Covid-19 Employment Law Update: 27 March 2020

27th March 2020

New income support scheme for the self-employed

UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled the details of the government’s relief for the UK’s five million self-employed and freelance workers: press release.  The new Self-Employed Income Support Scheme will pay qualifying individuals a taxable grant of 80% of their average monthly profits over the last three years up to £2500 per month.

The Coronavirus Act now in force

The Coronavirus Act has received Royal Assent and is in now force.  Key employment related provisions concern the employment rights of emergency volunteers and Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).  For further details, please see our earlier website post.

Regulations requiring business closures now in force

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 are now in force requiring the closure of businesses selling food or drink for consumption on a premises, and businesses listed in Part 2 of Schedule except for limited permitted uses.

More details on Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) operations

As we previously posted, clients with cases before the EAT are advised that it has postponed all hearings listed up to and including Wednesday 15 April 2020. Today, the President of the EAT clarified that judges may issue directions via remote communication “in respect of a particular case should it be deemed necessary for reasons or urgency”.

New advice on Pay Advances, Employer Loans and the National Minimum Wage

After receiving a substantial number of enquiries from employers, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy issued this guidance on pay advances and employer loans for workers and how they relate to the minimum wage.

Care sector poised for exponential jobs growth

SM&B has a number of clients operating in the care sector which is poised for a massive increase in its workforce due to the Coronavirus.  Some examples of those providers who are hiring:

  • Cera is looking for 10,000 workers to support the NHS and the elderly in isolation which represents a 400% increase in its workforce;
  • Home Instead Senior Care is hiring 3,000 care workers; and
  • HC-One says it has thousands of new, permanent roles at its more than 300 care homes across country;

700,000 lost jobs forecast

Economic research firm Capital Economics estimates the government relief offered to workers and businesses hit by Coronavirus will save almost 900,000 jobs, but the unemployment rate will still surge to 6%.

Q&A: Furloughed Workers

Employers and employment lawyers alike have many questions on how the Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme and the designation of ‘furloughed workers’ will operate in practice.  Today, employment law barrister Daniel Barnett obtained a “Frequently Asked Questions” document written by Dr Luke Evans, the Conservative backbench MP for Bosworth. Some key Q&A’s in the document are:

Q: Can a business furlough someone after hearing the announcement and then claim back to 1 March 2020 even though they had been working that whole time?

A: No – the scheme is backdated to March 1st with a view to covering those who have already been made redundant as a result of the coronavirus.

Q:  What about employees hired on or after 1 March 2020?

A: They are excluded from the scheme.

Q: What about employees that have already been made redundant?

A: The scheme will be back dated to 1 March 2020 with a view to covering those who have already been made redundant due to the Coronavirus outbreak.  If firms re-employ staff made redundant after 1 March 2020t, they are eligible to then be furloughed and the employer would qualify for the grant.

Q: Can an employer terminate an employee while furloughed or can an employer terminate an employee when the scheme comes to an end?

A: An employee can still be made redundant while furloughed or immediately after. There is no requirement to bring the employee back to work after the period of furlough. If an employee is made redundant during the period of furlough then grant payments will cease. However, in both cases normal redundancy rules and protections will apply.

Q: Can an employee be furloughed for a short period of time, e.g. a week or a couple of days, and then re-employed?

A: An employee must be furloughed for a minimum of 3 weeks for their employer to be eligible to claim under this scheme.

Q: Can an employee do emergency volunteering while furloughed?

A: When an employee is furloughed, they cannot work for their employer during the furloughed period.  They can therefore volunteer or train so long as they do not yield revenue for the company employing them.

Please do note that Dr Evans published Q&A’s is not an official government document and we still await detailed published guidance from the government on the Scheme.

Should you have any further questions or require any assistance with your employment arrangements during this difficult period, please do not hesitate to contact either one of our Co-Heads of the Employment team, Partners Tamara Ludlow and Ewan Keen.