COVID-19 Resources

Coronavirus: Acas resources

Acas’s Advice for Employers and Employees

It is updated daily, and covers:

  • Social distancing and vulnerable people
  • Self-isolation and sick pay
  • If the employer needs to close the workplace
  • If an employee needs time off work to look after someone
  • If someone has coronavirus symptoms at work
  • Good practice steps for employers

Click here to view the Acas website

Free ACAS webinar

Coronavirus – An advisory webinar for employers

Click on the link above to view the recording. This online event outlines practical measures that can be taken and provides details of Government support and resources being made available to employers. Included in this session:

  • Practical steps that can help reduce the spread of the virus
  • Effective ways of communicating with employees
  • Equipping managers with accurate information and resources
  • Self-isolation, time off, sickness certification and sick pay
  • What to do if an employee becomes ill
  • Altering working hours, shift patterns and working arrangements
  • Remote working and increasing the use of technology

Working from home

Employers and employees should be practical, flexible and sensitive to each other’s situation when working from home because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Employers should:

  • talk to their employees and workers about working from home arrangements
  • consider which roles and tasks can be done from home – this might involve doing things differently and not assuming a role cannot be based at home
  • support employees to adjust to remote working
  • consider individual employees’ needs, for example anyone with childcare responsibilities, a long-term health condition or a disability
  • write down the arrangements that have been agreed so everyone’s clear

To help prepare their workplace, employers can:

Equipment & technology

Employers are responsible for the equipment and technology they give employees so they can work from home.

The employer should:

  • discuss equipment and technology with the employee
  • agree what’s needed
  • support the employee to set up any new equipment or technology

If an employee also has some work tasks that can be done safely away from their home, they should make sure they have access to the right equipment for those duties.

For example, this might include having your work laptop with you.

Working from home & childcare

Employees who are looking after children should talk to their employer. The employer should be sensitive and flexible towards the employee’s situation. Employers and employees may be able to agree a more flexible homeworking arrangement.

Examples of this could include:

  • working different hours
  • agreeing that the employee may not be able to work a full day or a full week
  • reducing work targets
  • being flexible about deadlines where possible

The same approach may be needed if an employer is caring for someone else, for example an older relative or someone who’s ill. An employee’s circumstances may change so they’re no longer able to work from home. Find out more coronavirus advice for employers and employees.

Setting clear expectations

Changing to homeworking may be a challenge for many managers and employees, particularly if they’re used to working together face-to-face.

It’s important to build up a healthy relationship of trust and confidence.

Employers and managers should make sure that everyone working from home knows what’s expected of them.

This includes agreeing

  • when employees will be available to work
  • how they will keep in touch
  • how work-life balance will be managed, for example taking regular breaks and switching off from work at the end of the day
  • rules around storing information and data protection
  • how performance will be managed and measured – taking into account people’s circumstances where necessary
  • who employees should contact if they have any problems or their circumstances change It’s important to recognise that some employees may find it hard to motivate and organise themselves when working from home.

If this happens, the manager and employee should talk about practical steps that might help.

Keeping in touch

Employers and employees should keep in touch regularly. This should include regular communication between:

  • individual employees and their managers
  • employees who need to work together
  • team members

This might involve new ways of working, for example using video or conference calling technology.

Pay & terms of employment

Employees who are working from home must get the same pay, if they are working their usual hours.

Their usual terms and conditions still apply, apart from having to work from home on a temporary basis.

Employers need to make sure staff working from home follow the law on working hours.

Checking how systems are working

Employers should regularly assess how their systems and temporary arrangements are working and make any improvements. This might include looking at:

  • if IT systems can handle the number of staff working from home
  • the level of IT support for homeworkers
  • extra equipment that could be posted or collected, for example headsets or stationery

Expenses

Employees may want to talk to their employer if they run up costs through having to work from home. Employers may have their own policy on this.

Find out more about homeworking expenses on GOV.UK.

Insurance, mortgage or rent agreements

Employers should check the details of their insurance to make sure they’re covered for an employee working from home if they’re using business equipment. It also needs to cover them against a claim by a third party. Employees should check there are no issues with them working from home, with their:

  • home insurer
  • mortgage provider or landlord

It’s a good idea for employers to remind their staff to check this.

Health & safety

By law, employers are responsible for the health and safety of all employees, including those working from home.

Employer responsibilities

During the coronavirus pandemic, it’s very unlikely that employers can carry out usual health and safety risk assessments at an employee’s home. However, an employer should still check that:

  • each employee feels the work they’re being asked to do at home can be done safely
  • employees have the right equipment to work safely
  • managers keep in regular contact with their employees, including making sure they do not feel isolated
  • reasonable adjustments are made for an employee who has a disability

If changes are needed, employers are responsible for making sure they happen.

Employee responsibilities

Employees also have a responsibility to take reasonable care of their own health and safety.

Anyone working from home should keep in regular contact with their manager. They should also tell their manager about:

  • any health and safety risks
  • any homeworking arrangements that need to change
  • Looking after mental and physical health

It’s likely that employers and employees are experiencing a high level of stress and anxiety at the moment. Find out more about supporting mental health in the workplace. It’s important for employees to take regular breaks.

They should also try to do other things to stay mentally and physically active outside of their working hours. This might include things like cooking, exercise, watching favourite TV programmes or other hobbies. It’s a good idea for employers to remind staff about this.

Find out more about looking after your mental health from the Mental Health Foundation.

Support for businesses through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, all UK employers will be able to access support to continue paying part of their employees’ salary for those employees that would otherwise have been laid off during this crisis.

Eligibility

All UK businesses are eligible.

How to access the scheme

You will need to:

  • designate affected employees as ‘furloughed workers,’ and notify your employees of this change – changing the status of employees remains subject to existing employment law and, depending on the employment contract, may be subject to negotiation
  • submit information to HMRC about the employees that have been furloughed and their earnings through a new online portal (HMRC will set out further details on the information required)

HMRC will reimburse 80% of furloughed workers wage costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month. HMRC are working urgently to set up a system for reimbursement. Existing systems are not set up to facilitate payments to employers.

Deferred VAT payments

We will support businesses by deferring Valued Added Tax (VAT) payments for 3 months.

VAT

For VAT, the deferral will apply from 20 March 2020 until 30 June 2020.

Eligibility

All UK businesses are eligible. This includes parish councils who are registered for VAT.

How to access the scheme

This is an automatic offer with no applications required. Businesses will not need to make a VAT payment during this period. Taxpayers will be given until the end of the 2020 to 2021 tax year to pay any liabilities that have accumulated during the deferral period. VAT refunds and reclaims will be paid by the government as normal.

Support for businesses paying tax: Time to Pay service

All businesses and self-employed people in financial distress, and with outstanding tax liabilities, may be eligible to receive support with their tax affairs through HMRC’s Time To Pay service.

These arrangements are agreed on a case-by-case basis and are tailored to individual circumstances and liabilities.

Eligibility

You are eligible if your business:

  • pays tax to the UK government
  • has outstanding tax liabilities

How to access the scheme

If you have missed a tax payment or you might miss your next payment due to COVID-19, please call HMRC’s dedicated helpline: 0800 0159 559.

If you’re worried about a future payment, please call us nearer the time.

Business Rates holiday

The Government has granted a business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses (and nurseries) in England for the 2020 to 2021 tax year. This will include:

  • shops, restaurants, cafés, drinking establishments, cinemas, live music venues
  • places for assembly and leisure
  • hotels, guest & boarding premises and self-catering accommodation

Unfortunately Note 17 of the guidance for billing authorities says that “In line with the legal restrictions in section 47(8A) of the Local Government Finance Act 1988, billing authorities may not grant the discount to themselves, a precepting authority…” excluding parish councils as precepting authorities are not eligible for this discount https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/business-rates-retail-discount-guidance

Practical Steps for Clerks

This applies to parish, town and community councils in England and Wales.

Be informed

The most up to date and accurate source of information is the Public Health England website. Information on the emerging situation is updated at 2pm every day and there is also a useful blog post that summarises Covid-19

Be prepared

It is likely that Government will pass emergency legislation to support the prevention of the spread of Covid-19. This may include restricting people’s activity and travel; increasing the number of people who are asked to “self-isolate”, preventing groupings of people for meetings and events. As yet, we do not know what form this will take. This doesn’t stop Clerks from preparing.

Make sure all staff, councillors and visitors have access to handwashing facilities. Have a ready supply of tissues.

Think about your Council’s activities in the context of a “lockdown”. In Italy restrictions have been put in place until 3rd April. If the same happened in the UK what must/can your Council still do? Paying staff and suppliers, keeping facilities running, pausing projects, cancelling events are the obvious things. For each Clerk their responsibilities will vary and the actions needed will vary. Make a list of your priorities and plan for how you will mitigate the risk/deliver the essentials.

Check your scheme of delegation – does it help you to ensure the Council continues running? Does your Council need to pass a resolution establishing a suitable delegation to the Clerk to keep things going? Suitable wording for the agenda might be “to consider extending the delegation of Council decisions to the Clerk during any period of restricted activity declared by the Government in respect of the Covid-19 virus. Such delegation to enable the Council to fulfil its responsibilities to its residents”. This has a wide-ranging scope and should be amended to suit your Council’s activities and what must be done during a period of lockdown.

Who did you pay this time last year? It’s likely the same things will be due and think about how you will get the payments made. Trickier in smaller councils that only pay by cheque. Can you get the payments pre-prepared? Can you set up online banking (with the appropriate controls!)

Ordinary meetings – does the Council really have to meet? Many councillors are older and therefore at more risk. Sorting out your delegation can overcome this problem.

Coronavirus - online isolation notes launched

Isolation notes will provide employees with evidence for their employers that they have been advised to self-isolate due to coronavirus, either because they have symptoms or they live with someone who has symptoms, and so cannot work. For the first seven days off work, employees can self-certify so they don’t need any evidence for their employer. After that, employers may ask for evidence of sickness absence. Where this is related to having symptoms of coronavirus or living with someone who has symptoms, the isolation note can be used to provide evidence of the advice to self-isolate.

The government says the notes can be accessed through the NHS website and NHS 111 online. It does not yet seem to be live, but presumably will be going live later today. According to Matt Hancock, the Health & Social Care Secretary, if an employee does not have an email address, they can have the note sent to a trusted family member or friend, or directly to their employer. The service can also be used to generate an isolation note on behalf of someone else.

NHS Volunteer Scheme

Information on the NHS volunteer scheme which can be adapted for Parish Council Volunteers:

Getting started as an NHS Transport Volunteer

 

Job Retention Scheme

Any large or small employer can apply to put workers on temporary leave or “furloughed” status. The government will then pay them cash grants of 80 per cent of their wages up to a cap of £2,500, providing they keep the worker employed. They will receive the grant from HMRC.

All UK organisations can self-certify that it has furloughed employees. The scheme will cover the cost of wages backdated to March 1. All UK-wide employers with a PAYE scheme will be eligible, including the public sector, local authorities and charities.

The scheme will be open initially for at least 3 months. But the Government will extend it for longer if necessary. There is no limit on the amount of funding available for the scheme. · The Government expects the first grants to be paid within weeks. HMRC are working night and day to get the scheme up and running and we’re aiming to get it done before the end of April. Existing systems are not set up to facilitate payments to employers.

Do individuals still have to pay tax on this?

Yes – individuals will pay Income Tax and National Insurance on any payments received through this scheme as they are replacement for income in line with normal practise for benefits or grants that replace income.

Will this cover the cost of employer National Insurance contributions and employer pension contributions?

Yes – employers will be able to apply for a grant to cover the Employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment pension contributions on paying the lower of 80% of regular salary or £2,500 per month.

How will this work for those on zero-hour/flexible contracts/agency workers?

This scheme aims to support all those employed through the PAYE system regardless of their employment contract, including those on zero-hour contracts. Zero-hour and flexible contracts can cover a whole range of working arrangements.

The 80% grant is applied to the higher of: (1) the earnings in the same pay period in the previous year; or (2) the average earnings in the whole previous 12 months (or fewer if they have worked for less time than this, including a part month calculation if they were taken on in February).

Can a business furlough someone after hearing the announcement and then claim back to March 1st even though they had been working that whole time?

No – the scheme is backdated to March 1st with a view to covering those who have already been made redundant as a result of the coronavirus.

What about employees taken on after 1 March?

They are excluded from the scheme.

To qualify, does the business need to be ‘essential’?

No, all businesses which employ and pay workers through the PAYE system are eligible.

Why are you not supporting me if my hours are reduced?

The scheme is designed to help those who otherwise would have been made unemployed. It recognises that some people will work fewer hours. The Government have strengthened the welfare system to support those whose hours change including an increase to the UC standard allowance and the working tax credit basic element. This builds on the initial package announced at Budget including enhancements to contributory employment support allowance, which will now be available from day 1 and making advances for all new UC claimants available online with no requirement to attend a job centre.

Why isn’t this supporting part-time working?

The scheme is designed to help those who otherwise would have been made unemployed. The public health guidance is clear that people should stay at home unless they are a key worker.

Can my employer top this up?

Yes. In order to qualify for the scheme, employers must pay their staff at least 80% of wages, up to the cap of £2,500 per month. It is up to them if they wish to top up the additional 20 percent.

What about employees that have already been made redundant?

The scheme will be back dated to March 1 with a view to covering those who have already been made redundant due to the Coronavirus outbreak. If firms re-employ staff made redundant after March 1st, they are eligible to then be furloughed and the employer would qualify for the grant.

Can my employer sack me while I’m on furlough? Is my employer allowed to sack me as soon as the furlough scheme comes to an end?

Yes, you can still be made redundant while on furlough or immediately after. There is no requirement to bring the employee back to work after the period of furlough. If an employee is made redundant during the period of furlough then grant payments will cease. However, in both cases normal redundancy rules and protections will apply. Where a business feels that redundancy is the only option, this must still follow the rules which include giving a notice period and consulting staff before a final decision is reached. More information on redundancy can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/redundancy-your-rights

Can I be furloughed for a short period of time, e.g. a week or a couple of days, and then re-employed?

A worker must be furloughed for a minimum of 3 weeks for their employer to be eligible to claim under this scheme. This is consistent with the public health guidance seeking to minimise the number of people outside of their homes on a regular basis. The scheme supports employers asking the maximum number of employees to remain at home during the coronavirus outbreak. A clear minimum period also aids a clear definition of who is and who is not furloughed.

Can I volunteer or do training whilst furloughed?

If you are furloughed you cannot work for your employer during this period. You can volunteer or train, provided that this does not involve the manufacture or creation of an item or part thereof than can yield revenue for the company, the provisions of services to the company, or the provision of any service that can yield revenue for the company. Firms can require workers to undertake training from home, provided it meets the above.