Aga Khan Economic Planning Board for the United Kingdom
COVID-19 Advice for Employers and Employees
(Last Updated: 26th April 2020)
The Economic Planning Board’s mandate is to support the Jamat with their economic wellbeing. The purpose of this FAQs document is to provide guidance to employers and employees regarding workplace policies and practices in light of the coronavirus outbreak. The Jamat is advised to regularly refer to reliable communication channels including your workplace and government to understand the most up to date guidance available.
The advice is being reviewed and updated regularly. We are monitoring government updates and when legal changes happen but we strongly recommend that you check the links below for the most up to date advice:
• Advice for employers and employees: https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus
• Entitlement to sick pay - https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/cymraeg/work/rights-at-work/sick-pay/c...
• Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you want to discuss your options on sick pay
• Workplace guidance - https://www.hse.gov.uk/biosafety/diseases/pandflu.htm#ref6
• Advice for UK employers: https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/fundamentals/emp-law/health-safety/coro...
The government has produced the following guidance available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-bus... to assist employers and businesses in providing advice to their staff on:
• the novel coronavirus, COVID-19
• how to help prevent spread of all respiratory infections including COVID-19
• what to do if someone suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 has been in business settings
• what advice to give to individuals who have travelled to specific areas
• actions to take if staff come into contact with someone who is self-isolating or is a possible or confirmed case of COVID-19
In case coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads more widely in the UK, employers should consider some simple steps to help protect the health and safety of staff.
It's good practice for employers to:
• keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace
• make sure everyone's contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date
• make sure managers know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes, for example sickness reporting and sick pay, and procedures in case someone in the workplace develops the virus
• identify vulnerable individuals in the workplace and record any relevant data associated with these individuals
• promote health and wellbeing
• make sure there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap, and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly
• provide hand sanitiser and tissues for staff, and encourage them to use them
• consider if protective face masks might help for people working in particularly vulnerable situations
• consider if any travel planned to affected areas is essential
• be flexible with deadlines and adjust targets e.g. change hours to allow for childcare
Good Practices on Mental Health
• Talk openly about mental health
• Create a supportive environment
• Identify Mental Health Champions in the workplace as a source of support
• Encourage employees to stay mentally and physically active
• Signpost individuals to organisations who offer help and support
Managing Remote Working – (Parents and those with caring responsibilities)
All UK schools have closed for most pupils until further notice but remain open for children of key workers and children and for vulnerable children includes children with special education, health and care issue plans in place.
Employers of employees with caring responsibilities who are unable to work from home have the following options:
- Furlough (see below for more information about this)
- Homeworking - If an employee cannot focus at home because of caring for young children furlough maybe an option. Alternatively, the employer and employee may be able to agree flexible working arrangements.
- Flexible working - Employers are obliged to consider flexible working requests. In the context of school closures there are a number of options which the employee may suggest such as spreading working hours out so that employees can work when younger children are asleep.
- Unpaid time off for dependents - Employees have the right to take unpaid time off for dependants which usually lasts only for a short time to organise care for dependants. However during the lockdown putting alternative arrangements in place involving other people may be in breach of the restrictions on movement and furlough may be a better option.
- Unpaid parental leave - normally notice is needed but employers may agree to shorten the notice period. This leave is 18 weeks per child before the child turns 18 and must usually be taken in blocks of a week with a maximum of four weeks each year.
- Annual leave – paid at the normal full salary amount.
Managing Remote Working – legal implications
Home working has many practical and legal implications including health and safety at home. Having a home working or remote working policy is always a good idea, the policy can then be relied upon if a temporary period of home working becomes necessary
There are many practical and legal matters to address including:
- Supervision: Check the home working policy addresses how to supervise staff, communicate with them and monitor performance and output. Provide guidance for line managers as reporting in at regular times can help combat isolation and stress. Employers might need to install video conferencing apps such as Skype so that meetings can occur remotely. Staff must easily be able to communicate with the employer, and other people they work with. Managers should be aware that different motivation techniques may be needed for home workers.
- Equipment: Think about equipment requirements such as laptops, couriers, stationery, photocopying, printing etc. Will the employee require specific equipment? How will this be funded, installed and insured and who is permitted to access it? Employers should consider computer virus protection and other security measures is there someone available by telephone to help with IT issues. There is no obligation on an employer to provide computer or other equipment necessary for working at home but given the latest Government advice employers should do what they can to enable homeworking.
- Working time: Employers may need to specify any changes to hours of work. Will the employee need to be available for work during strict office hours or work a specified a set number of hours per day?
- Health and safety: Employers are responsible for an employee’s health, safety and welfare both when working in the employer’s premises and when working from home. This means that employers should usually conduct risk assessments of all the work activities carried out by employees, including those working from home. Bearing in mind that a coronavirus workplace closure is likely to be short term, undertaking physical risk assessments of each employee’s home will not feasible. As the risks of being at work will have been deemed higher than working from home, employers may decide that home working risk assessments for short periods of home working may be conducted using some electronic risk assessment questions and providing employees with guidance to follow at home. You may wish to refer to the homeworking questionnaire to get you started.
- Data protection: Employers should make sure data protection obligations are maintained. An employee using their own computer should still process information in compliance with data protection principles. Employers may need to include express terms reserving a right to monitor work communications on home-based devices and set out a reminder about home security, confidential information, passwords, shredding etc. How data is transferred between home and the workplace also needs careful consideration.
You should let your employer know as soon as possible if they're not able to go to work. Your workplace's usual sick leave and pay entitlements apply if someone has coronavirus.
To check whether you are entitled to sick pay, speak to your employer or visit the www.citizenadvice.org.uk.
As the spread of the virus continues, employers are likely to face the following situations:
• If employees have been told by a medical professional to self-isolate:
Statutory Sick Pay (SSP): In the Budget on 11 March, the Government announced a range of new measures around SSP. If NHS 111 or a doctor advises an employee or worker to self-isolate, they are entitled to SSP. This includes individuals who may be a carrier of COVID-19 who may not have symptoms, and will also apply to people caring for those in the same household who display COVID-19 symptoms and have been told to self-isolate. If someone has symptoms, everyone in their household must self-isolate for 14 days. The Government has also announced that Statutory Sick Pay will be made available from day one (instead of from day four) for those affected by coronavirus when self-isolating. These provisions will become law in the forthcoming COVID-19 Bill. The Budget also announced measures whereby employers with less than 250 employees can claim a refund for COVID-19 related SSP costs (up to two weeks per employee).
• Medical evidence for SSP: Employees can currently self-certify for the first seven days, and Government advice is that employers should use discretion around the need for medical evidence for absence where an employee is advised to self-isolate in the current exceptional circumstances. In the 11 March Budget, the Government announced it will introduce a temporary alternative to the current fit note in the coming weeks for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak whereby those in self-isolation can obtain a notification via NHS 111 to use as evidence for absence from work.
• An alternative option to providing sick pay is to allow people who are asked to self-isolate to work from home wherever possible, and continue to pay as normal.
• If an employer sends people home as a precaution: Employees are following the reasonable instruction of their employer and should get their normal pay.
• If employees choose to self-isolate but have not been advised to by a medical professional, and have no symptoms: Employees who voluntarily self-isolate without symptoms, and without their employer’s agreement, could be required to attend work by their employer. However, employers should take people’s concerns seriously, especially if there are underlying health conditions, including mental ill health.
If an employee does not want to go to work
Some people might feel they do not want to go to work if they're afraid of catching coronavirus. This could particularly be the case for those who are at higher risk.
An employer should listen to any concerns staff may have and should take steps to protect everyone. For example, they could offer extra car parking where possible so that people can avoid using public transport.
If an employee still does not want to go in, they may be able to arrange with their employer to take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave. The employer does not have to agree to this. If an employee refuses to attend work without a valid reason, it could result in disciplinary action.
Lay-offs and short-time working
In some situations, an employer might need to close down their business for a short time, or ask staff to reduce their contracted hours.
If the employer thinks they'll need to do this, it's important to talk with staff as early as possible and throughout the closure. Unless it says in the contract or is agreed otherwise, they still need to pay their employees for this time.
Employees who are laid off and are not entitled to their usual pay might be entitled to a 'statutory guarantee payment' of up to £29 a day from their employer.
This is limited to a maximum of 5 days in any period of 3 months. On days when a guarantee payment is not payable, employees might be able to claim Jobseekers Allowance from Jobcentre Plus.
The word furlough generally means temporary leave of absence from work. This can be due to economic conditions affecting one particular company or matters affecting the country as a whole.
Furlough leave has been temporarily introduced by the government (via their ‘Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme’) to mean leave offered which keeps employees on the payroll without them working. As the furloughed staff are kept on the payroll, this is different to being laid off without pay or being made redundant. The ability to furlough employees is designed to support employers who are severely affected by coronavirus – see more details below about the scheme.
Employees must be consulted and agree to be furloughed. Employers should discuss with their staff and make any changes to the employment contract by agreement. To be eligible for the grant employers must confirm in writing to their employee confirming that they have been furloughed. There needs to be a written record and this record must be kept for five years. If employees do not agree to be furloughed employers can dismiss by reason of redundancy if the redundancy definitions are met and a proper process followed.
Furloughed employees retain their statutory rights, including their right to Statutory Sick Pay. This means that furloughed employees who become ill must be paid at least Statutory Sick Pay. It is up to employers to decide whether to move these employees onto Statutory Sick Pay or to keep them on furlough, at their furloughed rate. If a furloughed employee who becomes sick is moved onto SSP, employers can no longer claim for the furloughed salary.
Employees who are unable to work because they are shielding in line with public health guidance (or need to stay home with someone who is shielding) can be furloughed.
Employees who are unable to work because they have caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus (COVID-19) can be furloughed. For example, employees that need to look after children can be furloughed.
A furloughed employee can take part in volunteer work, if it does not provide services to or generate revenue for, or on behalf of your organisation or a linked or associated organisation.
Furloughed employees can engage in training, as long as in undertaking the training the employee does not provide services to, or generate revenue for, or on behalf of their organisation or a linked or associated organisation. Furloughed employees should be encouraged to undertake training.
You can claim through the scheme for enhanced (earnings related) contractual pay for employees who qualify for either: maternity pay, adoption pay, paternity pay or shared parental pay.
Any employees you place on furlough must be furloughed for a minimum period of 3 consecutive weeks. When they return to work, they must be taken off furlough. Employees can be furloughed multiple times, but each separate instance must be for a minimum period of 3 consecutive weeks.
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
An alternative option to laying off staff is the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. This is a temporary Government scheme open to all UK employers for at least 4 months (from 1st March 2020). It is designed to support employers whose operations have been severely affected by coronavirus.
Employers can claim for 80% of furloughed employees’ (employees on a leave of absence) usual monthly wage costs, up to £2,500 a month, plus the associated Employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions on that wage. Employers can use this scheme anytime during this period.
To ensure the scheme helps as many people as possible, the government has confirmed that the eligibility date has been extended. To qualify for the scheme, individuals have to be employed and registered on their PAYE payroll on or before 19 March 2020. This means that the employee must have been notified to HMRC through an RTI submission notifying payment in respect of that employee on or before 19 March 2020.
For employers to be eligible for the grant, when on furlough, an employee cannot undertake work for, or on behalf, of the organisation or any linked or associated organisation. This includes providing services or generating revenue.
Employers can access the scheme through an online portal and employers can decide whether or not they wish to supplement employees’ salary over the 80%.
Employers can make a collective claim for the group of furloughed employees under the scheme, but it is anticipated that employers may need to make more than one claim throughout the period of furlough. Claims start from the date that the furlough starts which is when the employee finishes work. It is anticipated that employers will submit one claim at least every three weeks. Three weeks is the minimum length of time an employee can be furloughed for.
Employers must pay the employees first and wait for the claim to come through. If employers need short term cash flow support, they may be eligible for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (see more information below).
The scheme is currently open until the end of June 2020 and the government will keep the scheme under review and extend it if necessary.
For more information about the scheme, click here.
Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme
The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) supports small and medium-sized businesses, with an annual turnover of up to £45 million, to access loans, overdrafts, invoice finance and asset finance of up to £5 million for up to 6 years.
The government will also make a Business Interruption Payment to cover the first 12 months of interest payments and any lender-levied fees. This means smaller businesses will benefit from no upfront costs and lower initial repayments.
The government will provide lenders with a guarantee of 80% on each loan (subject to pre-lender cap on claims) to give lenders further confidence in continuing to provide finance to small and medium-sized businesses.
The scheme is delivered through commercial lenders, backed by the government-owned British Business Bank.
For more information about the scheme, click here
Self-employment Income Support Scheme
If you are self-employed or a member of a partnership and have lost income due to coronavirus, the government has introduced a Self-employment Income Support Scheme on 26th March 2020, that will allow you to claim a taxable grant worth 80% of your trading profits up to a maximum of £2,500 per month for the next 3 months.
You can apply if you:
• have submitted your Income Tax Self Assessment tax return for the tax year 2018-19
• traded in the tax year 2019-20
• are trading when you apply, or would be except for COVID-19
• intend to continue to trade in the tax year 2020-21
• have lost trading/partnership trading profits due to COVID-19
Your self-employed trading profits must also be less than £50,000 and more than half of your income come from self-employment.
Self-employed people do not have to initiate the application. It is understood that HMRC will contact them with instructions and then the grant will be paid directly into their bank account in one lump sum payment. Effectively, the self-employed who are eligible will get their 80% of March, April and May's money as a lump sum in June.
Self-employed income support is unlikely to be operational before the end of June. So self-employed people may need to borrow money to help with cash flow over the next few weeks until their income support application is processed. There are also business interruption loans available and the July self-assessment tax payments can be delayed for six months.
For more information, click here
Self-employment – other benefits available
Self-employed people, who have to self-isolate, or whose work stops, have limited sick pay protections as they are not eligible for statutory sick pay although other benefits are available:
- Self-employed Income Support - There is a new self-employed income support scheme which provides freelancers and self-employed people with guaranteed earnings during the pandemic. The payments depend upon the self-employed person’s previous tax returns and will be administered by HMRC. This scheme provides state help for self-employed workers in a similar way to the scheme for reimbursement of furloughed employees’ salaries.
- Other rights - The other precise legal rights of self-employed workers depend upon the terms of the agreement and how the arrangement operates in practice. Some workers deemed to be self-employed may in fact be protected as employees. If workers deemed to be self-employed do in reality have employee status then employers should consider the new support measures introduced by the government, including the Coronavirus Job Retention scheme and furlough leave.
- Further state help - The government announced in the March 2020 budget that the self-employed will be able to claim employment support allowance from the first day of their isolation or illness rather than day eight. However, it is only paid to those who are too sick to work and who meet certain conditions and those who are likely to benefit are fairly limited. The benefit is worth £73.10 a week, or £57.90 for the under-25s.
The government is also temporarily changing universal credit so that the minimum income ‘floor’ of how much the self-employed person would normally expect to earn in a month, is ignored when calculating entitlement to universal credit. This means some individuals will be able to claim over the telephone or online for time they spend off work due to sickness. In effect, instead of sick pay the self-employed will be given support through the benefits system by raising universal credit so that the self-employed receive a similar amount to the £94.25 statutory sick pay.
The government has also announced a new £500m fund to support economically vulnerable people which will be allocated by local authorities. More information can be found on the Government website.
Employers have the right to tell employees and workers when to take holiday if they need to. For example, they can decide to shut for a week and everyone has to use their holiday entitlement.
If the employer does decide to do this, they must tell staff at least twice as many days before as the amount of days they need people to take. For example, if they want to close for 5 days, they should tell everyone at least 10 days before. This could affect holiday staff have already booked or planned. So employers should:
• explain clearly why they need to close
• try and resolve anyone’s worries about how it will affect their holiday entitlement or plans
Rules on carrying over annual leave to be relaxed
The government has announced that workers unable to take all of their statutory annual leave this year will be entitled to carry it over into the next two leave years. Currently, the statutory annual leave entitlement for most workers who work a five-day week is 28 days’ holiday (including bank holidays). The new regulations will allow up to four weeks of unused leave to be carried into the next two leave years. This will ensure workers do not lose their leave entitlements and will provide businesses with flexibility at a time they need it most. These changes will amend the current ‘Working Time Regulations’ which apply to almost all workers. For more information click here.
If an employee needs time off work to look after someone
Employees are entitled to time off work to help someone who depends on them (a 'dependant') in an unexpected event or emergency. This could apply to situations to do with coronavirus.
A dependant does not necessarily live with the person, for example they could be an elderly neighbour or relative who relies on the person for help. There's no statutory right to pay for this time off, but some employers might offer pay depending on the contract or workplace policy.
The amount of time off an employee takes to look after someone must be reasonable for the situation. For example, they might take 2 days off to start with, and if more time is needed, they can book holiday.
If a dependant such as a partner, child or relative in the same household gets coronavirus symptoms, everyone in the household must self-isolate for 14 days and they should receive statutory sick pay as a minimum for this time.
Find out more about time off for dependants.
Managing employees who have Coronavirus
The government has now introduced measures (starting 23 March) requiring that people should only leave home under a list of 'very limited purposes'. This means people should only travel to and from work where work absolutely cannot be done at home. Employers can refer to the homeworking questionnaire and the remote working top tips to manage a widespread move to working from home. Employers should be mindful of anyone who may be more vulnerable due to age, pregnancy or a pre-existing condition and prioritise flexible arrangements for them during this time.
You can find information on the business support measures introduced by the government on the government website.
Furthermore, if an employee is asked to self-isolate or is suspected of having contracted the coronavirus the employer should probably communicate this to the other employees. There is probably no absolute legal obligation to do this, but an employer does have a duty of mutual trust and confidence and a duty to take care of all employees’ health and safety.
Revealing the name of the infected employee should certainly not be done without the employee’s permission. Revealing details of an infected employee, including their medical situation without permission could amount to a breach of their data protection rights or right to privacy.
If someone has coronavirus symptoms at work
If someone becomes unwell in the workplace with coronavirus symptoms, they should:
• tell their employer immediately and go home
• avoid touching anything
• cough or sneeze into a tissue and put it in a bin, or if they do not have tissues, cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow
• use a separate bathroom from others, if possible
The unwell person must self-isolate at home for 14 days if they live with others, or 7 days if they live alone.
You can get more advice or help by either:
• using the NHS 111 coronavirus service website
• calling 111, if you cannot access the NHS website
• calling 999, if someone is seriously ill or life is at risk
It’s best for the unwell person to use their own mobile phone or computer to access these services.
Last reviewed: 26th April 2020
Please find below a summary of support for businesses for COVID-19, provided by an external source. For further information, please visit https://www.sterlingrees.com/covid-19/
The advice is being reviewed and updated regularly, and relevant links can be found at the beginning of this document to read the most up to date information.