Find answers to common employer questions on topics including, protecting the health and safety of staff, as well as what to do if an employee has to self-isolate and obligations around leave and sick pay.
● Your employees may be able to travel to and from work, but only where the work they do absolutely cannot be done from home.
● The government has instructed certain workplaces and venues to close. Find out about business closures and restrictions in Northern Ireland.
● You should discuss working arrangements with your employees. If possible, take steps to facilitate employees working from home, including providing suitable IT and equipment to enable remote working.
● If your employees cannot work from home, and your workplace is not required to close, then they can still travel to work, provided they are well and neither they nor any of their household is self-isolating.
● If you have employees in offices or onsite, you should ensure that they are able to follow Public Health Agency guidelines on social distancing. This includes, where possible, maintaining a two-metre distance from others and washing their hands with soap and water often for at least 20 seconds (or using hand sanitiser gel if soap and water is not available).
Employers should consider some simple steps to help protect the health and safety of staff. It is good practice for employers to:
● businesses and workplaces should encourage their employees to work at home, wherever possible
● if someone becomes unwell in the workplace with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature, they should be sent home and advised to follow the advice to stay at home
● employees should be reminded to wash their hands for 20 seconds more frequently and catch coughs and sneezes in tissues
● frequently clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, using your standard cleaning products
● employees will need your support to adhere to the recommendation to stay at home to reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) to others
● those who follow advice to stay at home will be eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP) from the first day of their absence from work
● employers should use their discretion concerning the need for medical evidence for certification for employees who are unwell.
● employees from defined vulnerable groups should be strongly advised and supported to stay at home and work from there if possible
Employers must not single anyone out. For example, they must not treat an employee differently because of their race or ethnicity. Treatment of employees should not be affected by any illness or supposed illness.
Health and safety law requires employers to do ‘what is reasonably practicable’ to protect their staff and members of the public. See - Coronavirus: Workplace safety guidelines and social distancing.
If anyone becomes unwell with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature in the business or workplace they should be sent home and advised to follow the stay at home guidance. See COVID-19: guidance for households with possible coronavirus infection.
If they need clinical advice, they should call 111. In an emergency, call 999 if they are seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk. Do not visit the GP, pharmacy, urgent care centre or a hospital.
If a member of staff has helped someone who was taken unwell with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature, they do not need to go home unless they develop symptoms themselves. They should wash their hands thoroughly for 20 seconds after any contact with someone who is unwell with symptoms consistent with coronavirus infection.
It is not necessary to close the business or workplace unless government policy changes.
Employees can get £94.25 per week (£95.85 from 6 April) Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if they’re too ill to work. It’s paid by employers for up to 28 weeks. See further information on understanding statutory sick pay.
Employees who follow government advice to stay home if they, or someone in their household, display symptoms of coronavirus and cannot work as a result of the illness, will be eligible for SSP.
Eligible employees will receive SSP from the first day of sickness absence. This applies for sickness absences starting on or after 13 March 2020.
The government will allow small and medium-sized businesses and employers to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid for sickness absence due to COVID-19. This refund will cover up to 2 weeks’ SSP per eligible employee who has been off work because of coronavirus.
Anyone not eligible to receive sick pay, including those earning less than an average of £118 per week, some of those working in the gig economy, or self-employed people, may be able to claim Universal Credit and or new style Employment and Support Allowance.
For those on a low income and already claiming Universal Credit, it is designed to automatically adjust depending on people’s earnings or other income. However, if someone needs money urgently, they can apply for an advance through the journal.
Although individuals who have been advised to shield themselves are not eligible for Statutory Sick Pay, employers are advised to use their discretion and respect the medical need to self-isolate in making decisions about sick pay. Employers are also able to furlough these individuals through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
Sick pay | What Statutory Sick Pay support is available for the self-employed affected by coronavirus?
Those who are not eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), for example, the self-employed or people earning below the Lower Earnings Limit of £120 per week, can now more easily make a claim for Universal Credit or Contributory Employment and Support Allowance:
• for the duration of the outbreak, the requirements of the Universal Credit Minimum Income Floor will be temporarily relaxed for those who have COVID-19 or are self-isolating according to government advice, ensuring self-employed claimants will receive support
• people will be able to claim Universal Credit and access advance payments upfront without the current requirement to attend a jobcentre if they are advised to self-isolate
• contributory Employment and Support Allowance will be payable, at a rate of £73.10 a week if you are over 25, for eligible people affected by COVID-19 or self-isolating in line with advice from Day 1 of sickness, rather than Day 8
To find out about additional support available for self-employed individuals - see Coronavirus: Support and advice for the self-employed.
Statutory Sick Pay rebate | How can I find out whether I am eligible for the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) rebate?
Employers with fewer than 250 employees will be eligible. The size of an employer will be determined by the number of people they employed as of 28 February 2020.
Statutory Sick Pay rebate | When will employers be able to claim their Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) rebate?
The online service you’ll use to claim back Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is now available. See Coronavirus: Claim back Statutory Sick Pay paid to your employees due to coronavirus (COVID-19).
See also guidance on HMRC's Time to Pay scheme, which supports businesses and self-employed individuals in financial distress and with outstanding tax liabilities by providing support with their tax affairs.
Self-isolation and pay | What if an employee isn't sick but the doctor has advised them to self-isolate?
The Government has stated that if NHS 111 or a doctor advises an employee or worker to self-isolate, they should receive any Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) that is due to them. If the employer offers contractual sick pay, it’s good practice to pay this.
Shielding and pay | How should employers manage staff who are not ill, but with underlying health conditions that are 'shielding'? What payment are they entitled to?
Individuals who have been advised to shield themselves are not eligible for Statutory Sick Pay, employers are advised to use their discretion and respect the medical need to self-isolate in making decisions about sick pay.
Employers are also able to furlough these individuals through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, though that decision may be subject to agreement with the employee depending on their employment contract.
An employer should make the best decision for their organisation and its employees.
Workplace closure and pay | What if an employee is not sick but the employer tells them not to come to work?
If an employee is not sick but their employer tells them not to come to work, they should get their usual pay.
Staff caring for dependants and pay | What if an employee needs time off work to look after someone?
Employees are entitled to time off work to help someone who depends on them (a 'dependant') in an unexpected event or emergency. This would apply to situations to do with coronavirus. For example:
● if they have children they need to look after or arrange childcare for because their school has closed
● to help their child or another dependant if they're sick, or need to go into isolation or hospital
There's no statutory right to pay for this time off, but some employers might offer pay depending on the contract or workplace policy. See understanding statutory sick pay.
The amount of time off an employee takes to look after someone must be reasonable for the situation. For example, they might take two days off to start with, and if more time is needed, they can book leave.
Employees who are unable to work because they have caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus (COVID-19) can be furloughed. For example, employees that need to look after children can be furloughed. See how to claim for wage costs through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
The law does not say how much time can be taken off, or how many occasions. However, the law states that the amount of time an employee is allowed to take off should be 'reasonable'.
It's a good idea if the employer is as flexible as they can be, depending on the employee's circumstances.
Some people might feel they do not want to go to work if they're afraid of catching coronavirus.
An employer should listen to any concerns staff may have. If there are genuine concerns, the employer must try to resolve them to protect the health and safety of their staff. For example, if possible, the employer could offer flexible working. See flexible working: the law and best practice.
If an employee still does not want to go in, they may be able to arrange with their employer to take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave. The employer does not have to agree to this. See holiday, other leave and sickness.
If an employee refuses to attend work, it could result in disciplinary action. See unauthorised absence - Acas guidance.
Employees can 'self-certify' for the first seven days off work due to sickness or if they have been advised to self-isolate due to COVID-19.
If your employee needs to self-isolate due to COVID-19 for more than seven days, they can get an online self-isolation note from the NHS website.
If your employees are required to self-isolate, they should follow your usual sickness reporting process. You should use your discretion concerning the need for medical evidence for certification for employees who are unwell.
An employer can refuse or cancel holiday, but they must let you know beforehand by at least the same amount of time as the amount you requested.
An employer can:
• refuse holiday at certain times, for example during busy periods, but they cannot refuse to let you take any holiday at all
• make you take holiday at certain times, such as Christmas or bank holidays
• say how much holiday you can take at one time
It may now be possible for staff to carry over unused holidays into the next two leave years, if they are unable to take leave as a result of the effect of the Coronavirus.
For more information, see holiday entitlement and statutory holiday pay.
Rejecting flexible working requests | Am I able to turn down flexible working requests from staff, including requests to work from home, if this has a negative impact on my business?
You can only turn down a flexible working request, including a request from an employee to work from home, if there’s a valid business reason. It’s important to make your decision based on facts and not personal opinion.
By law, a request can only be turned down if:
• it will cost your business too much
• you cannot reorganise the work among other staff
• you cannot recruit more staff
• there will be a negative effect on quality
• there will be a negative effect on the business’ ability to meet customer demand
• there will be a negative effect on performance
• there’s not enough work for your employee to do when they’ve requested to work
• there are planned changes to the business, for example, you intend to reorganise or change - the business and think the request will not fit with these plans
Working from home costs | Will I have to pay my staff if they claim for costs associated with them working from home?
The employer should set out:
• What the company will provide. For example, furniture, phone, phone line, Broadband, printer, fire extinguisher, paper.
• What the employee is expected to provide. For example, heating and lighting.
• Who will pay for any installation and other necessary costs, and, if required and agreed, how costs can be claimed back.
• Who the equipment belongs to, who is responsible for maintaining/moving it and how this will be done, and whether it can, or cannot, be used for personal matters by the homeworker or their family.
Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme the UK government will cover 80 per cent of business staff wages, up to £2,500 per employee per month.
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme | What are my responsibilities as an employer if I want to furlough workers?
A ‘furloughed worker’ is an employee who is kept on an employer’s payroll, rather than being laid-off or made redundant.
Most employment contracts will not permit an employer to reduce pay, provide no work or change employment status without agreement. See checking the existing employment contract before making changes.
Employers can only furlough employees if they have a contractual lay-off clause in their employment contracts. If not, they will need to comply with employment law. See checklist: changing an employee's terms of employment.
Employers must comply with employment law when designating employees as furloughed (ie consult with their employees and seek their consent). See consulting employees about changes to their terms of employment.
Employers will need to submit information to HMRC about the employees that have been furloughed and their earnings through a new online portal expected to be operational by the end of April 2020.
Any furlough agreement with a member of staff should be in writing. The Labour Relations Agency (LRA) has produced guidance and a sample letter to help employers.
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme | What evidence, if any, will businesses have to provide to prove employees are furloughed and not working?
Employers should discuss with their staff and make any changes to the employment contract by agreement. When employers are making decisions in relation to the process, including deciding who to offer furlough to, equality and discrimination laws will apply in the usual way.
To be eligible for the subsidy employers should write to their employee confirming that they have been furloughed and keep a record of this communication.
To claim, businesses will need:
• your PAYE reference number
• the number of employees being furloughed
• the claim period (start and end date)
• amount claimed (per the minimum length of furloughing of 3 weeks)
• your bank account number and sort code
• your contact name
• your phone number
Employers need to make a claim for wage costs through this scheme. You will need to calculate the amount you are claiming. HMRC will retain the right to retrospectively audit all aspects of your claim.
You can only submit one claim at least every 3 weeks, which is the minimum length an employee can be furloughed for. Claims can be backdated until the 1 March if applicable.
Read further information and check if you can claim for your employees' wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
The scheme is open to all UK employers that had created and started a PAYE payroll scheme on 19 March 2020.
This scheme aims to support all those employed through the PAYE system regardless of their employment contract, including those on zero-hour contracts.
Where a company is being taken under the management of an administrator, the administrator will be able to access the Job Retention Scheme. However, it is expected that an administrator would only access the scheme if there is a reasonable likelihood of rehiring the workers. For instance, this could be as a result of an administration and pursuit of a sale of the business.
Read further information and check if you can claim for your employees' wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme | Does the business still pay staff wages, and claim the money back retrospectively on the scheme?
The government has provided a package of support to businesses to support their cashflow through this crisis. This includes business rate relief, tax deferrals and the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans.
Now that the scheme is up and running, you can make your claim in accordance with the point at which you run your payroll or in advance of an imminent payroll.
Once HMRC has received your claim and you are eligible for the grant, they will pay it via BACS payment to a UK bank account.
Read further information and check if you can claim for your employees' wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme | The scheme covers 80% of furloughed workers wage costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month. Is this amount before or after tax and national insurance and other deduction?
Employers can claim for the 80% of an employee’s salary, as of 19 March 2020, before tax.
You’ll still need to pay employer National Insurance and pension contributions on behalf of your furloughed employees, and you can claim for these too.
You cannot claim for:• additional National Insurance or pension contributions you make because you chose to top up your employee’s salary
• any pension contributions you make that are above the mandatory employer contribution
No. Once you have put an employee on furlough they will not be able to work for you.
The employee can undertake training or volunteer subject to public health guidance, as long as they're not:
• making money for you or a company linked or associated with you
• providing services to you or a company linked or associated with you
Workers with multiple jobs will be able to continue working for employers that have not placed them on furlough.
This means that employees might be furloughed in one job and receive a furloughed payment but can continue working for another employer and receive their normal wages.
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme | Can the scheme be used to support a reduction in staff working hours instead of a complete furlough? This means I can keep some of my staff working and therefore my business carrying out some trading.
No. To be eligible for the scheme, the furloughed employee must not work for the employer who has furloughed them.
An employee cannot be partly furloughed and work reduced hours or for reduced pay.
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme | Can businesses rotate staff out and in – otherwise some staff will have pay for three months without having to work and others will have to work every day for same amount?
An employee can be placed on furlough more than once during the life of the scheme. However, an individual’s furlough must always be for a minimum of 3 weeks. One furlough period can follow straight after an existing furlough period, for as long as the scheme is open. The scheme is open until 31 October 2020.
It is at the discretion of the business to decide on how best to manage staff guided by the rules of the scheme.
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme | Are employees with childcare responsibilities covered by the scheme?
By law, anyone classed as an employee has the right to take time off work to help someone who depends on them (a 'dependant') in an unexpected event. See time off to deal with emergencies involving dependants.
Employees who are unable to work because they have caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus (COVID-19) can be furloughed. For example, employees that need to look after children.
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme | Will I have to repay funds if I need to make staff redundant or decide to let staff go after the scheme has closed? Is there a minimum time, I need to keep staff after the scheme has closed?
An employee will remain furloughed until the business ends the arrangement by re-employing the person or makes them redundant, or the scheme is ended by the government (at which point the employer must decide whether to re-employ the individual or make them redundant).
There is no requirement to bring an employee back to work after the period of furlough, but the employee will maintain rights against unfair dismissal and to redundancy payments during the period of furlough. If the employer chooses to make individuals redundant the usual rules for redundancy will apply. See the redundancy consultation process.
Workers on furlough continue to accrue holiday as per their employment contract.
Workers and employers can agree to vary holiday pay entitlement as part of the furlough agreement, however, almost all workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks of statutory paid annual leave each year which they cannot go below.
Workers may take holiday whilst on furlough and should be paid their usual holiday pay. This includes Bank Holidays.
Employers can continue to claim 80% of the worker’s salary under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme while they are on holiday but must make up the difference where the usual rate of holiday pay is higher.
Read more on holiday entitlement and statutory holiday pay.
Yes, furloughed employees still have the same employment rights to take family-related leave and pay as before. The normal rules and eligibility criteria apply.
Legislation has been passed to ensure that for furloughed workers whose period of family-related pay begins on or after 25 April 2020, the ‘earnings test’ will take into account the person’s usual wages and not their furloughed wages where these are lower than usual.
The ‘earnings test’ is used to check that someone meets the Lower Earnings Limit (£120 per week) and to determine the earnings-related rate of Statutory Maternity Pay and Statutory Adoption Pay (paid at 90% of wages for the first 6 weeks).
This change applies to Maternity Pay, Maternity Allowance, Paternity Pay, Shared Parental Pay, Parental Bereavement Pay and Adoption Pay.
The rate of statutory pay is unchanged (£151.20 per week).
No. If an employee is in receipt of maternity allowance while on maternity leave, they cannot get furlough pay at the same time.
If an employee has agreed to be put on furlough, they must stop their maternity allowance payments.
If an employee has agreed to go on furlough and end their maternity leave early, they will need to give their employer at least 8 weeks’ notice and they will not be eligible for furlough pay until the end of the 8 weeks.
A furlough is only possible with agreement between the employer and the employee as a temporary variation to the employment contract. If the employee refuses, the employer cannot force the furlough and must continue to pay the full salary or ultimately, make redundancies (subject to the usual redundancy requirements).
An employer should make the best decision for their organisation and its employees. Standard discrimination law applies - you cannot decide who should be furloughed on the basis of any protected characteristic. It is acceptable – indeed encouraged – to consult on the process with employees.
Some staff may have reason to want to be furloughed and others have reasons not to be.
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme | Can employees who have left/resigned/been made redundant, be rehired and then furloughed?
If you made employees redundant, or they stopped working for you on or after 28 February 2020, you can re-employ them, put them on furlough and claim for their wages through the scheme. This applies to employees that were made redundant or stopped working for you after 28 February, even if you do not re-employ them until after 19 March. This applies as long as the employee was on your payroll as at 28 February and had been notified to HMRC on an RTI submission on or before 28 February 2020. This means an RTI submission notifying payment in respect of that employee to HMRC must have been made on or before 28 February 2020.
If an employee has had multiple employers over the past year, has only worked for one of them at any one time, and is being furloughed by their current employer, their former employer/s should not re-employ them, put them on furlough and claim for their wages through the scheme.
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme | Can a furloughed Company Director (whose salary is paid through PAYE) continue to fulfil their statutory duties while on furlough?
Yes. Company directors paid through PAYE are furloughed as employees and not directors.
Where furloughed directors need to carry out particular duties to fulfil their statutory obligations they owe to their company, they may do so provided they do no more than would be judged reasonably necessary for the purposes, such as they should not do work of a kind they would carry out in normal circumstances to generate commercial revenue or provides services to or on behalf of their company.
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme | If someone is a Director of a Ltd Company (and not classed as a PAYE employee of their own business), are they exempt from accessing the scheme?
Yes. The Job Retention Scheme is only accessible to those that are on an employer’s PAYE scheme as of 19 March 2020.
Those who do not qualify for the scheme will be able to explore other support including an increase in the Universal Credit allowance, income tax deferrals, £1 billion more support for renters and access to three-month mortgage holidays.
The Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) will support self-employed individuals (including members of partnerships) whose income has been negatively impacted by COVID-19. The scheme will provide a grant to self-employed individuals or partnerships, worth 80% of their profits up to a cap of £2,500 per month.
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme | Does the scheme cover people on the CIS (Construction Industry Scheme)?
Those on the CIS scheme who are self-employed or a member of a partnership are not eligible for support under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. CIS scheme workers who are self-employed or a member of a partnership may wish to investigate their eligibility for the Self-employment Income Support Scheme.
Those on the CIS scheme who own a limited company may be eligible for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme if they are operating a PAYE scheme.
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme | Are zero-hour contracts workers and/or agency workers covered by the scheme?
The scheme is open to those on any type of contract - this includes, zero-hour or agency contracts and part-time workers as long as the employee was registered on the employer PAYE scheme on or before 19 March 2020.
The scheme is retrospective, and employers can re-employ those made redundant after 28 February 2020 to enable them to also benefit from the furlough scheme.
The 80% grant is applied to the higher of:
• the earnings in the same pay period in the previous year
• the average earnings in the whole previous 12 months (or fewer if they have worked for less time than this, including a part month calculation if they were taken on in February)
Apprentices can be furloughed in the same way as other employees.
Furloughed apprentices can also continue their training, as long as it does not provide services to, or generate revenue for, their employer. Where their provider can continue to deliver training remotely, a furloughed apprentice can continue their apprenticeship whilst furloughed.
However, as an employer, you must pay your apprentice at least the Apprenticeship Minimum Wage, National Living Wage or National Minimum Wage (AMW/NLW/NMW) as appropriate for all the time they spend training. This means you must cover any shortfall between the amount you can claim for their wages through the scheme and their appropriate minimum wage.
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme | If I furlough an employee and that person continues to work for a different employer, who has not furloughed them, how do I claim for 80 per cent of that employee's wage under the scheme?
In general, the hours the furloughed employee spends working through additional employment will not affect the grant paid to the company that has placed the employee on furlough. However, this will depend on the employee’s contract.
Where an employer who has placed an employee on furlough, and that furloughed employee has opted to take up some employment elsewhere, the employer does not need to do anything differently in regards of the 80 per cent payments to that worker and the corresponding claims to be made from HMRC.