Employment Update – 18th February 2021

Employment Law Briefing

COVID-19 – What Employers need to know in 2021;

Update ahead of the next Government announcement on 22 February

On 22 February 2021, Boris Johnson intends to reveal the Government’s roadmap for COVID-19 and the relaxation of the current lockdown and related restrictions. Ahead of this announcement, we thought it would be helpful to summarise the current status of employment-related COVID-19 regulations, including the extended furlough scheme and the current position for office-based working, much of which we do not anticipate changing significantly in the short term.

1. Extended Furlough Scheme – Key Points

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (“CJRS”) was extended to cover the period from 1 November 2020 until 30 April 2021.

To be eligible, an employee must have been on the employer’s PAYE payroll on 30 October 2020. The employee does not need to have been previously furloughed.

  Government Contribution until 30 April 2021 Employer Contribution until 30 April 2021
Employer NICs and pension contributions None. Employer responsible for entire contribution.
Employees’ salaries 80% of employees’ salaries up to a limit of £2,500. No compulsory contribution. The employer can choose to top up salary above 80%.

The Government confirmed that they will continue to contribute 80% towards wages until 30 April 2021, rather than revisiting the scheme in January 2021 as originally planned.

Flexible furlough is still an option, meaning that employees can work part-time and receive a furlough payment for their unworked hours. In either case, employers will need an employee’s agreement to enter into furlough arrangements. Flexible furlough has continued to be a popular measure amongst businesses facing a reduced short-term workload where capacity is expected to increase as the COVID-19 restrictions ease.

With effect from 1 December 2020, employers can no longer claim financial support for any period that an employee spends on a notice period. In other words, if an employee is given notice to terminate their employment whilst on furlough, the employer will become liable for 100% of that employee’s salary and benefits until the employment ends.

Employers should also note that HMRC has published a list of all employers who made furlough claims during December 2020. A full list of those employers can be found at:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/956979/Employer_claim_data_-_December_2020.csv.

2. Deadlines for furlough claims have been shortened

 Although the process for claiming furlough reimbursement is the same, the claim window has been shortened. However, claims may now be amended until the end of the following month.

Claim for furlough days in: Claim must be submitted by:
 January 2021  15 February 2021
 February 2021  15 March 2021
 March 2021  14 April 2021
 April 2021  14 May 2021

3. Job Support Scheme and Job Retention Bonus postponed

The Job Retention Bonus has been postponed until an unspecified “appropriate time”. It was due to be paid in February 2021 to employers who brought back previously furloughed employees to full time employment.  The Job Support Scheme, which was intended to replace the CJRS, has also been postponed indefinitely.

4. Furlough Leave as an option for struggling parents

The Government has clarified that employers are permitted to furlough employees if they are unable to work, whether from home or otherwise, because they have caring responsibilities resulting from COVID-19. This includes looking after children who are at home due to school closures, as well as caring for vulnerable individuals. The ultimate decision to furlough an employee rests with the employer.

5. Current position on working from home for office workers

As most will appreciate, on 4 January 2021 the UK went into Lockdown 3.0 and the Government asked the public again to stay at home in order to stop the spread of the virus. The Guidance remains that the ability to “go to work” is restricted to those positions where an employee cannot reasonably work from home.  In practice, we suggest that anyone who has worked remotely full time for any part of the last year is highly unlikely to meet this criterion.

The other exception to the work from home rule is for workers within the following sectors: critical national infrastructure, construction, manufacturing, childcare or education or essential public services. Where individuals provide services in other people’s homes, e.g. nannies, cleaners or tradespeople, they are able to continue to do so but should maintain social distancing and wear face coverings where possible.

As before, the Guidance requires employers and employees to discuss their working arrangements, and employers should take every possible step to facilitate their employees working from home, including providing suitable IT and equipment to enable remote working.

6. Government announcement on 22 February

Next week the Prime Minister has stated that he intends to set out his roadmap for recovery now that the vaccination process is well underway.

We will provide a further briefing in response to the announcement.

Please contact our Employment Lawyers, John Reid, Nicola Tager or Charlotte Adams for further information or advice.

Email: john.reid@russells.co.uk, nicola.tager@russells.co.uk and charlotte.adams@russells.co.uk

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