Coronavirus (COVID-19): HR advice for our members

How do we treat parents who can't work due to school issues? How does the Job Support Scheme work? And what about sick pay?

This guidance examines how Co-operatives UK members can approach situations linked with the spread of COVID-19. We examine important issues including leave, pay and furloughing - and provide responses to the most frequently asked questions.   

Our COVID-19 advice webpages are regularly reviewed. Get updates via Email | Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn. For advice enquiries contact us on [email protected]. This page was last updated on 23 October 2020 and will not necessarily address developments occurring since then.

This page is not designed to replace guidance issued by the UK Department of Health and Social Care and other authorities. There are links to further sources of information at the end of this guidance note.

Things to consider

Leave and pay

Members of the CEA National Retail and Managerial Agreements should note the provision in those agreements for paid special leave for employees who have been compelled by a medical authority to be absent from work following contact with a notifiable disease. Where Societies have local collective agreements, or sick pay policies which derive from former national agreements, they may contain a similar provision.

The UK has implemented legislation adding coronavirus to the list of notifiable diseases.

Other members should have regard to any provisions in their own contracts, policies and any collective or workplace agreements that are in place, in respect of treatment of employees on leave in relevant circumstances.Regardless of contractual position, members may wish to consider a pragmatic response to employee requests for leave, given the interests of our employees, businesses and communities in preventing unnecessary spread of infection. This may mean that in some circumstances it may be best to grant paid leave to employees self-isolating, even where they are not personally unwell. 

Frequently asked questions

Partial school closure/covid-related child illness FAQs

Due to multiple requests from our members we've produced specific guidance around school-related requests for leave. Guidance focuses on the following scenarios which may prevent employees from working:

  • An employee’s child is sent home from school due to an unspecified illness without coronavirus symptoms
  • An employee’s child is sent home from school with coronavirus symptoms
  • School closures and partial closures due to a coronavirus case
  • Test and trace contact related to school attendance
  • Withdrawing children from school due to fear of transmission

 read the advice 

How will the new Kickstart Scheme (six-month work placements for ages 16-24 on universal credit) work? 

The scheme provides six-month work placements aimed at those aged 16-24 on universal credit and deemed to be at risk of long-term unemployment. Funding available for each job will cover 100% of the relevant National Minimum Wage for 25 hours a week, plus the associated employer National Insurance contributions and employer minimum automatic enrolment contributions. The scheme is open for applications opened in August (2020) and will run until December 2021. Read the guidance material.

New quarantine rules FAQs

How do we treat employees unable to work because they are required to quarantine on return to the UK?

People, including UK nationals, arriving into the UK from countries that are not included in the travel corridors list are required to quarantine for 14 days. Read the guidance on how to isolate and list of countries included in the travel corridors.

If people have travelled for holiday purposes they would need to book and agree holiday or other leave with their employer to cover both their holiday and quarantine period. If people could work effectively from home during their quarantine period, that may be an option to consider. If not, some other arrangement may need to be considered.

Is an employee required to quarantine on return to the UK from abroad entitled to be paid?

There is no legal entitlement to pay. SSP is not triggered unless they become unwell. Contractual sick pay is unlikely to be triggered. If people could work effectively from home during their quarantine period, then that may be an option to consider which would mean they could continue to be paid. But if not, some other arrangement may need to be considered, which may include unpaid leave.

Can I refuse to permit holiday leave where it would involve an excessive period of leave due to the quarantine requirements when people re-enter the UK?

An employer can refuse a leave request made by an employee and this may be on the grounds that the period is excessive. The quarantine requirements create a unique situation where an employer may refuse leave but if it is then taken would be obliged not to allow the employee to return to the workplace for the quarantine period. If an employee takes leave which was not permitted we recommend taking individual advice on the particular situation before determining what action you may be able to take where an employee took unauthorised leave.

Test and trace FAQs

How does the test and trace process work?

Government has produced guidance which you can access here. There is also a specific page for workplace guidance here.

How does the test and trace process impact leave and pay?

The test and trace process and any resulting requirement to self-isolate will trigger SSP (where the person qualifies for SSP). Contractual sick pay may also need to be considered. More FAQs below on self-isolation.

Job Support Scheme FAQs

The Government is introducing a Job Support Scheme (JSS) which will run for six months from 1 November 2020. We are awaiting further details which will be available by the end of October (2020). Some information has been published for what is a replacement to the Coronavirus Job Protection scheme.

Under the JSS scheme, there are two forms of support. The one which may apply depends on whether or not you are legally required to close your premises. The two schemes are:

  • JSS Open – this may apply to you if you are facing decreasing demand but can still legally continue to trade
  • JSS Closed – this may apply to you if you are legally required to close your business due to the pandemic

For a quick guide to the Coronavirus Job Protection Scheme, alongside other COVID-19 relief measures, see our Government Support for Business page.

JSS Open

Guidance from government states: “The employee will need to work a minimum of 20% of their usual hours and the employer will continue to pay them as normal for the hours worked. Alongside this, the employee will receive 66.67% of their normal pay for the hours not worked - this will be made up of contributions from the employer and from the government. The employer will pay 5% of reference salary for the hours not worked, up to a maximum of £125 per month, with the discretion to pay more than this if they wish. The government will pay the remainder of 61.67%, of reference salary for the hours not worked, up to a maximum of £1,541.75 per month. This will ensure employees continue to receive at least 73% of their normal wages, where they earn £3,125 a month or less.”

 

JSS Closed

This will apply to business legally required to close by government. Guidance states: “Each employee who cannot work due to these restrictions will receive two thirds of their normal pay, paid by their employer and fully funded by the government, to a maximum of £2,083.33 per month, although their employer has discretion to pay more than this if they wish. This will help protect employee incomes, limit unemployment and retain employer-employee matches so that these premises are able to reopen as quickly as possible when circumstances allow."

When can we claim?

Claims can be made from 8 December 2020 and can be backdated to 1 November 2020. The scheme will close on 30 April 2021.

How will we claim for wages under JSS

The scheme has been extended until the end of October 2020. However, it is now being subjected to tapering provisions to encourage people back to work. See below for further details on tapering. The scheme will close to new entrants from 30 June. From this point onwards, employers will only be able to furlough employees that they have furloughed for a full three week period prior to 30 June. This means the final date by which an employer can furlough an employee for the first time will be 10 June, in order for the current three week furlough period to be completed by 30 June. Employers will have until 31 July to make any claims in respect of the period to 30 June.

How often can we claim?

Further details are awaited. Claims will be administered through gov.co.uk.

Is there criteria?

Yes. You must have enrolled for PAYE online and have a UK, Channel Island or Isle of Man bank account.  

You can claim under either scheme for employees who were on your PAYE payroll between 6 April 2019 and 11:59pm on 23 September 2020. They must be on your payroll at the latter time. This will be evidenced by RTI Full Payment Submission under HMRC’s PAYE processes. You can add people who cease employment after 23 September 2020 but are re-employed.

Additional criteria apply depending on whether you are claiming JSS Open or JSS Closed.

What additional criteria apply under JSS Open?

Employers with 250 or more employees on 23 September 2020 need to undertake a Financial Impact Assessment demonstrating their turnover has remained equal or decreased due to the pandemic. The test only needs to be completed once before you make your first claim. An employer of less than 250 employees on that date do not need to satisfy that test.
 
In all cases, some or all of your employees need to be working reduced hours but more than 20% of their usual hours. You must reach a temporary working agreement with your employee or (where collective bargaining is in place) with the trade union, and keep a record of the agreement which should be made available to HMRC. Further details should be available by the end of October. See the published information for further details and examples

What additional criteria apply under JSS Closed?

JSS Closed will apply if your business is required to close at one or more location, including premises which are restricted to delivery, collection or outdoor food/ drink only. The claim period can only cover the period of forced closure although the JSS Open scheme may be available to you thereafter.

Present guidance available states you will be able to claim for employees “whose primary work place is at the premises that have been legally required to close as a direct result of coronavirus restrictions set by one or more of the four governments of the UK where the employer has instructed them to and they cease work for a minimum period of at least seven consecutive calendar days." Further criteria will be published later.
 
As with the JSS Open scheme, a temporary working agreement must we entered and records kept. Again, further details are expected from HMRC.

Can an employee be forced onto the JSS? 

No, an agreement with them (or on their behalf through the trade union) must be entered.

Do we have to pass on all of the grant to the employee?

Yes. You cannot deduct anything and must pass on all wages you claim for.

Does the grant cover tax / NI / pension contributions?

No. Employers must pay these on the full amount paid to the employee and make the usual required deductions for employee tax/NI under the PAYE regulations. Pension scheme terms must also be observed.

What if an employee is on, or about to take, some form of parental leave?

Guidance is being prepared which states it intends to ensure people do not lose out.

How much willl we be able to claim?

The guidance, which is only available for JSS Open at present, is quite detailed so you will need to consider it all very carefully along with the further published guidance. This section when further information becomes available.

Re-opening businesses and returning to work FAQs

Government has published a list of the types of business which must remain closed during the lockdown. There are, however, exceptions within each category, where businesses can continue to trade or can reopen. For details of which types of business can continue to trade or re-open see government guidance. The government has also published detailed workplace guidelines covering eight work sectors including warehouses; offices and shops. The guidance contains five essential messages:

  1. Work from home, if possible
  2. Consulting with workers and trade unions on Covid-19 risk assessments
  3. Maintaining two metres social distancing
  4. Manage transmission risk (by taking practical and physical steps)
  5. Reinforcing and enhancing cleaning processes (including more frequent cleaning and providing handwashing facilities or hand sanitisers)

Can we ask employees/workers to return to work?

Yes, but only provided it’s essential and safe for them to do so. Where possible employers should allow employees to work from home and employers should take "reasonable steps" to allow and assist working from home.

What must employers do to ensure a safe workplace before reopening?

Employers must take “all reasonable steps” to ensure that there is a safe place of work for employees. This means social distancing should be implemented if possible but where it isn’t possible measures should be implemented to control the risk of transmission. This is also now a mandatory requirement to carry out a risk assessment to assess any COVID-19 risks. The risk assessment must:

  1. Identify work activities or situations might cause transmission of the virus
  2. Consider who may be at risk
  3. Decide how likely any exposure is to employees
  4. Identify ways of removing the activities or situations or, where this isn’t possible

The risk assessment must be recorded in writing and set out what steps have been taken in addressing any risk. The government guidance states it “expects” employers with 50 employees or more to publish the results of their risk assessment (not the actual risk assessment) on their website. Although there is currently no statutory requirement to do so this may change in the future. Where an employer has carried out a risk assessment it should display a notice (a download is provided in the government guidance) demonstrating compliance. Employers should consult with either their trade union partners (where they recognise one) or alternatively with their employees to agree what safeguards and guidance should be implemented.

How does Step One of the recovery plan change things for people who are vulnerable to COVID-19?

No significant changes have been made to the previous guidance for vulnerable people. Some refinements in terminology are apparent as government attempts to give clearer guidance but the fundamental guidance for vulnerable people remains the same. A recap:

Clinically extremely vulnerable – these are the people who have been advised to “shield” themselves following receiving a letter or being told by their GP that they are in this group. The advice to them, which is to stay at home and avoid any face-to-face contact with other people, remains the same. They should not be attending a workplace but may be able to work from home. Employers should continue to follow the guidance below in relation to leave, pay and furloughing.

Clinically vulnerable – these are the people who have underlying health condition which means that although they are not in the ‘extremely vulnerable’ group, they should continue to take particular care to minimise contact with others outside their households, but do not need to be shielded. These include those aged over 70, those with specific chronic pre-existing conditions and pregnant women. The position for the clinically vulnerable has again not changed; they were previously advised to work from home ‘where possible’ but it is clear from that message that they might attend work where there was no other option. It is essential that other measures are considered by employers before bringing them into the workplace. Employers should continue to follow the guidance below in relation to leave, pay and furloughing.

Those required to self-isolate – there is no change to the position for people required to self-isolate because they or a member of their household displays symptoms of COVID-19. Employers should continue to follow the guidance below  n relation to leave and pay during self-isolation.

What about those with childcare responsibilities or other caring responsibilities?

Step One of the recovery plan does not change the situation for people with childcare or other care responsibilities which result from COVD-19. To an extent childcare pressures may be relieved when schools re-open, but given the plans for phased re-opening and limits to classroom sizes etc, it appears unlikely that the burden of childcare will be completely removed for many people in relation to their availability to work. Employers should follow the guidance below in relation to leave, pay and furloughing.

Do we need to provide personal protective equipment (PPE)?

There’s no obligation on employers to provide PPE unless the working environment is one where it is usually supplied. The government guidance indicates that social distancing, facilities for hand washing and regular cleaning or workplaces and premises are adequate. However, one of the considerations in your risk assessment should be whether PPE is necessary and, if so, what level. Where PPE is required it must be suitable should be supplied free of charge.

Do we need to consider travel arrangements for employees/workers?

There is no obligation on an employer to do so but HSE guidance provides the following advice:

  • Identify where people can travel alone in their own transport (or walk, or cycle if it is safe to do so) when getting to and from work to maintain social distancing
  • Stagger arrival and departure times so people can keep to the 2 metre social distancing rules by not using entry/exit points at the same time
  • Provide handwashing facilities (running water, soap and paper towels) at entry/exit points so that employees/workers can wash hands when they get to work and leave. If this is not possible, provide hand sanitiser

See here for more information.

What if, as an employer, I have taken all reasonable measures to ensure the workplace conforms to the COVID-19 Secure guidelines but an employee refuses to return to work?

It will be important to engage with employees and fully understand any reasons for not wishing to return to work. If you feel that an employee is unreasonably refusing to return to a COVID-19 Secure workplace then it is recommended you take advice on next steps to ensure that their particular circumstances are handled appropriately.

Holiday/leave FAQs

Can an employer insist on employees taking holiday at certain times

Generally, the answer is yes. The Working Time Regulations 1998 introduced a statutory right to annual leave. It also set out the minimum period of notice to be provided by the employee and the employer when taking annual leave. The period of notice required must be at least twice as long as the period of annual leave to be taken.

Therefore, unless there is an agreement to the contrary within either the contract of employment or in a collective agreement between the employer and a recognised trade union, an employer can require an employee to take a period of statutory annual leave, provided they give the employee the required notice. For example, one week's annual leave will require two weeks’ notice.

In practice most contracts of employment will refer to a policy (perhaps in a staff handbook or on an internet) which sets out the procedure for booking holidays. While this will set out the procedure for an employee booking a holiday, it will not ordinarily override the employer’s right to rely on the provisions of the Working Time Regulations in requiring the employee to take a period of annual leave.

Did you know... Holiday leave will continue to accrue during JSS as employees still retain employed status.

Can an employee cancel their pre-booked annual leave due to the COVID-19 outbreak?

Unless there is a provision within the contract of employment (or perhaps an applicable relevant or collective agreement) an employer doesn’t have to agree to such a request. However, where it doesn’t cause any inconvenience, an employer should consider agreeing to such a request, especially if there is work for the employee to carry out at a time when there is an increased level of absence..

It should be taken into account that employees must be allowed to take their full statutory annual leave entitlement and allowing numerous employees to cancel holiday entitlement may create issues towards the end of the annual leave year. It may be possible, in agreeing to allow an employee to cancel their current annual leave arrangements, to enter into an agreement which allows the employer to be able to require the employee to take a period of leave at a later date when convenient to the business.

Can we let employees carry leave forward if they have been unable to take it due to Covid-19?

Yes. Government has announced that the European working time element of leave (which is the basic four weeks), can be carried forward into the next two holiday leave years. This does not mean it must be, but it will be permitted if you choose to do this. The remaining 1.6 weeks of leave under the Working Time Regulations can only be carried forward into the following leave year. Any other leave over and above the 5.6 weeks referred to above will be subject to your usual policies or rules.

How do we treat an employee who is identified as being infected with Covid-19?

Any employee diagnosed with or suspected of being infected with coronavirus will need to remain isolated from the community and not come to work. They should be treated as being sick for the purposes of sick pay, even if in the normal course of things they wouldn’t be considered sufficiently unwell so as to necessitate being off work. Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and contractual sick pay will need to be considered, together with any provisions you have at present or develop for special paid leave. If you are unsure which to operate in particular circumstances, take advice.

How do we treat employees who are told to self-isolate due to travel to infected areas?

If there are any relevant pay clauses in contracts or collective agreements take advice on whether or not they would be triggered. In the absence of a relevant pay clause being triggered, there is no right for an employee who is not sick to be paid, however, members may wish to consider a pragmatic approach to prevent employees coming to work who are later identified as infected with the virus. This might include following the provisions in your sick pay policy, granting paid special leave, or allowing the employee to take annual leave.

How do we treat employees who have a cough, temperature and/or loss of taste/smell and follow the guidance to self-isolate?

People displaying symptoms of either a cough and/or a temperature should self-isolate for 10 days. They should be treated as being sick for the purposes of sick pay, even if in the normal course of things they wouldn’t be considered sufficiently unwell so as to necessitate being off work.

Statutory Sick Pay FAQs

Is SSP now a day one right or do we still apply three waiting days?

Government has SSP for coronavirus sickness a day one right and applied the changes retrospectively to 13 March 2020. Click here for government information on SSP.

Can we reclaim SSP paid for coronavirus related illnesses?

For businesses employing 250 or less people up to 14 days SSP can be reclaimed. The government has further guidance around claiming SSP.

What impact does social distancing have on Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or other pay?

It is important to note that self-isolation and social distancing are not the same thing. The SSP regulations have been amended to make it clear that if you, or someone in your household, is symptomatic then you should self-isolate and SSP will be triggered; seven days where you live alone and 14 days for families living together where one person develops symptoms. It is unlikely that contractual sick pay or any special leave will be triggered for people who are themselves asymptomatic, but follow the guidance to self-isolate.

Check contracts and take advice if you are unsure. If someone does not wish to come to work because they are following recommendations to limit social contact (whether or not they are in a vulnerable category) then they are unlikely to trigger any statutory or contractual right to leave other than unpaid leave, unless arrangements can be made to work from home. That is because the social distancing recommendations (including those for vulnerable groups) envisage that vulnerable people may carry on attending work, subject to following the other recommendations concerning commuting etc. This is different to the requirement to self-isolate, which triggers SSP.

We were forced to shut down for two weeks because of a suspected coronavirus case. Can we reclaim SSP?

This depends. If you were compelled by the PHT and doctor managing a contact case to close, then ‘deemed absence’ provisions in the SSP regulations may have been triggered. If that was not the case and you decided to close as a precautionary measure to protect your staff, then it is unlikely this would trigger SSP for anyone that was not unwell. The guidance states that workplaces can remain open even where someone develops symptoms and self-isolates.

Do we have to pay our employees if we have to close part of the business due to an outbreak of coronavirus?

Yes. Businesses are still obliged to pay employees if their place of work is temporarily closed and there is no option for them to work elsewhere, unless there is a relevant agreement to the contrary.

Can employees be laid off on unpaid leave if our business is adversely affected by coronavirus?

Employees can generally only be laid off where there is a clause permitting this in their contract of employment. It may be possible to agree to a lay off in circumstances where the employee is agreeable to this, as a measure to prevent their employer ceasing trading permanently. However, even where lay-off is agreed or there is a relevant clause in the contract, laying people off triggers a right to guarantee pay and may, after a period, trigger a right to a redundancy payment. The rules are complicated. Some generic guidance is available here. Generally this would only assist as a short-term measure. We recommend specific advice is taken before implementing lay-off agreements. It would probably be better to consider the Coronavirus Job Protection Scheme first, rather than generic rules concerning lay-off. See the FAQs above for more information about government support for businesses under the Job Support Scheme.

Are we insured for employee or other costs relating to coronavirus?

You will need to check your insurance policy to determine this or, if you have an agent, discuss it with them.

Is it possible to conduct a disciplinary or grievance hearing by an alternative method and without attending a meeting if someone is self-isolating?

The ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures requires an employer conducting either a disciplinary or grievance process to hold a meeting with the employee. In both instances the employee has a statutory right to be accompanied. In most instances where an employee is self-isolating (as opposed to actually suffering from COVID-19) and provided the period of self-isolation is likely to be no longer than 14 days, the most pragmatic approach will be to postpone the disciplinary or grievance hearing, especially if it is a disciplinary matter which isn’t likely to result in dismissal. However, in certain circumstances, where perhaps a manager can’t attend a hearing to conduct it, or where there may be a more urgent need to progress the matter, it may be possible to use an alternative method.

The purpose of holding a meeting is to afford an employee the opportunity to be heard. With regard to disciplinary proceedings, this will be to put forward an explanation or their version of events or, in respect of grievance proceedings, to explain or elaborate on any concerns or complaints. Therefore, provided the employee is afforded an opportunity to do this, it should be possible to conduct the disciplinary or grievance hearing by an alternative method,  as would sometimes be the case if an employee was absent due to long term sickness. This alternative method could be video conferencing, where the employee is at a work location but perhaps, because of travelling restrictions, the manager is unable  to attend at that location. It could also be by telephone conference call where all parties (including anyone accompanying) can dial in, although this alternative is likely to be more difficult and may not practical be for a number of reasons. Where you are considering conducting a disciplinary hearing by an alternative method you may wish to take specific advice.

Further advice and guidance

The Department of Health and Social Care has issued information and advice for the public on the outbreak of coronavirus, including the current situation in the UK and information about the virus and its symptoms. This page will be updated at 2pm each day until further notice.

The NHS has issued some advice to the public on how to avoid the spread of infections such as coronavirus, together with symptoms to look out for and advice to people who have travelled to affected areas.

XpertHR have developed some information for employers on infectious diseases, including a number of frequently asked questions relating to how employers should protect their business and workforce from the coronavirus.

Acas has published some advice for employers and employees on handling coronavirus at work

There is further guidance and some information posters on the World Health Organisation website.


All our COVID-19 advice webpages will be regularly reviewed with updates communicated via email as and when appropriate. Sign-up for updates: 
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For co-operative business advice enquiries please contact us on [email protected]