Here we are starting 2021 in national lockdown. Schools have closed once again and many businesses have also temporarily closed their doors or sent their employees to work from home once more.
Of course, beginning 2021 in national lockdown opens up similar challenges to those we saw in spring last year, with working parents facing childcare and homeschooling challenges. Employers are making decisions on which employees can work remotely and which are essential within the existing working environment. As before, the Government has also instigated the shielding process for those who are most vulnerable. Businesses who determine that some employees should be physically present should ensure that they record their decision-making process as the Regulations allow for criminal sanctions for non-compliance.
There are very few ‘upsides’ to this situation, however, we do have at least some prior experience for starting 2021 in national lockdown and the ‘Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CRJS)’, otherwise known as ‘furloughing’, has been extended until 30 April 2021. However you can no longer submit claims for periods ending on or before 31st October 2020.
The CRJS is in place for employers who cannot maintain their workforce as a result of Coronavirus. Under the scheme, you can furlough some or all of your employees and apply for a grant to cover 80% of their wage costs for hours not worked, unto a maximum of £2500 per month. The scheme is flexible in that businesses who can still support employees working part-time hours and any work pattern are still able to claim, as long as the employee was employed on 30th October 2020 and the business has made a PAYE submission to HRMC between 20th March 2020 and 30th October 2020.
It is important to remember to document furlough arrangements including how many hours employees have worked and the number of hours furloughed (and keep a written record for five years). You should amend the employment contract for these employees accordingly and Hibberts can help with drafting suitable furlough agreements for you. Don’t forget that the usual equality and discrimination laws still apply, and remember that employees cannot undertake any work during their furloughed hours. However, they can take part in training, volunteer for another employer or organisation, or work for another employer, as long as their contract allows. Whilst on furlough, employees still have the same rights as if they were working, such as annual leave, parental/maternity leave, redundancy payments etc. The current CJRS cannot be used for those employees who are serving out notice and this is a significant difference between the current scheme and that in place earlier last year.
This is a difficult area and you may find yourself in need of specialist advice. The furlough rules take some navigating, the Hibberts Employment Law Solicitors are here to assist and provide advice.