On 4th January 2021, The Prime Minister announced that there would be an imminent return to lockdown in England (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had already taken action to impose stricter restrictions). This is a change from the tiered approach that had been taken at the end of 2020. This has altered the working situations for many people – especially with regards to the instruction (rather than guidance) to work from home where possible. Many sectors of business have also been ordered to close and so it is worth bringing together the information that is currently available.
Firstly, the National Lockdown Information can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/national-lockdown-stay-at-home
As well as the summary, there is a document you can download which explains what is allowed and what is not.
The sudden closure of schools to all but vulnerable children or those of key workers will have a big impact on all parents of school aged children. Their responsibilities with regards to childcare and supervising home-schooling may make it difficult for them to continue to work for their employers if they are not able to work from home. The options are for them to take some of their paid annual leave to cover this; to take some unpaid parental leave (parents are entitled to take 4 weeks of such leave each year per child – see https://www.gov.uk/parental-leave
) or they may make use of a childcare bubble (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/making-a-childcare-bubble-with-another-household
). Another alternative for this lockdown, if you choose to use it, is to offer to furlough staff members affected.
Those who were told to “shield” during the first lockdown because they were clinically extremely vulnerable are being told to do so again.
Both of these situations will allow you (if the employees are eligible i.e. they were on the payroll before 30th October 2020 and the posts are not publicly-funded) to be furloughed. The Government guidance updated at the end of December now says, to employees,
“You may also want to speak to your employer about whether you’re eligible for furlough if:
• you’re at the highest risk of severe illness from coronavirus – also known as clinically extremely vulnerable - and are unable to work from home;
• you’re unable to work, including from home, due to caring responsibilities arising from coronavirus, such as caring for children who are at home as a result of school and childcare facilities closing, or caring for a vulnerable individual in your household.”
The guidance says that employers can furlough employees who are clinically extremely vulnerable, at the highest risk of severe illness from coronavirus or off on long-term sick leave. It is up to employers to decide whether to furlough these employees. Furlough should not be used for short-term sicknesses.
Pregnancy and Lockdown
There has been a lot of concern expressed by pregnant women about the risks they may face from Covid-19 whilst at work. The advice has evolved over the last year and the best source of advice, reassurance and guidance can be found on the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. See https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/guidelines-research-services/guidelines/coronavirus-pregnancy/covid-19-virus-infection-and-pregnancy/
You should make sure that when completing your risk assessment for any pregnant employee that you take the additional Covid-19 risks into account. See https://www.hse.gov.uk/coronavirus/working-safely/protect-people.htm
for more information. You will also find some useful FAQs on Covid-19 health and safety adjustments for pregnant women at https://maternityaction.org.uk/covidmaternityfaqs/health-and-safety-at-work/
Training and Furlough
Remember that if you have furloughed staff because staff cannot work, they can still be asked to undertake training during that period. For the time they are undertaking that training, they must be paid at least the National Minimum Wage for their age even if that is more than the 80% you may be paying them under the furlough scheme.
Notice and Furlough
The rules here are that if you have an employee serving notice (irrespective of whether it was the employer or employee who served that notice) the employer cannot claim any furlough grant covering wages/ salary for that period.