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Breaking: the latest 'lockdown' news for employers

17 Jul 2020

It has been confirmed today that guidance on using public transport and going to workplaces is to be relaxed in England as lockdown restrictions are eased further. The Health Secretary has already confirmed that there are (currently) no plans to make the wearing of face masks/coverings compulsory for office workers. The Prime Minister said today that people may use public transport for journeys immediately, while advice on working from home will change from 1 August and employers would have more discretion to bring staff back to workplaces if it was safe to do so. This may lead to some difficult decisions for employers.

Some High Street employers, including Primark and John Lewis, have stated that they will not be claiming the government’s new Job Retention Bonus despite the detrimental impact on the High Street. This is further to the announcement that businesses will receive a job retention bonus (JRB) of £1,000 for each furloughed worker back in work who remains in employment until at least 31 January 2021. Official statistics show that 31% of the UK’s workforce was furloughed as at 30 June 2020. This was an increase of 6% from the start of June.

The first person has been arrested on suspicion of defrauding the Scheme by £495,000. HMRC’s fraud investigation service commented that they would “not hesitate to act on reports of abuse of the scheme“.

The statutory sick pay rules have been amended further and these now provide for SSP to be payable where an individual self-isolates because they are in a “bubble” with another household and someone else in that bubble has COVID-19 symptoms. They also provide for SSP entitlement to cease where there is a notification for clinically extremely vulnerable individuals to stop shielding.

Coronavirus

Updated shielding guidance also provides that those previously shielding are advised to keep two metres away from those outside their household or bubble wherever possible. Employers may therefore need to make different arrangements for any former shielders returning to their workplace on 1 August than for other non-vulnerable staff (where the guidance has been relaxed to one metre if 2 metres isn’t possible).

Acas’ newly published Annual Report shows that the Acas helpline saw an increase in calls of approximately 50% per day during the lockdown period covered by the report (ending 31 March 2020), with a peak of approx 15,000 calls on just one day. Acas received nearly 140,000 early conciliation notifications during the year, which was an increase of 5% on the previous year.

The team are very busy advising in respect of furlough leave, flexible furlough, redundancies and changing terms and conditions of employment. Please give us a call if we can help your business at this difficult time.