What guidance has the UK Government introduced to assist employees and employers in their response to COVID-19?
- Public Health England – a resource for all UK Government guidance and measures relating to COVID-19 for employees, employers and businesses.
- ACAS – Coronavirus: advice for employers and employees – a useful guide on key employment law considerations, including sick pay, homeworking, layoffs and short time working.
What general duties do employers have towards staff to keep them safe?
- Under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA), the employer has a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of its employees.
- Employers should keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace.
- Actions include cleaning the workplace regularly, and providing soap, hand sanitisers and hot water sources for employees to wash their hands. Employees should be encouraged to practice good personal hygiene.
What obligations do employers have to pay employees during sickness or self-isolation?
- Employees or workers must receive statutory sick pay (SSP) if they need to self-isolate because:
- they have COVID-19
- they have COVID-19 symptoms (e.g., a high temperature or a new continuous cough)
- someone in their household has COVID-19 symptoms
- they have been told to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111 (e.g. if they are in a vulnerable group).
- If the employer offers contractual sick pay, this may be payable in the above circumstances, subject to the terms of the contract.
- Employees who are able to work from home should get their usual pay.
Changes to SSP
- SSP is now payable from day one instead of day four for affected individuals, effective 13 March 2020.
- The changes cover employees who cannot work and are self-isolating due to the fact that they have, or someone in their household has, COVID-19 symptoms.
- Employers with fewer than 250 employees (as of 28 February 2020) will be able to reclaim SSP for employees unable to work because of COVID-19, for up to two weeks per employee. The eligible period will apply retrospectively from 14 March 2020.
- The Coronavirus Act implementing the scheme has now been given Royal Assent. The Act broadly sets out the above, but only contains empowering provisions enabling the government to create statutory instruments. These will contain the detail of the changes, and currently none have appeared in draft.
- The government will work with employers in the coming months to set up the repayment mechanism.
- Employers should maintain records of staff absences, but employees will not need to provide a general practitioner (GP) fit note. An alternative to the fit note will be obtainable by contacting NHS 111.
- Those not eligible for SSP — e.g., the self-employed or people earning below the Lower Earnings Limit of £118 per week — can now more easily make a claim for Universal Credit or Contributory Employment and Support Allowance.
Emergency Volunteering Leave
- Workers may take unpaid “emergency volunteering leave” (EVL) to volunteer in the health and social care sectors during the COVID-19 outbreak, for up to 4 weeks in any
- Workers must be issued with an EVL certificate by an appropriate authority, and provide written notice to their employer of at least three working days before beginning EVL.
- The workers’ terms and conditions of employment (except remuneration) continue to apply during EVL, and pension rights are protected. Workers are also protected from
detriment and unfair dismissal.
- The Secretary of State must make arrangements to compensate emergency volunteers for loss of earnings, travelling and subsistence. Currently no further details have been provided.
Relaxation of annual leave rules
- The Working Time Regulations are to be amended so that workers can carry over up to four weeks’ statutory annual leave that they have not taken due to COVID-19 into the next two leave years.
- Employers will not be required to ensure that workers take all statutory leave entitlement in one year.
- The changes apply to almost all workers, including agency workers and those who work irregular hours or are on zero hours contracts.
- As employees placed on furlough continue to accrue annual leave, the changes give employers increased flexibility to manage build-up of annual leave in the workforce. This is likely to be a more popular alternative to requiring employees to take annual leave during the furlough period.
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