The Government announced on 31 October a new national lockdown and a last-minute decision to extend the furlough scheme. At present this is what we know:
- A national lockdown will be introduced Thursday 5 November for one month, although the exact date in December of when it will end has not been confirmed.
- Employees are advised to work from home where this is possible.
- Employees who are classed as clinically extremely vulnerable (there is a definition of who is deemed as this) should work from home but if this is not possible, they may be eligible for statutory sick pay.
- The coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS), also known as furlough, which was due to end on 31 October, will now be extended until December. The date it ends is yet to be outlined.
- The extension to the CJRS will be on the terms of the scheme back in August, when the Government were paying 80% of wage costs for the hours not worked. Since September, the Government’s contribution has decreased whilst the Employer has been contributing more.
- As a consequence of CJRS being extended, the Job Support Scheme (JSS), which was introduced to provide financial support to businesses to enable them to continue employing staff on a part time basis (or if forced to close due to Covid-19 to provide contributions to staff wages), will be delayed. It is now expected to start once the CJRS extension ends.
What does this mean for employment?
Those employees who have recently been made redundant
The announcement raises questions around whether the extension to the furlough scheme impacts employees who have recently been dismissed due to redundancy. Unfortunately, with the furlough scheme originally coming to an end in October, many employers started to make redundancies before the announcement and so it is a legal question that needs establishing.
Managing the Job Support Scheme
For many organisations, plans had been implemented to place employees on the new Job Support Scheme from 1 November. Considering recent developments, this scheme is currently unavailable, although we know it will be an option for when the furlough extension ends. If you have already written out to your employees to place them on the Job Support Scheme, we would advise that you provide further written clarification of the current situation and to confirm their move to the JSS will now not take place. We have a template available that will enable you to do this.
Supporting Employees who are classed as clinically extremely vulnerable
Whilst shielding has been paused since the summer, the latest announcement advises those who suffer from clinically extremely vulnerable medical conditions to work from home, and if this is not possible, they may then be entitled to statutory sick pay. The Government’s publication on protecting people defined on medical grounds as extremely vulnerable details who this will cover.
However, even those who do not fall within this very specific definition, there may be some employees who must take extra care for health reasons. The latest advice is to be extra vigilant because either their age, or health puts them at higher risk of severe illness from Covid-19.
For those organisations that are permitted to remain open, because they are deemed to provide essential goods, then the workplace must be covid-secure. The Government, in consultation with unions and the HSE produced workplace guides specific to industries earlier on in the pandemic, which remain available.
We would advise considering the Government’s announcement that risk assessments are revisited.