The Month of Change: June Ushers in the “New Normal” in the United Kingdom

Overview


In the United Kingdom, it feels as though June will be the month during which we really start to experience life, outside of our homes, in the “new normal”.

Changes in restrictions will see non-essential shops opening and, probably, many workers hesitantly starting to go back into offices even though they could work from home.

Government focus has therefore started to shift to the “re-opening” of business.

Central to that, the Government has

  • Started the process of phasing out the Job Retention Scheme (JRS) / furlough scheme;
  • Launched the new NHS test and trace service; and
  • Published 8 sector-specific guideline documents (including one each for offices, construction and retail), outlining steps to be taken by businesses in order to make the workplace as safe as possible.

In this alert we’ll explore what the phasing out of the JRS and the introduction of the test and trace system will mean for businesses over the coming months. We will look at the guidance for making the workplace safe in a separate Alert over the coming days.

In Depth


JOB RETENTION SCHEME

Extension of the JRS until October 2020

The JRS has been extended meaning that employers will be able to claim under JRS for staff salaries due up until 31 October 2020.

However, employers will;

  • Only be able to recover the current level of reimbursement under the JRS until the end of July 2020;
  • Be able to bring employees back to work part-time and claim under the JRS for the employee’s normal hours not worked from 1 July 2020.

Phasing out of the JRS Month by Month

June

In June, there will be no change to the amount that can be claimed. Businesses will continue to be able to claim 80% of the furloughed employee’s current salary, up to £2,500, plus employer National Insurance Contributions and pension contributions.

However, importantly;

  • The JRS will close to new entrants from 30 June 2020;
  • After then, employers will only be able to claim under the scheme for employees that they have furloughed for a full 3 week period prior to 30 June 2020. This means that the final date by which an employer can furlough an employee for the first time will be 10 June 2020

Employers will have until 31 July 2020 to make any claims in respect of the period to 30 June 2020.

July

In July, there will be no change to the amount that can be claimed through the JRS. However, from 1 July 2020, businesses will be able to bring furloughed employees back part-time and;

  • Any amount of working time and any shift pattern can be agreed with the previously furloughed staff
  • Employers must pay employees for the hours they work; and
  • Employers can still claim under the JRS for normal hours not worked.

August

From 1 August 2020, the amount which can be claimed under the JRS starts to taper off.

The government will continue to pay 80% of wages up to a cap of £2,500 for hours not worked.

However, employers will no longer be able to claim employer’s National Insurance Contributions and pension contributions under the Scheme.

September

From 1 to 30 September 2020 the grant will drop to 70% of wages up to a cap of £2,187.50 for hours not worked.

Employers will have to pay;

  • 10% of wages so that the employee still receives 80% of their salary up to a cap of £2,500; and
  • Employers’ National Insurance Contributions and pension contributions.

October

From 1 October 2020 until the end of the Scheme on 31 October 2020 the government will pay 60% of wages up to a cap of £1,875 for the hours the employee does not work.

Employers will have pay;

  • 20% of wages so that the employee still receives 80% of their salary up to a cap of £2,500; and
  • Employers’ National Insurance Contributions and pension contributions.

TEST AND TRACE

On 27 May 2020, the government launched the NHS test and trace service.

What is it?

The NHS test and trace service asks people who are experiencing coronavirus symptoms to order a test immediately and then, if the result is positive, share details of their recent contacts with the test and trace service. Those contacts will be alerted by the service and may be asked to self-isolate at home for 14 days, even if they do not have symptoms.

Self-isolation is currently voluntary but may well become mandatory.

The test and trace system will likely result in many employees being unable to attend work for 14 days despite not showing symptoms or developing any illness during that time.

Guidance for Employers

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has published workplace guidance in relation to test and trace.

The guidance asks employers to;

  • Encourage workers to heed any notifications to self-isolate; and
  • Provide support to these individuals when in isolation.

Although self-isolation in this situation is currently voluntary, it would be advisable to require all employees to comply in order to limit the risk of infection in the workplace.

If an employee is able to work from home, and they are not unwell, they can do so while self-isolating. The guidance suggests that this might include finding alternative work that can be completed at home during the period of self-isolation.

Sick Pay

Self-isolating employees who cannot work from home should receive sick pay. Statutory sick pay (SSP) has been expressly extended to those who are asked to self-isolate under the trace and test system.

As these employees may not actually be unwell, depending on the wording of the employer’s policy, they may not be eligible to receive any enhanced sick pay. Employers will need to decide on the approach that they will take and be consistent in it.

Significantly, however, the workplace guidance states that employers “must” give employees the option to use their paid leave days if they prefer.

Getting ready

Employers may find it useful to decide in advance if they will;

  • put a test and trace policy in place. This advance preparation may assist employers in effectively implementing protocols to address issues such as identifying who their employees’ “close contacts” in the workplace might be, who would need to be identified to a contact tracer, and pre-warning those close contacts pending test results if necessary
  • make it a requirement that an employee must immediately notify their line manager / HR if they receive notification to self-isolate under the test and trace system and self-isolate if they receive a notification;
  • require staff to produce evidence that they have received notification that they should self-isolate under the test and trace system;
  • pay enhanced sick pay to staff who are required to self-isolate and who cannot work at home, or just statutory sick pay.