Legal

What do the government’s latest coronavirus measures mean for employers?

19 Mar 2020 By Anna Cope and Rebecca Hayes

Anna Cope and Rebecca Hayes explain the implications for employers of new initiatives designed to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak

The government has promised to do “whatever it takes” to tackle coronavirus, including a package of financial measures estimated to be worth £350bn to shore up the economy and to assist employers in these challenging times.

Notably, the government announced it will be delaying the implementation of the changes to the off-payroll working rules (known as IR35) until 6 April 2021. Although this will undoubtedly alleviate the burden on some businesses and individuals at this time, employers will still need to continue to prepare for other changes that are scheduled to take effect on 6 April 2020, which include:

  • changes to the requirements for written statements of particulars of employment; 
  • changes to the taxation of termination payments; 
  • the new entitlement to parental bereavement leave and pay; and 
  • the annual increase in certain statutory payments, such as statutory sick pay, statutory maternity/adoption/paternity/shared parental pay, a week’s pay relevant for calculating statutory redundancy payments and Tribunal compensation awards.

Whilst we await further measures to be announced in the coming days to assist businesses grappling with the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, Acas has issued some updated guidance.

There are also numerous practical issues for employers to consider when balancing the competing interests of ensuring in the short term that the business can continue to operate as effectively as possible, while protecting the wellbeing and job security of their staff, as well as keeping an eye on the medium and long-term consequences of these often difficult decisions, including: 

What should you pay employees who are self-isolating with family in circumstances where they are still well?

If employees are still able to work from home, they should be entitled to receive their usual rate of pay. If they are unable to work, government guidelines state the employee can be paid Statutory Sick Pay. Small businesses may be able to claim a reimbursement as outlined by the government in its recent proposals. 

What will be the position when schools close from Friday?

No specific provisions have been announced to support parents who are required to stay at home to look after children. Pending any specific government assistance, employees may choose to exercise their right to emergency time off (unpaid) to care for a dependant. Some employers may have policies offering additional support for employees in these circumstances.

What is deemed to be ‘essential’ travel?

Can we require people to come into the office where there are operational reasons? There is no specific government guidance as to what ‘essential’ travel means. Employers would be well advised to consider queries on a case-by-case basis, reflecting on their general duty of care to employees in these circumstances.

Regrettably, and despite the government’s recent announcements, some businesses are already considering the economic consequences of the pandemic, including assessing ways in which they can reduce staff and associated costs in the short to medium term. Possible measures range from requiring staff to take accrued holiday, sabbaticals, changing working hours or remuneration packages, through to lay-offs (where there is a contractual right to do so or even when there isn’t) and voluntary and compulsory redundancies, potentially made in a shorter time frame than usual.

Further government announcements of additional financial support to employers and employees are awaited.

Anna Cope is a partner and Rebecca Hayes is an associate, both at CMS

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