Our Covid-19 FAQs

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on employers and their staff is both significant and complex. Government advice and related legislation is continuously changing as the situation evolves. LexLeyton’s regularly updated FAQs and guidance covers a wide range of pressing Covid related employment issues for businesses.


Employers should start by assessing the reason for the variations – currently likely to be the threat to the business from Coronavirus – and establish what level of variation is required.  Taking salary reductions as an example, it would be prudent for finance and HR departments to work together to assess what level of savings the company must achieve and then model the most appropriate way to achieve that within the required timescales. In doing so, businesses should be mindful of the possibility of using flexible furlough.

It is also sensible to review contracts of employment (and, where appropriate, any collective agreements) in order to assess whether these provide a mechanism for variation.  This will inform the process that will need to be undertaken and the relevant timescales.

Where a business is required to close their premises and an employee is required to be off work for at least seven consecutive days as a result, the Government will pay 67% of their salary, up to a cap of £2,100 per month. The employer is only required to contribute employer's NICs and pension contributions.
In common with the JSS for open businesses, payments will be made in arrears.

Depending on the content of their contract of employment, a worker will need to consent to furlough. Furlough is an alternative to redundancy, so employers faced with this issue should consider what other alternatives might be agreeable. The final alternative would be to start the redundancy process if they refuse, although it is likely that an employer could make a strong case for enforcing furlough in the current situation, even where an employee refuses.

Medical evidence is not required for the first seven days of sickness, during which time employees can self-certify their sickness absence.

The Government has introduced a temporary alternative to the current fit note, meaning those in self-isolation will be able to obtain notification by email via NHS 111 as evidence – an Isolation Note.

Where this is related to having symptoms of Coronavirus or living with someone who has symptoms, the Isolation Note should be used to provide evidence of the advice to self-isolate. From Friday 20 March 2020 the Isolation Notes are available through the NHS website and NHS 111 online and will be sent to the employee per email.

At the moment there is no clear authority to say definitively that coronavirus could be a ‘special circumstance’ which excuses a lack of consultation in the case of redundancies of 20 or more employees.  Even where it does apply, employers must take all reasonable steps to try to consult collectively before any redundancies take place.  The impact of furlough leave and pay (and other Government support) has potentially reduced the efficacy of a ‘special circumstances’ defence in a lot of cases, although businesses will still have to reach Government funding coming online in late April.

This is a complex issue which is potentially risky.  If you have specific questions in relation to this, please contact your LexLeyton Employment Solicitor for specific advice.

New, emergency legislation in force as of Friday 13 March 2020 has extended the definition of those eligible for SSP to include those people ‘self-isolating’ due to Coronavirus.

SSP is now available for anyone that isolates themselves from other people “in such a manner as to prevent infection or contamination with coronavirus disease, in accordance with guidance published by Public Health England, NHS National Services Scotland or Public Health Wales and effective from 12th March 2020.”  In addition, that person must be unable to work by reason of that isolation.

For the first seven days off work, employees can self-certify so they do not 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, an isolation note should be used to provide evidence of the advice to self-isolate. From Friday 20 March in the evening, the notes should be available through the NHS website and NHS 111 online and will be sent to the employee via email.

If this is not part of the formal Emergency Volunteering Leave scheme, then it is likely that any 'volunteering' would prejudice the employer's ability to claim a grant from HMRC. This is because the staff would be likely to be regarded as providing a service for their employer.

If an employee is off sick, then they should receive sick pay. Once a period of sickness absence ends, if an employee is furloughed they would then be paid in accordance with their furlough agreement. The Government have confirmed that an employee cannot be in receipt of SSP if they are furloughed.

Businesses anywhere in the UK who are required to close their premises due to Coronavirus restrictions where they are instucted to do so by one of the four governments in the UK. This definition is extended to include hospitality businesses which are required to provide only delivery and collection services from their premises, or food and drink outdoors from their premises.

Employees who can work from home should continue to do so and employers are expected to take reasonable steps to help staff achieve this successfully.
The Government has published an online tool to allow employers and employees to check whether they should return to the workplace, although this has been temporarily removed, presumably due to the return to lockdown restrictions:

https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus-employee-risk-assessment

Eight particular workplace settings are covered. Many businesses operate more than one type of workplace, such as offices, factories or fleets of vehicles. Employers may need to use more than one of these guides as they consider, consult on and carry out risk assessments, to inform what steps need to be taken to keep employees safe. For more information see Government Guidance on Working Safety During Coronavirus https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19

The scheme will be available for all employers with a UK bank account and a UK PAYE scheme. This is the same as for the furlough scheme as it allows HMRC to monitor applications and pay grants out.
Large employers must satisfy a financial means test, showing that their turnover has dropped. Large employers are those with 250 or more employees. There is no means test for small or medium employers.
In common with the furlough scheme, there is a cut-off date for employees – they must have been on the employer’s payroll by 23rd September 2020 and have been part of an RTI submission to HMRC by the same date.
There is no need for either the employer or the employee to have used the furlough scheme previously. The JSS will support ‘viable jobs’ where there is a reduced need for working hours. An employee must work at least 20% of their usual hours in order for their employer to use the JSS in relation to that employee.
The 20% minimum of usual hours to be worked is set to be the level for the first three months of the JSS, but it may be increased thereafter – presumably in line with a general economic recovery.
View the Government Fact Sheet at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/928761/JSS_Open_factsheet.pdf

Unlike in the first months of the furlough scheme, it is the employer who will be responsible for NICs and pension contributions. As this is a reimbursement scheme, it seems that employers will also have to pay NICs and pension contributions in respect of the pay that is reimbursed by the Treasury.

The ways in which employers communicated difficult decisions at the point of lockdown featured heavily on social media and did considerable damage to those companies who failed to communicate in a humane way with their workers.  Those who engaged with their workers found a much higher degree of engagement and willingness to suffer short-term pain for long-term job security.

There is often a degree of cynicism from employees towards employers and vice-versa.  When difficult decisions, such as pay cuts or redundancies, have to be made employees frequently question their employers’ motives.  However, there is no such issue in the present circumstances – employees are perfectly aware of the immense financial pressures on businesses due to Coronavirus and therefore employers’ concerns are seen as authentic.

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