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Advice for businesses on returning to work after lockdown

Posted onPosted on 30th Jun

Nicky Silver, of Nicky Silver HR Services, which provides bespoke employment and HR support for SMEs Mansfield, Newark and surrounding areas, has put together HR guidance for companies as they return to work after the coronavirus lockdown.

Furlough Scheme (CJRS) Key Dates

1st July 2020 – New Flexible Furloughing Scheme opens. Employees can return to work on either their normal contracted hours or on a reduced hours basis. They must be paid at their full contractual rate of pay for any hours worked. For any contracted hours or days that the employee is NOT required to work, the employer can still claim Furlough at 80% (up to a cap of £2,500) and reimbursement of employer National Insurance (NICs) and minimum Employer Pension contributions (where eligible).

31st July 2020 – All claims under the “old” scheme must be submitted by this date, including reimbursement of National Insurance and 3% pension contributions where eligible (NOTE: it is reported that approximately 40% of businesses haven’t claimed back National Insurance and Employer Pension contributions as yet. Find out how to calculate 80% of your employee’s wages, National Insurance Contributions (NICs) and Employer Pension
contributions if you’ve Furloughed staff due to coronavirus (COVID-19) here.

1st to 31st August 2020 – HMRC will reimburse 80% of wages for any days not worked. however, employers will no longer be able to reclaim employer NICs and minimum pension
contributions.

1st to 30th September 2020 – HMRC will pay 70% of wages up to a cap of £2,187.50 per month, with employers being required to pay 10% (to make up to 80% in total, up to a cap of £2,500).

1st to 31st October 2020 – HMRC will pay 60% of their wages up to a cap of £1,875 per month, with employers being required to pay 20% of wages (to make up to 80% total, up to a cap of £2,500).

● 31 October 2020 – The Furlough (CJRS) scheme closes.

Flexible Furlough Scheme – Important points

● To be eligible for the grant, employers must agree any new Flexible Furloughing arrangements with their employee and confirm that agreement in writing (NOTE: make sure that you obtained agreement in writing to Furlough your employees in the first place and that if you extended or stopped their time on Furlough, that you confirmed that in writing too – free template letters are available).

●Employers will be able to make their first claim under the new scheme from 1 July 2020.
●Employees can remain on furlough without returning to work part time.
●Wages can still be topped up to 100% at the employer’s expense.
●When making a claim. employers will need to report any hours worked and the usual hours an employee would be expected to work in a claim period.
●Claim periods will be a minimum of one week / 7 days, but can be longer.
●Claims cannot overlap calendar months, due to the scheme terms changing each month.
●Furlough related records must be retained for 6 years.
Fact Sheet – SEISS and Flexible Furlough and SEISS update 29 05 2020
Check if you can claim for your employees’ wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Preparing to return to work
●This isn’t one size fits all. Plans will be specific to your business. Consider the short term and longer term requirements of the business. What work needs to be done, by when?
●Be prepared to be flexible and adjust your plans as you go along – we don’t know what is round the corner (another lockdown?).
●Prepare for disruption to your plans due to events such as the Test and Trace service advising employees to self isolate or staff having to go into quarantine after a holiday. What is your plan B? Who will cover the work of individuals if they can’t do their jobs as planned?
●Communication is key. Be open and honest with your staff and give as much information as possible. Explain what you are doing and why you are doing it.
●Keep staff updated on any plans and COVID-secure safeguarding measures being put in place.
Make your workplace COVID-secure – Working safely during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak
Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19) – Guidance – GOV.UK
●Give as much notice as possible of any changes that will affect your employees.
●Who do you need to return to work? If you don’t need all staff to return, use a list of criteria to objectively assess and fairly identify the employees who will return first eg skills to do the required job, experience, attendance record, qualifications, disciplinary record, attitude to work etc.
●Consider:
○ Who your critical workers are and who you want to retain in the business (those with specific skills, hard to replace, bring value to the business)?
○ Do you have any staff who have been told to shield for 12 weeks? Have they been told to continue shielding? They can be placed on furlough at the company’s discretion.
○ Can people be temporarily redeployed to alternative work?
○ Encourage staff to complete training while furloughed to help them prepare for their return. Think about whether your staff need new skills such as training in new Health and Safety / COVID-19 processes or rules (social distancing, handwashing, kitchen usage etc) technology changes (eg using Zoom), mental health / anxiety / stress management etc? Note: Training time must be paid at least their relevant National Minimum Wage.
○ Some employees may feel stressed or anxious about returning to work:
●Provide all employees with access to Mental Health / Wellbeing courses).
●Arrange Mental Health First Aider Training.
●Once you have decided who is coming back, write to employees to confirm when they will be coming off furlough and returning to work (part time or full time) as well as their place of work eg business premises, temporarily working from home etc.
●If you have employees who will be working from home:
○ Check that your Insurance covers any equipment that you are providing to them for working remotely.
○ Review your Data Protection / GDPR policies and procedures. What additional security measures do staff need to take when working from home?
●If you have anyone who was in their Probationary Period prior to being furloughed, write to them to explain that their Probation has been on hold from [xx date] and will recommence on [xx date] until [xx date].
●Document everything and keep records for at least 6 years in case of employee disputes or audits by HMRC eg decision making processes, emails, notes of meetings, letters, briefings / communications, evidence of work volumes etc

Options to consider if there is still no work available
Furlough – Put employees onto furlough for a further period of time?
Flexible Furlough – from 1st July 2020, agree reduced working hours with some or all staff and use Flexible Furloughing to top up wages on days when work isn’t available?
Redundancies – Be very mindful of how any potential redundancies are communicated as this is going to be a very difficult time for some people. Continue to support your staff and treat their health and welfare as a priority. Note:
○ The furlough grant cannot be used to make a redundancy payment to an employee.
○ The furlough scheme can be used to contribute towards an employee’s Notice Pay, at 100% of their normal salary (employer will need to top up any furlough payments to 100%).
○ Consider keeping employees on furlough for as long as you can (subject to the scheme changes, scheme end date and notice periods)
○ If making someone redundant, all existing UK redundancy procedures, consultation processes, notice periods etc must be applied. Obtain advice to avoid any issues.
●Confirm everything in writing and retain for 6 years.

Holidays
●Holiday continues to accrue as normal for employees who are on furlough.
●To avoid a backlog, you can tell your staff when to take holiday, giving twice the amount of notice to the amount of time being take ie 2 weeks notice for 1 week’s holiday. Holiday Entitlement During Coronavirus
●Any holiday taken must be paid at 100%.
●Carrying over up to 4 weeks of leave for up to 2 years is for key industries / key workers and only if employees have not been able to take the time off.
●Update your holiday policy and share it with staff:
○ Holidays already booked may be cancelled by the operator at the last minute – Do employees come to work or still take the holiday?
○ If someone is told to self-isolate and can’t go on holiday – Will you pay Statutory Sick Pay or do they still need to take the time off as holiday?
○ From 8th June 2020 people returning from abroad must quarantine for 14 days – What is your policy going to be for dealing with this? – See some points for consideration in the next section.

What if an employee goes abroad and needs to Quarantine for 14 days on their return?
●The government has said that Quarantine rules will be reviewed every few weeks.
●There are currently some exclusions to the regulations, including returning from countries such as Ireland and coming to the UK to work for the NHS. Full details of the scheme can be found at: Entering the UK
●Employees should ideally still take the annual leave that they have booked, unless you need them back at work? You can ask them to cancel their holiday if you give the same amount of notice as the time being taken off eg 1 weeks notice to cancel a holiday of 1 week.
●Going on holiday abroad and taking the associated risks is voluntary and the employee’s personal choice.
●Government guidelines currently state: “The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) currently advises British nationals against all but essential international travel. This advice is being kept under constant review.essential travel”. COVID-19 travelling Abroad
●Identify which employees may be impacted ie who has holiday abroad booked or is thinking of taking a holiday abroad in the next few months
●The company is under no obligation to pay staff while in quarantine after a holiday.
●Consider holidays on a case by case basis eg will they lose money on a holiday they have already paid for?
●Potential options:
○ Work from home (if possible)?
○ Take additional holiday?
○ Take unpaid leave?
○ Swap with someone on furlough ie go onto furlough after the holiday for 14 days?
○ Work additional hours to make up for the 2 weeks (if possible)?
○ If only just booking the holiday now, decline their leave request if you can’t accommodate the time off?
●Furlough is NOT an option when there is work available for your staff to do.

Useful Resources
Government Guidelines

●All guidelines Coronavirus Guidelines
●Flexible Furlough Fact Sheet – SEISS and Flexible Furlough update 29 05 2020
Check if you can claim for your employees’ wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
●How to calculate 80% of your employee’s wages and reclaim National Insurance Contributions (NICs) and Employer Pension contributions Claiming Furlough, NICs and Employer Pension contributions
●Claiming back Statutory Sick Pay Claim back Statutory Sick Pay paid to employees due to coronavirus (COVID-19)
●Shielding guidelines for the vulnerable and those living with them Shielding Guidelines
●COVID-19 Health and Safety measures
Make your workplace COVID-secure – Working safely during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak
Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19) – Guidance – GOV.UK
●Walking, cycling, and travelling in vehicles or on public transport during the coronavirus outbreak Safer Travel Guidance for Passengers
●Holiday entitlements and rights Holiday Entitlement During Coronavirus
●Entering or returning to the UK:
Entering the UK
Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) currently advises British nationals against all but essential international travel.
COVID-19 travelling Abroad

Free Mental Health and Wellbeing support

●MIND Mental health for small workplaces – Mental Health At Work
●NHS Every Mind Matters | One You
●Able Futures Able Futures – support for individuals
●Shout is a 24/7 UK crisis text service available for times when people feel they need immediate support but don’t feel able to speak to someone Give Us A Shout

For copies of any of any of Nicky’s free resources below, or for additional help or advice, email [email protected] or call 07913 121290.

Free Template letters:
○ For employees to agree to being furloughed
○ Furlough extension
○ Confirming the terms of coming back to work on reduced hours (1st July 2020 onwards)
○ To confirm to employees that furlough is coming to an end and when they will be returning to work.

Free Factsheet: Support for Employees During COVID-19 – detailing a number of free financial and wellbeing support services.

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