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COVID-19 : Employment Update

Published on May 13, 2020

Enhanced support for businesses

As the very first, tentative steps are taken this week to ease the lockdown of the past 7 weeks, the government has unveiled a series of measures and guidance that it hopes will assist businesses and employers in navigating the ongoing consequences of the pandemic.

-  The most eye-catching is the extension of the Furlough Scheme by an extra four months to the end of October. It will run as previously advertised until the end of June, but it is expected it will gradually morph in later months in ways which are yet to confirmed. For example, it is likely that some employees will be allowed to go on “part-time” furloughs”, with reduced working hours (which is not permitted under the current scheme), but with 80% guaranteed earnings. That level of support may in time also be tapered down, perhaps to 60% of earnings. The extension would in practice allow businesses to defer for a few months longer-term decisions as to workforce levels, although employers will not be obliged to defer those decisions.

-  At the same time (and in some people’s view, rather confusingly) the Government is trying to kick-start the economy and has set out a sketch for when businesses in certain sectors might be allowed to resume trading. 

There will inevitably be concerns among those who have or want (or are being asked) to go into work about how confident they can be that their workplaces are safe to work in.  Employers are under a legal duty to ensure their workplaces are safe for their workforces and to that end, the Government has published its Covid-19 risk assessment guidance for offices and ‘contact centres’, which is available here: 

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5eb97e7686650c278d4496ea/working-safely-during-covid-19-offices-contact-centres-110520.pdf

The publication may provide a worthwhile ‘checklist and prompt’ exercise and could also form the basis for discussion with employees about what reasonable and sensible measures could be introduced in an office environment so that employees can feel as secure as possible. 

The advice is keen to stress - both for the sake of ensuring confidence among employees and reducing the risk of the spread of illness - the easily overlooked importance of ensuring that anyone with Covid-19-like symptoms, and anyone whose household members may have those symptoms, stays away from the workplace. 

-  The Government’s 50-page strategy document (entitled ‘Our Plan To Rebuild’), has also been published, and it is available here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/884171/FINAL_6.6637_CO_HMG_C19_Recovery_FINAL_110520_v2_WEB__1_.pdf

The publication quite rightly prioritises public health matters, but it also provides some important clarity on economic and business related issues. In particular, the publication injects some realism by conveying a sense of the scale of the impact of the pandemic on businesses and people’s livelihoods which has not necessarily been readily apparent elsewhere. Tellingly, it is very clear in saying that what we are facing is “not a short-term crisis” and “there is no easy or quick solution” ; it also identifies the biggest threat as “the risk of a second peak that overwhelms the healthcare system this winter”. 

It is a warning that despite unprecedented mitigation efforts, there are some very uncertain times ahead. That in turn can serve as a useful reminder that it can be invaluable for businesses to seek the appropriate advice at an early stage in planning for and dealing with the risks they face.  

If you would like to discuss how Knocker & Foskett’s employment lawyers – Chris Hugo and Finian Davern  - can advise and assist with your employment concerns, please email us on cjh@knocker-foskett.co.uk and fd@knocker-foskett.co.uk or call us on 01732 459931 to speak with us.


 

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