This case was heard in the Supreme Court in July 2020. The outcome of the appeal is awaited. This is a case for the tens of thousands of drivers working for the company Uber, who were involved a careful analysis of the employment status of two drivers working for the organisation. Uber is a smartphone application used by people for ridesharing, the app pre-calculates the fare, estimates a time of arrival and takes payment from the credit or debit card uploaded to the account in use.

The drivers did not claim they were employees, but workers and, therefore, entitled to the minimum wage under the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 and to paid leave under the Working Time Regulations 1998.

The Hearings

Uber had maintained that the drivers were running their own businesses as third-party contractors and consequently did not have any worker rights. Asserting that it was only a technology platform and not a transportation business. However, the following factors were relevant to the decision that the drivers were workers:

  • Drivers provided their services under a contractual relationship and made themselves available to carry passengers to their destinations for payment.
  • Drivers were unable to develop their own businesses. For example, fare calculations were completed by Uber, and deductions could be made to the drivers’ payments if passengers objected about overcharging.
  • The majority of the judges felt there was a “high degree of fiction in the wording” of the contract between Uber and the drivers and that there was a high-level of control over the drivers that was consistent with the worker relationship.

One of the judges disagreed and stated the relationship was similar to the traditional minicab model, under which drivers are usually considered to be self-employed.

Take away points

  • Employers must always ensure that a contract exists which accurately reflects their working practices.
  • Referring to an employee in a contract as self-employed is not an assurance that they are not a worker who is entitled to minimum wage as well as paid holiday.
  • The principal elements of a genuine independent contractor relationship are that the individual is in control of their work (and not the employer) and the worker takes any element of financial risk.

Ask the Experts

What are my responsibilities as an employer if I have EU citizens working in my organisation?

Those who will be affected are European Economic Area (EEA) employees working in the UK,  the EEA consists of the Member States of the European Union (EU) and three countries of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway). The individuals from these countries who live and work in the UK will need to apply for settled or pre-settled status if they don’t already have it. They need to make an application for settled status or pre-settled status by 30 June 2021.

The first step for employers is to carry out an audit of the workforce to establish which employees are EEA nationals in the UK or British nationals in the EEA. Once the employer has this information, they will be able to identify the number of employees who may be affected by changes to the immigration rules. Employers may then decide to support their affected employees in the application process.

What is the difference between `settled status’ and `pre-settled status’?

Settled status will be given to those who have lived continuously in the UK for five years and enable the holder to remain in the UK indefinitely. Pre-settled status will be given to those who do not yet have five years’ continuous residence. Individuals with pre-settled status can apply for settled status once they have accrued five years’ continuous residence.

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.