Changes to the furlough scheme, fluctuating lockdown and quarantine measures and shielding employees.
During July we saw positive moves towards a ‘new normal’ with lockdown easing and a range of businesses reopening. Employees are returning to the workplace and a mini budget offering new incentives for employers who retain their staff and bring them out of the furlough scheme.
However, the past week we have seen regional lockdowns, spikes in infection rates and new quarantine measures introduced for those returning from countries in Europe and extended quarantine measures for those who test positive from 7 days to 10 days.
So where does that leave employers?
The government’s initiatives have been driven by the need to get the UK economy back on its feet and return to ‘business as usual’. However, there is no ‘usual’ about the situation we find ourselves.
With the easing of lockdown in July and now the possibility of a second wave, or at the very least regional spikes plus the ending of the furlough scheme, it begs the question: Which course of action shall we take for the best outcome?
Don’t worry; we’ll break it down for you and give you the highs and lows for getting back to business:
1. Flexible Furlough.
The start of July saw employees return to the workforce on a part-time basis. Individual companies now have the flexibility to bring their people back to restore and revive their businesses. The flexible furlough scheme asks employers to pay for the hours worked by employees while the furloughed hours will still be covered up to 80% by the scheme.
2. Returning to the Workplace.
Mid-July Boris Johnson announced,
“Instead of government telling people to work from home, we are going to give employers more discretion and ask them to make decisions about how their staff can work safely. That could mean, of course continuing to work from home, which is one way of working safely and which has worked for many employers and employees.
Or it could mean making workplaces safe by following Covid Secure guidelines. Whatever employers decide, they should consult closely with their employees, and only ask people to return to their place of work if it is safe.”
3. Changes to the furlough scheme from August 1st.
From the start of August, employers will have to make National Insurance and pension contributions for their staff.
On September 1st, employers will also have to pay 10% of furloughed employees’ salaries, and from October 1st this rises to 20%.
4. Furlough Incentive: Job retention bonus.
For every employee brought back from furlough and retained until Jan 2021, businesses will receive a £1,000 bonus. Workers must earn over £520 per month to qualify.
5. Shielding Employees.
The end of July saw changes in the advice for those shielding and vulnerable. The government website states:
“you can go to work as long as the workplace is Covid-secure, but should carry on working from home wherever possible.”
6. Isolation rules extended from 7 to 10 days.
If an individual tests positive for Covid-19, they must isolate for 10 days at home with all other members of the household isolating for 2 weeks.
7. Quarantine Measures for individuals returning from overseas.
Due to increasing cases of Covid-19, July 26th saw the unexpected announcement that anyone returning from Spain must quarantine at home for 14 days. These measures may be extended to other countries as and when they arise, but for now, employers and employees will need to remain vigilant when making business and leisure travel plans.
8. The ‘Eat out to help out’ scheme.
Starting on August 1st, this initiative supports the hospitality sector. Introduced to encourage people to eat out and support restaurants and cafes, consumers will receive 50% off up to a maximum discount of £10 per head for everyone, including children, from Monday to Wednesday throughout August.
Businesses claim the money back directly from the government. To qualify, register your business online, and you will receive the full discount within your bank account within 5 working days.
The Road Less Travelled
At the start of the lockdown, unprecedented measures were taken by the government to support the UK economy. Now the government is handing back the financial and decision making obligations to business owners.
So what are the initial challenges to overcome?
- Provide a safe return to the workplace for staff.
- Create a detailed risk assessment to reassure workers you have taken every precaution to create a safe environment.
- Manage the changes to the furlough scheme over the next few months.
- Outline your expectations with regards to holidays, working from home, quarantine and sickness policies.
- Communicate changes in working patterns such as hours, breaks, eating areas, communal spaces promptly and effectively.
- Initiate suitable social distancing rules and procedures in the workspace with input from employees and suppliers.
- Introduce procedures to follow when isolation measures are needed, for example, if an employee or family member display symptoms, test positive or have been called with regards to Track and Trace.
Despite all of the initiatives and incentives introduced by the government, some business simply won’t be able to sustain their current workforce. This may lead to voluntary redundancy and regretfully forced layoffs. If you find yourself in this position, you’ll need clear and decisive guidance on what to do and how to move through the process.
Our next blog is a simple guide to redundancy for employers, outlining your rights and responsibilities.
If you’d like advice on your specific circumstances give us a call for expert advice on 01279 874676. We’ll help you every step of the way.