How does Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme operate?
- Certain workers will become “furloughed workers”.
- Furloughed workers cannot carry out any work for their employer while designated as furloughed, or a linked or associated organisation but they can do voluntary work as long as they are not providing services for or generating revenue for the employer or a linked or associated organisation.
- A furloughed worker can be furloughed part time and work the rest of the time.
- The furlough period begins when the employee stops work, not when agreement is reached.
- If furloughed employees are expected to do online training while furloughed they must receive the National Living Wage/National Minimum Wage for the time spent training.
- Workers must be told of and agree to this change in writing. This written agreement must be kept for five years as part of the scheme. The guidance has confirmed that collective agreement reached between an employer and a trade union on furloughing staff is acceptable for the purposes of making a claim under the scheme.
- However it should also be noted that this is a change in status and pay (if pay is not being topped up) and therefore subject to the usual employment law rules on changing terms and conditions.
- Changes to the contract must be made by agreement with the worker and the government guidance is clear that to be eligible for the subsidy employers must document their communication with the employee on being furloughed.
- You must confirm in writing that an employee has been furloughed, but that the employee does not need to provide a written response. Please note that this is for the purposes of making a claim under the scheme. Any reduction in pay must be agreed in writing under normal employment law principles and failure to do so may result in Employment Tribunal claims. You should not rely on a term in the employment contract to effect this change. We can advise you on how to document this properly.
- Employers must also keep a record of the agreement for at least 5 years.
- If employers have collective bargaining arrangements in place, they must agree this change with the union in the usual way.
- Collective consultation obligations may be triggered if there are 20 or more employees that are proposed to be dismissed and re-engaged in order to effect the change to terms to be furloughed. You should take advice if you think this may apply.
Where a couple is not married, they have limited rights in relation to each other’s assets and these mainly relate to rights over property assets. There is complex Trust law which governs whether or not your partner could claim an interest in your property and it generally relates to where someone has invested in renovations on the property or promises have been made. If this is something you are concerned about, you and your partner could enter in to a Cohabitation Agreement. These Agreements can set out various matters, including who will pay the bills and where each of you would live if you separated. Most importantly, they can record your intentions about who owns the property and exclude any rights your partner would have against your property.
During the Covid 19 crisis lawyers and the courts have had to adapt with hearings being heard remotely and with more electronic communication. It is clear that going forward, some of these changes will become more permanent.
The Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland QC MP, has spoken last week regarding changes to the justice system following the COVID-19 pandemic and we know that there is a significant backlog of work that needs to be processed.
Firstly, 10 sites have been identified for ‘Nightingale courts’ which will allow for better social distancing. The authorities have suggested that it is a possibility that courts will need to stay open for a longer time or at weekends, to increase the number of cases that can be heard safely on any given day. This will enable more cases to be heard in a day and therefore a swifter outcome for your case. The standard of video technology will also continue to improve, with plans for new technology being rolled out across all courts form July onwards. The enhanced use of technology may result in matters being heard more efficiently, decreasing the time spent during each hearing.
HMCTS is working to expand access to audio and video technology to support more and new types of hearings. There has been an increase in the use of new and varying equipment over the lock-down period. With the appropriate systems in place, many more hearings could take place on platforms such as the Cloud Video Platform (CVP). Throughout July, the CVP will be more readily available to Country courts. There will be further hardware rolled out to improve the quality of video hearings, and there will be more efficient methods used to organise video lists.
The increased use and training of CVP means that witnesses and advocates may not need to attend court and could attend the hearing remotely. This will give you increased flexibility, enabling you to attend from your office or home. The CVP is efficient and simple to use, with no complex functions; making it user-friendly. This should make litigation more time and cost effective (albeit that there will be the cultural challenge of having less contact with your legal team or the court experience).
The application has to be made before the date on which the accounts should have been filed, so this process can’t be used if you are already late. If you don’t make the application before your filing deadline, then a fine will automatically be generated if your accounts are filed late. Whilst you could appeal against such a fine on the grounds that the delay was caused by coronavirus issues, this is likely to be a much more time consuming and uncertain process that applying in advance.
It does not appear that the process applies to Confirmation Statements or other returns.
The Cabinet Office has published a helpful Procurement Policy Note (“PPN”) on relief available to suppliers due to Covid-19 (available here). This can include making advance payments to suppliers, if necessary. The PPN sets out actions that public sector bodies should take (until at least 30 June 2020) to ensure continuity of service and to ensure that its suppliers can resume normal contract activity once able to.
The actions public sector bodies should be taking include:
- Informing its suppliers (that they believe are at risk) that they will continue to be paid as normal until the end of June 2020 (even if service delivery is currently interrupted). Risk might include supply chains collapsing and/or significant financial implications for a supplier
- If a contract involves a payment by results mechanism, basing payments on previous months (e.g. the average monthly payment over the previous 3 months), and
- Ensuring that invoices submitted by suppliers are paid immediately to maintain cash flow in the supply chain and help to protect jobs.
If you are a supplier to a public sector body, you must act transparently and on an open-book basis, making cost data available to your public sector clients. You must also continue to pay your employees and subcontractors / suppliers. Suppliers to the public sector must not expect to make profits on any undelivered elements of a contract. The PPN makes clear that, should suppliers be found to be taking undue advantage, or failing to act transparently, a public sector body can take action to recover payments made to that supplier.
The PPN requires public sector bodies to urgently review their contract portfolios and take steps to support suppliers who they believe are “at risk”. However, no definition of “at risk” is given in the document. We would suggest that if you are a supplier and you have yet to hear from a public sector client, you should seek to get in touch with them as soon as possible, particularly if you have concerns about your supply chain, staff retention and/or are experiencing financial difficulties currently. Given the requirement for transparency, you may be required to provide evidence, so it may be helpful to have any relevant documentation ready to send, if necessary, as this may help ensure a decision is made by the public sector client more promptly, particularly as the public sector body may have a number of contracts to consider.
This is critical. The guidance remains clear – IF YOU CAN WORK FROM HOME YOU SHOULD CONTINUE TO DO SO. Bringing people back into work unnecessarily is a big mistake.
Think about how many employees should physically return to the workplace – the fewer the people on site, the lower the risk AND the less pressure on public transport.
Employers will need to be very careful to recognise workers in vulnerable groups or who develop or live in a household with someone who develops symptoms of Covid-19 – again, look at government guidelines. You should understand that this will mean a higher number of staff absences and consider how this might be managed.
Look to keep smaller teams of workers together, minimise physical meetings and if you MUST have them, keep them short and under 15 minutes. Be imaginative – use online platforms like Teams and Zoom wherever you can.