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Latest coronavirus guidance for workplaces

Last night, the Prime Minister announced further restrictions on our movement in an effort to beat this pandemic.

He told us we must “stay at home”, but other parts of his statement – and the related guidance issued – were not as emphatic.  So what does this mean for workplaces?  It is clearly all of our responsibilities to ensure that as many people as practically possible remain at home, to control the spread of the virus and its impact on the NHS, but below is a summary of the facts of the Government’s announcement as it stands today.

Are we in a lockdown?

No. The Government has not ordered non-essential workplaces to close and has not banned travel to work. At the moment the message is to stay at home unless one of the exceptions apply.  One exception is where you need to leave the house to travel to and from work – but only where this is necessary and work cannot be done from home.

Those workers who can’t work from home because they do not have the necessary equipment or because of the nature of the work they perform (shop floor, construction, front of house, dealing with sensitive information, administration, manual, field based etc) will still be required to attend work, unless you tell them otherwise, or they are on the list of those businesses that must close. In addition, the Housing Minister has confirmed that those who work in housing, building maintenance and construction should attend work.

Last night the list of business that must close was extended by including the following:

  • all non-essential retail stores – this will include clothing and electronics stores; hair, beauty and nail
  • salons; and outdoor and indoor markets, excluding food markets.
  • libraries, community centres, and youth centres .
  • indoor and outdoor leisure facilities such as bowling alleys, arcades and soft play facilities.
  • communal places within parks , such as playgrounds, sports courts and outdoor gyms.
  • places of worship, except for funerals attended by immediate families.
  • hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, campsites, caravan parks, and boarding houses

This list is in addition to those already closed, such as bars and restaurants.  However, if your workplace is not on the list, you do not have to close if you choose not to.  Workplaces that do stay open must comply with advice on social distancing, to remain 2 metres apart.

What do we pay them if they can’t work from home or we tell them not to come into work?

They are not self-isolating so will not be entitled to SSP.

If you tell them not to come into work then you will need to pay them until the restrictions are lifted, however, at a minimum this is likely to be a period of 3 weeks, if not longer.  Alternatively, you can inform them that they need to come into work and that if they fail to do so then they will not be paid.

A further option is to furlough employees, particularly if you take the decision that the business can’t continue to operate with a full complement of workers. The process you follow to furlough an employee is important to minimise the risk of any potential claims.  To minimise cash going out of the business you will want to push through the furlough as quickly as possible, however furlough is still subject to employment contracts and employment law, so it is important to get the process right.  Unless your contracts provide a clear right to remove work and pay, there is no automatic right to furlough.  You will need to be mindful of the risk of breaching the contract of employment or giving rise to claims for unlawful deduction of wages or constructive dismissal, or even in some cases claims for failing to collectively consult.  If you need any advice on this process please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Self-employed support

There is a very new proposal to support self-employed persons – but details are unclear at this stage.  The proposal is to top up the earnings of self-employed persons to the lower rate of: (a) 80% of their monthly net earnings, averaged over the last three years; or (b) £2,917 per month.

Employment / HR support

If you need advice on these issue please contact your usual Ward Hadaway Employment Team contact.

Other support

Updates on other issues, such as contracts, funding and property issues, are available here. Our teams are always on hand to help you with any of your needs during this exceptionally difficult time.  Get in touch and we will be able to direct you to the most appropriate colleague.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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