Just when we thought everything was under control and the plans were in place, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak lets off some fireworks, announcing on 5th November 2020 some more changes to the furlough scheme. There is also some additional support and grants for venues that have been forced to close, as well for the self-employed.
It has also been stated that the current lockdown measures are intended to end on the 2nd December 2020 but this will depend on how substantially the “R” number drops in the next 4 weeks and so may be extended. There have also been a few additional changes to other guidance information which are also included in this bulletin.
Further extension to the CJRS
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – Extension (CJRS-E) has now been extended until 31st March 2021, under the same package as used in August, but the benefits in the scheme will be reviewed in January, as to whether employer will have to pay more towards the employee furlough payments from then. The CJRS-E will apply to any employee and business, even if they have NOT previously benefitted for the furlough scheme. For employees the cut-off date requires that they have been on a Real Time Information (RTI) submission via payroll to HMRC on or prior to 30th October 2020. If they have not been, then they will not be eligible.
Employees can be placed onto a Part-Work/Part-Furlough arrangement on any working pattern, using the normal working hours as a basis.
For now, the CJRS-E will allow employers to claim a grant of up to 80% of employees pay (up to a cap of £2,500 per month) although you may also top-up pay if you choose to. Employees should receive all monies claimed effectively meaning they receive up to 80% of their wages. As with the scheme in August the latest guidance today confirms that National Insurance and Pension Contributions are payable on the FULL amount of wages paid to the employee and cannot be claimed back for hours not worked. Please note on the NIC’s/Pension payments, there are mixed messages from the Government and the guidance has changed twice since 1st November. If this matter is further clarified, we shall update you.
Please note that the decision whether to place employees onto furlough remains that of the employer and it is important that care is taken to ensure fairness in this process. Employees CANNOT therefore demand that they are placed on furlough as you the employer will have to justify your claim to HMRC if audited at a later date. See below re Self-Isolation.
Job retention bonus
Given the extension to the current support package the JRB which would have allowed businesses to claim £1,000 for every previously furloughed employee retained in work by the beginning of February has been stopped. Given that this grant was to encourage employers to retain employees rather than make them redundant, Rishi Sunak indicated that some sort of scheme will be made available at a later date.
Although the full guidance in respect of the CJRS-E will not be published until 10th November 2020, indications are that any employee who has been employed prior to 23rd September 2020 and has since been made redundant, can (not must) be re-hired and placed on the CJRS-E.
It has been clear from the start of the CJRS that when it ends, there is no obligation to give work to the employees who have been furloughed. You must however have genuine reasons for the redundancy and follow any of the required procedures. However, before you do so, please consider:
- What was the genuine reason for redundancy in the first place;
- if this was due to the job no longer existing, then is this likely to change in the future when the CJRS-E ends?
- if it was for financial reasons, does the NIC/Pension liability on the 80% paid under the CJRS-E continue to impact your business and place the future at risk if you reemploy?
You will also have to recommence the redundancy process and show that you have a fair reason for the redundancy if you do rehire them – the decision will have to be made again at that time, not when you decided to make them redundant before.
As there is an increase in testing for COVID-19 and a greater focus on making Track & Trace more effective, it is possible that you will experience employees who have been notified that they have tested positive for COVID-19 and therefore MUST self-isolate. This also applies to individuals who present with symptoms or live in a household where someone has tested positive. The guidance in respect of this is available on the government website
Please note that employees have a legal obligation to self-isolate if instructed to do so by Track & Trace (or via the NHS App) and if told to do so MUST NOT leave their home at all and must follow the appropriate guidance regarding this and their social contact with other people. Failure to do so could result in potential fines starting at £1,000.
If an employee has been instructed to self-isolate then they will be able to provide evidence of this and should do so. In respect of employees who are self-isolating, you should pay them Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) although you may choose to place them on furlough; but you are NOT obligated to do so.
Extra measures for vulnerable individuals
Note that the employer can choose to pay employees under the CJRS-E where they are unable to work because they:
- are shielding in line with public health guidance (or need to stay at home with someone who is shielding)
- have caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus, including employees that need to look after children
Where a person is “Clinically Vulnerable” then they are required to take extra care in respect of minimising contact with others. The guidance is specific that they should only work from home if they can do so, if they cannot then they should attend work and you are obligated to ensure appropriate COVID-Safety measures are in place. Note that pregnancy is classed as clinically vulnerable not “Clinically Extremely Vulnerable”.
Clinically Extremely Vulnerable
Where a person is “Clinically Extremely Vulnerable” then they must work from home and if they can’t then they MUST NOT attend work. This is called “shielding” and please note this is a change from Government guidance earlier this week.
Such individuals will receive a letter from the NHS or their GP and you should ask your employees to provide this as evidence. Employees who shield are eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and if on payroll on or before 30th October 2020 may also be eligible for furlough pay. Please note you are NOT obligated to place employees who are shielding onto the CJRS-E.
Paying SSP or Furlough Pay
If an employee is ill, for COVID or other reasons, then it is the employer’s decision whether to pay SSP or furlough pay.
As always, and has been shown throughout this pandemic, the guidance is subject to change and we expect further changes on the 10th November which we will review and update you further on as we have interpreted the changes. Please contact us if you are unsure of any issues relating to the management of your employees during this time.
This advice is being reviewed and updated regularly and is currently in line with HMRC, UK Government and ACAS guidance as updated 5th November 2020.
Should you require any further advice or guidance please call us on our usual HR number of 0191 2058020, or send us an email.