HR Alert: Covid round-up

BELOW is a round-up of the latest employment law advice for practices across the UK during the pandemic.

It covers:

  • Shielding and working from home
  • Sick pay
  • Supporting pregnant employees
  • The furlough scheme.

SHIELDING AND WFH

England and Wales

UK Government guidance states that those on the shielded patient list can begin to follow the national restrictions alongside the rest of the population from April 1, 2021. But they are still advised to take extra precautions to keep themselves safe.

This means that from April 1, they are no longer eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or similar benefits as a result of being advised to shield. The advice is that those who can work from home should continue to do so, but if you cannot work from home, you should go to work.

Scotland

The Scottish Government’s ‘stay at home’ order is to become ‘stay local’ from April 2, 2021, with further easing of restrictions expected from April 5 and from April 26. All levels of restrictions are currently under review.

Under the stay at home/level 4 rules, employees on the shielding list are advised not go to work, even if they’ve had the vaccine. Staff should work from home, where possible.

From April 26, people on the shielding list will be able to return to work when all areas in level 4 are expected to move to level 3 or lower.

Read the latest advice on mygov.scot.

Northern Ireland

While national advice to shield has now ended, the Northern Ireland Executive advises those who are clinically extremely vulnerable to continue to work from home if possible. This advice is in place until April 1. Those who are unable to work from home are advised not to attend the workplace. Note that this is advice only and people are free to make their own judgements about whether or not they attend work, depending on the Covid security of their working environment.

SICK PAY

For employees who are absent due to having Covid, the practice should apply its normal sick pay arrangements. For those self-isolating, the minimum payment is statutory sick pay (SSP) but contractual sick pay can be applied. For those who are returning from abroad and need to self-isolate or are stuck in another country, there is no obligation to offer sick pay, but arrangements could be made for the employee to take an extra period of annual leave to cover the isolation period. For employees who experience difficulties in arranging childcare, employers should be flexible and try to accommodate the employee. Options are working from home, a period of unpaid leave or, if applicable, the employee can be furloughed.

PREGNANCY

Guidance from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists states that pregnant employees, of any gestation, should not be required to continue working if this is not supported by a risk assessment. The employer must ensure that social distancing guidance can be adhered to.

The UK Government advice for women who are 28 weeks and beyond, and those at any gestation who have an underlying health condition, urges extra caution. Employers should ensure staff are able to comply with all relevant active national guidance.

All employers should consider both how to redeploy these staff and how to maximise the potential for homeworking, wherever possible.

Where adjustments to the work environment and role are not possible and alternative work cannot be found, workers should be furloughed or on paid leave.

The latest advice from the British Dental Association (BDA) is that pregnant employees can continue to work safely if they follow correct procedures and wear appropriate PPE. It urges greater caution for those who are 28 weeks pregnant and beyond and encourages practices to carry out a risk assessment and to be flexible over parental leave arrangements.

FURLOUGH

The current furlough scheme has been extended until September 30, 2021. The UK Government will contribute 80 per cent of the employee’s usual salary up to a maximum of £2,500 per month and employers will be required to pay National Insurance (NI) and pension contributions for both hours worked and furloughed hours, up until the end of June.

For the remaining months, the employer will also be required to make a 10 per cent contribution in respect of hours not worked in July, increasing to 20 per cent during August and September.

The hours can be topped up to full pay if the employer wishes.

Find out more on the gov.uk website.