COVID-19 legal advice for businesses 

COVID-19 has thrown more than a few employment law problems at UK businesses and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Here, we give employers answers to some of the more pressing concerns. 

COVID-19 has had a profound impact on every UK business and raised more than a few legal questions. Whether the queries are in relation to how to make the workplace safe for returning employees, issues with post-holiday quarantining, or the often unavoidable decision to make redundancies; small, medium and large businesses have had to constantly adapt to an ever-changing landscape. 

In this short guide, Percy Hughes & Roberts has compiled information and resources around some of the most urgent questions we are facing from businesses we help. We will also be keeping this page up to date as the pandemic progresses. If you are an employer and you need any additional advice, you can get in touch with our Head of Employment Law, Sarah Simcott, by calling 0800 781 3894 or by completing an enquiry form here.

Making staff redundant during COVID-19

Redundancy occurs when a business needs to reduce its workforce because a job or jobs are no longer needed. Businesses are having to make tough decisions about making some of their workforce redundant in order to continue trading. 

Making redundancies should be a last resort and businesses are encouraged to explore all other avenues first. COVID-19 has forced businesses to be clever in this way, often coming to an agreement with the employee in order to reduce the number of redundancies required. This may include reducing an employee’s hours, terminating contracts of third-party agencies first, or seeing if employees wish to take unpaid leave or go on a sabbatical. 

Businesses that have been hit financially by the pandemic and have no other choice than to make redundancies should consider the legal complexities of the process. Employers should consider: 

  • Who can be selected for redundancy?
  • What is the redundancy consultation period?
  • How much redundancy pay do I need to give? 
  • How shall I word the redundancy letter?

Percy Hughes & Roberts have an in-depth guide to help answer those questions. You can download “Redundancy: An Employer’s Guide” here. 

When to use settlement agreements 

Many UK businesses that have been negatively affected by coronavirus are having to reassess their structure, which may ultimately lead to redundancies. The increase in redundancies will inevitably increase the potential for settlement agreements to be offered to employees. 

Settlement agreements are legally binding agreements between an employer and employee. The agreement is usually centred around some form of severance payment by the employer in return for the employee agreeing not to pursue any claims in a tribunal court, and can only be used in relation to particular proceedings (meaning there must be some dispute or issue between the employee and employer to settle).

While settlement agreements and redundancies differ, many employers do offer a settlement to employees who have been made redundant. This is so the company and the former employee have a “clean break”, ensuring that the employee cannot bring any claims against the employer further down the line. 

Settlement agreements may be useful for companies who need to make multiple redundancies quickly, as the redundancy process can be drawn out and stressful for both parties. 

Much like redundancies, settlement agreements negotiations, if they are not carried out properly, businesses could be liable for further employment claims from the employee. Percy Hughes & Roberts have an in-depth guide that answers all the most pressing settlement agreement questions. You can download “Settlement Agreements: An Employer’s Guide” here. 

Safely returning to the office

The unpredictability of the pandemic has meant UK businesses have had to adapt quickly to changing rules and guidelines. Part of this has seen businesses continually open and close depending on the current “R rate” or what tier they find themselves in.

Business owners who are lucky enough to open their doors again are then met with lots of rules and regulations in relation to how to make their workplace safe for their staff. Those who fail to do so risk fines and potential claims in the tribunal court.  

Businesses will now have to be mindful of the new threats coronavirus poses and the ways to deal with them in the workplace, including ensuring social distancing measures are adhered to, providing PPE where necessary, and even staggering work times for staff. COVID-19 risk assessments should also be carried out before any member of staff returns to the office. 

Percy Hughes & Roberts have created a handy guide that tells an employer everything they need to know about returning to the workplace safely. You can read that guide here.  

Furlough and your workforce

The government has announced the furlough scheme has been extended and is now open until December 2020.  The government guidance updated on the 1st November 2020, has postponed the Job Support Scheme (which was set to replace the furlough scheme).  However it is useful to consider the  Job Support Scheme despite this initial postponement of it, there are two stages of the new Job Support Scheme (JSS) - JSS Open and JSS Closed. 

JSS Open applies to employers who can operate safely but continue to face reduced demand, i.e. those who may need extra support over the winter to help keep their employees in work. Under this scheme, the employee will need to work a minimum of 20% of their usual hours. The employee will be paid by the employer for any hours worked, as normal. Alongside this, the employee will receive 66.67% of their normal pay for the hours not worked - this will be made up of contributions from the employer (5%) and from the government (61.67%).

JSS Closed applies to employers who have been legally required to close their premises as a direct result of coronavirus restrictions. Each employee who cannot work due to these restrictions will receive two thirds of their normal pay, paid by their employer and fully reimbursed by the government, to a maximum of £2,083.33 per month - although their employer has discretion to pay more than this if they wish .

Our Head of Employment, Sarah Simcott, has created a guide for employers who have questions surrounding employees who are returning to work after being furloughed. You can read that guide here

Post-holiday quarantine rules

Current government guidance in relation to the lockdown, 5 November 2020 to the 2 December 2020, states that overnight stays and holidays away from primary residences will not be allowed.   

However, running up to the November lockdown , every week popular tourist destinations were taken off and placed onto the UK “safe” fly list. The continuous alterations of the travel corridor has caused issues for employers who are finding their workforce having to unexpectedly isolate for 14 days. 

Percy Hughes & Roberts have faced many questions relating to COVID-19 quarantining, and what companies can do to minimise the impact. Some of the questions we often hear are:

  • What are the options for someone who must quarantine?
  • Are employees entitled to statutory sick pay whilst quarantining?
  • What if the rules change whilst an employee is abroad?
  • Can an employee be forced to return to the workplace?
  • Can employees face disciplinary action or be dismissed?
  • What are some practical steps employers can take? 

We have created a useful guide answering all of those questions. You can view “Post-holiday quarantine: Guidance for employers” here

How can Percy Hughes & Roberts help? 

Unfortunately, the impact of COVID-19 is being felt by UK businesses on a daily basis. Percy Hughes & Roberts want to help business owners and employers as much as possible during this pandemic to help ensure the smooth running of businesses in our community.  If you have any employment law questions relating to COVID-19, get in touch today to find out how we can assist. 

At Percy Hughes & Roberts, our Head of Employment, Sarah Simcott, boasts years of experience and promises a confidential, friendly, and honest approach to all issues within the employment law field. 

If you have any questions regarding any issue surrounding this area, you can get in touch with us for expert advice.  Get in touch with our Wirral Employment Law Lawyer today by calling 0800 781 3894 or by completing the “Get in touch” form on this site.