COVID-19: the new normal
Coronovirus (COVID-19) continues its rapid spread and we need to think about the precautions we should be taking. At CS Corporate Solutions, we are trialling "working from home", so there are likely to be fewer people in the office. Please consider if meetings with us are essential. We can do most things by email, telephone and using our secure website.
If you phone and your call doesn't get answered, please leave a message and someone will get back to you. Emails will be dealt with as normal. If you need to speak to Charlie urgently, then call his mobile 07711 207357. Remember to send payroll emails to firstname.lastname@example.org rather than to any specific individual.
We have had a number of queries from clients about employment rights, forced business closure and telling staff not to come in to to work, and SSP and recovering SSP from HMRC.
The place we always look for advice is the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service website https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus. So quoting from ACAS:
If an employee is not sick but their employer tells them not to come to work, they should get their usual pay.
That seems to mean that they get more than just SSP. And ACAS goes on:
If the employer needs to close the workplace
An employer may want to plan in case they need to close the workplace temporarily. For example, making sure staff have a way to communicate with the employer and other people they work with.
Lay-offs and short-time working
In some situations, an employer might need to close down their business for a short time. Unless it says in the contract or is agreed otherwise, they still need to pay their employees for this time.
There is further ACAS guidance on lay-offs here https://archive.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=1639
In the budget, the Chancellor said this:
For businesses with fewer than 250 employees… …I have decided that the cost of providing Statutory Sick Pay to any employee off work due to coronavirus… …will, for up to 14 days, be refunded by the Government in full.
So that suggests you have to pay employees in full, and if you get back anything at all it is related to SSP (but perhaps that would only be if the employees are themselves sick or self-isolating and entitled to claim it). We are not sure if that is the intention, and the situation is still fluid, but that is our reading of it so far.
And it seems the government expects you to simply take your employees word for it that they are sick, at least for now. At the same time as asking sick people NOT to phone NHS111 unless they are really ill, the gov.uk website says:
People who are advised to self-isolate for COVID-19 will soon be able to obtain an alternative to the fit note to cover this by contacting NHS 111, rather than visiting a doctor. This can be used by employees where their employers require evidence. Further details will be confirmed shortly.
The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS)’s Director of Practice has also commented
“While the package of temporary measures announced by the Chancellor to offset the business impact of coronavirus are to be welcomed, the timing of access to the measures may have limited impact for many small and medium-sized businesses affected. Many of the measures announced do not address the short-term cashflow implications for business which will be crucial to business survival.”
“Businesses will initially bear the cost of additional SSP with the government to work with employers over the coming months to set up a repayment mechanism. Access to the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme will take time to apply for and may well require business plans and cashflows to be prepared as part of the application process, causing delay. Perhaps most beneficial will be access to HMRC’s Time to Pay arrangements; however, the effectiveness of this will very much depend on the flexibility and policy approach which HMRC will apply to requests.”
So there is some encouragement, but no definite commitment from the government to meeting 14 days SSP (if staff are entitled to SSP), but that is all at this stage and the cost to business may be substantially more than that. For the forseeable future. And this is not a drill.
"I've seen the future and it's much like the present only longer." Dan Quisenberry