How will normal salary be calculated for those with no normal working hours, such as zero hours workers?
For those with variable pay, if the employee has been employed for a full 12 months before the period claimed for you, can take the higher of:
- The same month’s earnings in the previous year; or
- Average monthly earnings from the 2019/20 tax year.
For those who have been employed for less than one year you can use the average of their monthly earnings since they began their employment until the date they were furloughed.
If they have been employed for less than a month, work out a pro rata for their earnings so far, and claim for 80%.
Employers had until 31 July 2020 to make any claims for claim periods up to 30 June 2020. That was the end of the old scheme.
From 1 July 2020, claim periods must start and end within the same calendar month and must be for at least 7 days unless you are claiming for the first few days or the last few days in a month.
You can only claim for a period of fewer than 7 days if the period you are claiming for includes either the first or last day of the calendar month, and you have already claimed for the period ending immediately before it.
For example, if an employee is furloughed for 7 days spanning a month. You can claim the last 3 in one month, and 4 from the next.
The crucial point is that you cannot make claims that cross calendar months.
The first time that you could make a claim for days in July 2020 was 1 July 2020. You could not claim for periods in July 2020 before this point.
There have always been ways for public bodies to assist without being required to notify these for approval. These continue to be available during the financial crisis, and are likely to be increasingly useful for measures which need to be introduced quickly. The measures include:
Those where it is possible to conclude that there is no effect on trade between Member States – for example, measures which are likely to have only a limited local effect. The European Commission has concluded, for example, that measures to assist locally-focused cultural activity can be assumed to have no effect on inter-State trade.
Those where it is possible to conclude that the State is acting in a way consistent with a commercial operator (the so-called Market Economy Operator Principle) – particular care will need to be taken in the context of current economic conditions to ensure that it can reasonably be asserted that a commercial operator would act in the same way as the public body.
Measures under the General Block Exemption Regulation – this legislation allows various types of aid, or aid schemes, to be employed.
Examples include aid for SMEs, aid for research and development, aid for local infrastructure and aid to ports and airports.
De Minimis Measures – Member States are permitted to grant small amounts of aid to undertakings over three fiscal years (the current year and the previous two years). This allows undertakings to receive up to €200,000 (or €500,000 where they are providing public services).
The change in the law has the potential to place much greater financial risks on suppliers, making it more difficult to exit a contract with a customer of doubtful solvency. This will place increased emphasis on appropriate financial due diligence and credit checking before entering into supply contracts.
In addition to the obvious issues around financial risk, suppliers will also need to think carefully about how their contracts are drafted. For example, any form of right that is drafted so as to be triggered on customer insolvency will clearly be problematic. These could include:
- Retention of Title provisions, which are commonly drafted so that the right to enter premises and retake possession of the goods is triggered on insolvency;
- Provisions for brand protection, which seek to control how goods are dealt with on termination of the contract.
This is potentially a very significant development for many businesses. We would strongly recommend specialist advice be obtained so that:
- businesses understand the potential increased risks faced; and
- where possible, contracts are updated so that appropriate protections are maintained.
If the debts owed to you pre-date Covid-19 and your debtor seemed unable to pay well before the Covid-19 pandemic took place, it is entirely possible that you will be able to present a petition on the grounds that the debtor would have been unable to pay its debts even if the Covid-19 had no effect on its financial position. We do not yet have any reliable precedent as to how the Courts are likely to deal with such cases. Whether you are likely to succeed will depend on the exact circumstances of the debt and your debtor. There has been one case decided in August 2020 where the Court concluded that Covid-19 did not have a financial effect upon the debtor and that the circumstances which gave rise to the petition had arisen long before Covid and would have occurred in any event. A winding up order was made in that case. What we do know about the court’s approach is that the purpose of the Act is to allow viable companies to trade through the current times and the Court is likely to set the bar high.
Please contact us if there a debt you would like to discuss. Even if presenting a winding up petition is not available for now, there may still be other forms of legal proceedings that you can use to collect money owed to you, like county court proceedings.
A reduction in hours or salary or changes to hours or patterns of work is a contractual change – you can’t just impose it without significant risk. The same applies for lay-off or short-time working where there is no existing contractual right to impose these.
In summary, the process that an employer should follow to implement these measures is as follows:
- Communicate the Company’s position clearly and the urgent need to achieve temporary cost-saving to ensure the ongoing financial viability of the organisation
- Explain the proposed changes in detail and seek the employee’s agreement, and
- Record the agreed changes in a letter which is counter-signed by the employee.
If employees will not agree then employers will be at substantial risk of claims for unlawful deduction of wages, breach of contract and/or constructive unfair dismissal if they seek to impose these changes unilaterally. Employers should be mindful that this approach is likely to cause significant employee relations issues and dissatisfaction if only some employees agree to a reduction in pay. Employers should have a clear strategy for what their approach will be if this is the case – for example, they may wish to instead explore a different measure such as redundancies. This may form part of the employer’s communication when explaining the reason for the changes and seeking the employee’s agreement.
Unions: Employers should also be aware that where there is a recognised trade union in respect of any part of the workforce which is being asked to agree to a change to terms and conditions, the recognition agreement or collective agreement will require the employer to consult and/or negotiate with the trade union in the first instance.
Collective consultation: Where 20 or more dismissals are proposed at one establishment in any 90-day period, there are stringent collective consultation rules which apply (regardless of whether the employees have two years’ service or not). All dismissals count towards this total unless the dismissal is “not related to the individual concerned” – therefore dismissals for things such as conduct or capability do not count, but most other dismissals will count. This will include where you are imposing changes to the contract such as reduced hours or pay.
The rules on collective consultation set out a prescriptive and time-consuming process which must be followed, and minimum timescales before any redundancies can take effect. The cost of any claims relating to failure to follow collective consultation requirements are substantial, and specific advice should therefore always be sought before seeking to implement collective redundancies. We will be publishing further guidance on this on the Hub shortly.