COVID-19: Advice for Employers
We understand that the current situation regarding the Covid-19 pandemic is causing concern, not only from a health perspective but also for employers.
We have set out below some basic guidance in order to answer the most common questions but please do contact us if you require more specific advice.
Please also note that Government advice is being updated on a daily basis.
1) When are employees entitled to SSP?
- If an employee is displaying symptoms, then s/he should stay home and will be eligible for SSP; this will be for the whole 14 days and not from the 4th day onwards as is usually the case for SSP *
- If an employee is in a vulnerable group, has returned from high risk country or been in contact with a confirmed case or person displaying symptoms), s/he should stay home or be sent home and will also be entitled to SSP (as per the Government guidance) *
- If an employee is in the same household as someone who is displaying symptoms, s/he should stay home for 14 days and will be entitled to SSP (as per the Government guidance)*
- If an employee has been sent a “shielding letter” from the NHS, s/he should stay home for 12 weeks and will be entitled to SSP (as per the Government guidance)*
- If an employee chooses to self-isolate and does not fall into any of the above categories, the employer does not have to pay him / her as this is a decision that the employee is making
- If an employee is not displaying symptoms and is not in any of the other categories but is told to go home or not come in e.g. because the whole business is shutting temporarily, s/he is entitled to full pay unless the employer has a short time working / lay off clause in their contracts as this is a business decision that the employer is making
* smaller employers (defined as fewer than 250 employees) will be able to reclaim 14 days’ SSP per employee in either of these scenarios; existing payroll mechanisms are not set up to do this but the Government has said that systems will be put in place.
2) What are the evidential requirements?
Employees will able to obtain an isolation note via NHS 111 online so that they do not have to visit their GP nor phone NHS 111 to obtain certification. These isolation notes will provide employees with evidence for their employers that they have been advised to self-isolate due to coronavirus, either because they have symptoms themselves or they live with someone who has symptoms, and so cannot work. The notes will be generated as personalised documents at the end of an NHS 111 online triage process.
If an employee does not have an email address, they can have the note sent to a trusted family member or friend, or directly to their employer. Employees are advised to use NHS 111 online and only to phone if they do not have Internet access or their symptoms worsen. The NHS “Shielding” letter is also acceptable as evidence.
3) What do we do an employee displays symptoms at work?
If an employee displays symptoms at work in the workplace, s/he should be told to go home immediately. Only if they are feeling seriously ill should they phone NHS 111 (999 if they feel their life is at risk). Whilst waiting for advice from NHS 111 (or for an ambulance to arrive), s/he should remain at least 2 metres from other people and avoid touching surfaces and objects. S/he should cover their mouth and nose with a disposable tissue if they cough or sneeze and put the tissue in a bag before throwing it in the bin.
4) What about School Closures?
Schools in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are now closed. Some schools will remain open with a skeleton staff to provide support for the children of key workers i.e. NHS staff, police and delivery drivers, and for those in need e.g. children who receive free school meals. The Government has said that funding for early years grants will continue to be paid while nurseries or pre-schools are closed and if childminders are unable to work.
5) Do we have to pay employees who are taking time off to look after their children?
No. Employees have the right to Time off For Dependents in an emergency situation e.g. if the school decides to close and they have to go and pick their children up. This is unpaid leave and is for as long as it takes to make alternative arrangements. It is not for the ongoing care of the child.
If they want to take time off to look after their children thereafter, they should take their four weeks’ parental leave and / or holiday.
Employers can agree unpaid leave with them but are not obliged to pay them for having time off to look after their children, unless it is taken as holiday.
6) What happens if we tell employees not to come in and / or have to close the business?
The Government has said that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will be available to all employers are eligible regardless of size and sector. It will be available via HMRC and is a grant to cover wages so that employees do not have to be laid off or made redundant.
The Scheme will be in place for an initial period of 3 months, and will be extended if necessary. Employees who commencement employment after 1 March will 2020 not be covered by the Scheme.
Full details can be found in Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme Advice for Employers
The current list of business who are required by the Government to close can be found here:
7) What Government Support is available?
The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, delivered by the British Business Bank, is now available.
Full details can be found in Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS)
A dedicated helpline has been set up to help businesses in financial distress and with outstanding tax liabilities receive support with their tax affairs. Through this, businesses may be able to agree a bespoke Time to Pay arrangement.
Concerned businesses can telephone HMRC’s dedicated helpline on 0800 0159 559.
The Government is also introducing a 12-month business rates holiday for all retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England; grant funding of £25,000 for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with property with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000; and small business grant funding of £10,000 for all business in receipt of small business rate relief or rural rate relief.
BEIS will be writing to Local Authorities to outline the Small Business Grant Funding this week; once up and running, they will contact eligible businesses. The funding will not be available until April.
In addition, this quarter’s VAT payments are being deferred to the end of the financial year.
Government advice is available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19
The overall message is that the Government will provide assistance to both employers and employees. They are urging businesses not to make permanent redundancies; do what you can to support your employees and they will reimburse you. For anything that you cannot do, they will make up the shortfall directly to individuals.
Employers are advised to check Government advice on a daily basis.
Contact us for the latest advice
If you require more specific advice on your situation and how the COVID-19 pandemic may affect your business, please contact us at HRSolutions@mhllp.co.uk
Information correct as of 27 March 2020