Can I require employees to take holiday during furlough?
Yes. Government guidance now confirms that employers can be required to take holiday during a period of furlough, so long as they are given minimum notice to do so. The notice required is double the length of the holiday.
Employers are also able to cancel employees’ holidays (or require them not to take holiday) if they are on furlough, for example if they are not in a position to pay the additional 20% top up to their normal wages (or more where they earn in excess of the £2,500 monthly cap on furlough payments). Again, employers are required to provide a minimum period of notice of cancellation, which in this case, is the length of the planned holiday.
Employers can ask employees to take or cancel holiday with less notice but they would need to get their agreement to do so.
Government guidance has been updated to state that “Employees should not be placed on furlough for a period simply because they are on holiday for that period.” If a period of furlough happens to coincide with an employee’s holiday then you should ensure that there are business grounds to support furlough being used in that instance so that it isn’t just being used as a means to fund holiday utilisation.
Another obvious cost cutting measure is to reduce working hours, either temporarily or permanently. Again, it should be done fairly, either across the board or by selecting teams/individuals based on objective business reasons. Imposing without agreement would create significant risk, therefore would require fair selection and consultation.
There are four criteria which must be satisfied if an agreement is to be considered exempt:
- It must improve production or distribution, or promoting technical or economic progress – the guidance suggests that cooperation ensuring essential goods and services can be made available to the public, or an important sub-set of the public such as key workers, will satisfy this criterion.
- It must allow consumers a fair share of the resulting benefit – the guidance suggests this will be the case where the action prevents or reduces shortages.
- It must not impose on the undertakings concerned restrictions which are not indispensable to the attainment of the above benefits – the guidance suggests this will be the case where the cooperation is the only reasonable option due to the urgency of the crisis and where the cooperation is temporary in nature.
- It must not afford the undertakings concerned the possibility of eliminating competition – therefore the parties must endeavour to retain competition in respect of the products (in particular price competition).
As an occupier of premises, you owe a duty of care to your visitors to take reasonable care to see that the visitor will be reasonably safe in using your premises.
It is therefore essential that you are taking reasonable steps and strictly adhering to up-to-date Government advice in all aspects of your business to avoid any potential liability.
Failure to follow Government advice could leave you vulnerable to claims for compensation for pain and suffering should a visitor on your premises contract Covid-19.
However, each case will be fact-specific and it would be very difficult for a visitor to establish that they contracted Covid-19 specifically from those premises (as opposed to being exposed to the virus anywhere else).
If someone suggests that they are going to make a claim make sure that you report matters to your insurer or insurance broker immediately.
The guidance is non-statutory and is not binding on business. However, businesses should be aware that there might be reputational consequences if they do not follow the guidance; we have already seen in the context of taking advantage of furlough funding that not being in breach of the law is no protection against negative publicity. Further to the extent a contract expressly requires parties to act reasonably, it could be expected that this guidance is one of the factors a court would consider in determining what is reasonable.
The coronavirus outbreak has seen State support being given to businesses on an unprecedented scale.
This issue is likely to be increasingly relevant as Governments seek to protect and stimulate their economies as they emerge from lockdown.
How have the rules been relaxed in the context of the crisis and what facets of the existing law can be used for the State to provide support to undertakings?