Coronavirus – How will your business respond?

It seems that the COVID19, also know as Coronavirus, is set to spread throughout the UK with increased force next week, so it is important to communicate clear and concise guidance on how your company will respond to this situation. This is not about scaremongering, it’s about being prepared for the questions you will be asked by your employees and hopefully this information will save you valuable time.

Your immediate priority is for planning and prevention. Ensuring that you are communicating effectively with your workforce and preventing the spread of this pandemic.

First steps: employers – you need to ask yourself the following questions: –

1) What will you do if you suspect someone has contracted the virus?
2) How will you respond if an employee self isolates?
3) If you send someone home, what will you do about pay?
4) Have you prepared and issued guidance to your staff?
5) Do you have a dedicated team in place, to deal with emergency situations?
6) Do you have a lay-off and short time working clause in your contracts?
7) What are you advising for social distancing and vulnerable people?

You will also find some very comprehensive and easy to digest guidance on the Acas website

Wherever possible, you should encourage your employees to work flexibly, the ideal scenario would be for employees to work from home, using technology to carry on working, for example Skyping, Facetime or Whatsapp, rather than face to face appointments.

It is important to be inventive when looking for possible solutions to keeping your employees safe and reducing the possibility of cross infection. If you need to keep the office manned, then it may be useful to introduce shift working as part of your social distancing initiative, this way, you will only ever have one person on the premises at any given time. If you have more than one person working in the office, then ensure they remain at a safe distance, i.e. two metres apart.

You may wish to encourage your employees to use holiday or unpaid leave during any temporary closure. Employers also have the right to tell employees and workers when to take holiday if this becomes necessary.

You must also insist upon a stringent cleaning regime each day to avoid contamination. Prepare a cleaning checklist to include washing down surfaces and equipment each day with detergents and disinfectant and drying the area with disposable towels.

Many of my clients are already feeling the impact of the Coronavirus, with some being forced to temporarily close their business premises, which is raising concerns about how to cope with employee lay offs or short time working. The employment law surrounding this can be complex, so please check your contracts of employment before taking action.

Lay Offs and Short time working – It is only possible to lay someone off work, where there is an express contractual right to do so. When an employee is laid off, they will be entitled to a statutory guarantee payment from their employer, limited to a maximum of five days in any period of three months. If you do not have this clause in your contract of employment, then you would be obliged to pay your employees their full pay, even if the business is temporarily closed.

Guarantee payments are £29 per day for the first five workless days or proportionate to their usual part-time hours.

Guarantee pay
Rate and length of statutory lay-off pay
Employees are entitled to guarantee pay during lay off or short-time working. The maximum they can get is £29 a day for 5 days in any 3-month period – so a maximum of £145.
If the employee usually earns less than £29 a day then they will get their normal daily rate.
For part-time staff entitlement is worked out proportionally.
Employees will not receive guaranteed pay for any days which are worked.

Eligibility for statutory lay-off pay
employees must:
have been employed continuously for 1 month (includes part-time workers)
reasonably make sure they are available for work
not refuse any reasonable alternative work (including work not in their contract)
not have been laid off because of industrial action

This situation is constantly evolving, with additional support for businesses promised by the Government. We will continue to review our responses daily.

There are some interesting proposals to suspend business rates and mortgages for a period of time, so we will monitor this and respond accordingly.

There is also guidance on reclaiming some of the ssp paid to those who are ‘off sick’ because of Covid 19, plus information on business rates ‘holidays’ and grants. Please take a look at the Govt guidance regarding support for business Although it is not clear when this will come into play, we are expecting news early next week.

It is my intention to provide a ‘virtual’ information hub, signposting clients to information which may be relevant to their business. There is a great deal of information available online, which can be very confusing. I will be selecting information which is relevant to your business now.

On Friday 20th March 2020, the Government announced that they would be introducing support for businesses during this crisis, by introducing the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which means it will now be possible to claim 80% of your employee’s wages.

This new scheme has been specifically introduced to preserve employment and support the employer in these unprecedented circumstances. The Government advice stipulates that if the employee is at risk, then it is possible (subject to the employee’s agreement) to change their employment to ‘furloughed worker’, which will enable the employer to access the scheme.

If you decide to access the Job Retention Scheme, you will need to : –

  • designate affected employees as ‘furloughed workers,’ and notify your employees of this change – changing the status of employees remains subject to existing employment law and, depending on the employment contract, may be subject to negotiation
  • submit information to HMRC about the employees that have been furloughed and their earnings through a new online portal (HMRC will set out further details on the information required)

HMRC will reimburse 80% of ‘furloughed workers’ wage costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month.

In an ideal world, employers would negotiate with their employees to change their employee status to ‘furlough workers’ and continue to pay their wages.   However, this advice comes with a caveat.  I’m concerned that the Government have still not issued updated information on how and when employers will be reimbursed if they decide to claim back 80% of their employee’s wages.

According to the online information HMRC are working urgently to set up a system for reimbursement. Existing systems are not set up to facilitate payments to employers.

Some of my clients have expressed concern that they would not be able to continue paying their staff, if they did not receive reimbursement within the first few weeks of implementation, so it is critical that we are provided with this information.

I will update this info page as soon as it is published by HMRC.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any queries or concerns.  This is the most extraordinary event to hit UK businesses in a generation.  I’m here to help and together, we will get through this.

Owing to the volume of calls, please send all enquiries via email: