Government Guidance on Working Safely During Coronavirus and Changes to the Furlough Scheme
This week we have seen the Government begin to move towards encouraging a very gradual return to work and a recognition that businesses will need to operate in new ways in order to stay safe. With this in mind, the Government published new guidance on 11 May 2020 to help employers, employees and the self-employed understand how to work safely during the coronavirus pandemic (“the Safe Working Guidance”). Changes to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (“the CJRS”) have also been announced, to take effect from August 2020, which are also aimed to support the transition back to work. Employers are expected to ensure that they tailor and adapt the guidance to meet their own business and workforce requirements. This will no doubt allow room for interpretation and inconsistencies, and potentially, more gaps that need to be clarified.
We set out some of the key initial points for employers below.
The Safe Working Guidance
The Safe Working Guidance covers eight different types of workplaces and sets out a number of objectives employers should be looking to achieve before their staff return to the workplace. The aim of the Safe Working Guidance is to help employers ensure their workplaces are as safe as possible but, inevitably, it raises a number of issues and duties that employers need to be aware of.
In consultation with trade unions or workers, employers are required to carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment and do everything which is reasonably practicable to minimise the risks identified. Whilst it is recognised that employers cannot completely eliminate the risk of COVID-19, employers will need to ensure that this threshold has been met. Employers are also expected to share their risk assessment with their workforce and businesses with over 50 employees are expected to publish it on their website.
Many employees may be anxious to return to work in this climate and employers are likely to face issues with how to deal with and manage safety concerns raised by their workforce in the most effective, fair and efficient way. Employers will also need to ensure that their employees are aware of all relevant safety procedures which may require developing training materials before their workforce return to their place of work.
Employers should be mindful of equality issues in the workplace during this process and consider the particular needs of different groups of workers or individuals when applying the Safe Working Guidance. Employers will need to make sure they follow their duties under the Equality Act 2010 and consider whether reasonable adjustments can be made to avoid disabled workers being put at a disadvantage.
Employees should not be subjected to any detriments for raising concerns, in particular where health and safety issues have been raised.
Changes to the CJRS
A snapshot of key changes introduced by the latest announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in relation to the CJRS includes:
- The CJRS will be extended until the end of October 2020.
- There will be no changes to the CJRS until the end of July 2020.
- From August 2020:
- The scheme will continue for all sectors and regions of the UK and employees will continue to receive the same level of overall support as they do now (80% of their salary up to the £2,500 limit).
- There will be greater flexibility to support the transition back to work, with employers being able to bring back furloughed employees part-time.
- Employers will be required to start sharing with the Government the cost of paying furloughed employees’ salaries.
Full details of how the changes to the CJRS will work and how much employers will have to contribute are expected by the end of May 2020.
The CJRS was due to be wound down at the end of June 2020 so this will be a welcome and timely announcement for any organisation proposing to make more than 20 employees redundant within a period of 90 days or less, who may otherwise have shortly had to begin collective consultation in order to comply with their obligations under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 before the scheme ended in June.
For further advice on individual enquiries, please contact any member of the Bevan Brittan employment team.
Please keep an eye out for our next Bevan Brittan employment webinar in June 2020, where our panel of lawyers will cover a number of COVID-19 employment related issues. Further details will follow shortly.
For further support and advice relating to the impact of COVID-19, please view our COVID-19 Advisory Service page.