Employment

Information if your employment has been impacted by Coronavirus.

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (Furlough)

If an employer cannot cover staff costs due to coronavirus, they may be able to access support to continue paying wages and thereby keep them on the payroll. The employer must discuss with the employee about becoming classified as a furloughed worker.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS, also known as ‘furlough’) has been extended by HMRC to 30th September 2021, with employees receiving 80% of their current salary for hours not worked, up to a maximum of £2,500. There will be some changes to the scheme from July 2021 regarding employer contributions.

What will I receive?

Employers must pay a minimum of 80% of the employee’s normal salary (up to a maximum of £2,500 per month), some or all of which the employer will be able to claim back as a grant from the government.

How do I apply?

Employers apply to HMRC for a grant to cover the wages of the furloughed worker. They are not required to furlough an employee, so an agreement is required between the employer and the employee.

What can I do if 80% of my salary puts me in hardship?

Anyone in receipt of Tax Credits can amend their claim with HMRC. Universal Credit claimants can update their details through the online journal, although changes in salary/wages for those that pay tax through PAYE will be reflected in the Real Time Information (RTI) provided to Universal Credit by HMRC. Advice is available from both our Benefits and Debt teams for anyone struggling financially. Those in urgent need of assistance may be able to make a claim for short-term financial help.

Can I work elsewhere while on furlough?

This depends on the contract of employment with the existing employer. Furloughed workers cannot take other work that would result in their existing contract being breached.

What can I do if my employer refuses to make use of the scheme?

There is no legal obligation for employers to make use of this scheme. The best approach is for the employee to discuss this with the employer: in general the cost for the employer is limited, although this will change from July 2021 and it does require the employer to conduct additional administration to claim the grant. Another option would be for the employer to place the employee on ‘flexible furlough’, where the employee works reduced hours and wages for the remaining hours are covered under the CJRS.

Enforced and Extended Leave

Enforced Holiday Leave

Employers have the right to tell employees when to take a holiday if they need to – for example, they can decide to shut for a week and everyone has to use their holiday entitlement. If an employer does decide to do this, they must tell all staff at least twice as many days before as the number of days they need people to take.  For example, if they want to close for 5 days, they should inform staff at least 10 days prior.

Extended Holiday Leave

If an employee has failed to use their annual leave entitlement they can now carry that leave across the next leave years. The new rules will allow an employee to carry as many as 4 weeks of unused leave across 2 leave years. Allowing the leave to be spread across 2 years will enable an employer to plan around periods of leave and ultimately an employee must seek approval to use any leave.

Lay-offs and short-time working

A lay-off is not redundancy, it is a temporary measure when there is no work for a certain period of time. This can happen when employers experience sudden downturns as with Coronavirus. Staff will remain employed unless they resign or their employment contract is terminated for some other reason.

Can any employer decide to lay-off staff?

This is not an option for all employers as the right to lay-off or to introduce short-time working must be present in the contract of employment. If an employer has taken this decision they should communicate with staff as early as possible and throughout the closure.

When can this step be taken?

Whenever the employer feels they need to close down the business for a short time, such as being forced to close under public health guidance. Employers may also ask staff to reduce their contracted hours (this is known as short-time working).

Will I still be paid during this time?

This depends on the contract of employment. Employees who are laid off and are not entitled to their usual pay might be entitled to a statutory guarantee payment, which is a nominal payment of no more than £30 per day. Statutory guarantee payments are limited to a maximum of 5 days in any period of 3 months. Eligibility criteria for a statutory guarantee payment are as follows:

  • employed continuously for 1 month (includes part-time workers);
  • have reasonably made sure they are available for work;
  • not refused any reasonable alternative work;
  • not laid off because of industrial action.

Who pays the 'statutory guarantee payment'?

Employers should pay the 'statutory guarantee payment' to all eligible staff.

Is there a limit to how long I can be laid off?

There is no upper limit to the length of a lay-off. However, if the employee is laid off for more than four weeks in a row, or six weeks in a 13-week period, they may be entitled to redundancy pay. The employee must submit a claim for redundancy pay in writing to the employer, however the employer can refuse if they believe work is likely to resume within four weeks of the request.

How can I supplement my income?

Anyone whose income is reduced can contact an adviser for a benefits check as they may be entitled to Universal Credit or an increase in the amount of Tax Credits or Housing Benefit they receive.

 

Reduced Pay

Most employers are contractually obliged to make payments to employees on terms that have been agreed as per the contract of employment, however this is not always as simple as it may seem.

Can my employer pay me less without consulting me?

An employer can reduce an employee’s pay but this can only be achieved either through an agreement with the employee. The employer could in theory dismiss the employee under their existing terms and conditions and offer to re-employ them on the same conditions but with a reduced rate of pay, but this would raise questions about the fairness of the dismissal.

What can I do if my employer has taken this step and has not consulted me?

If an employer unilaterally imposes a pay reduction the employee can resign and bring one of three types of employment claim:

How can I supplement my income?

Anyone whose income is reduced can contact an adviser for a benefits check as they may be entitled to Universal Credit or an increase in the amount of Tax Credits or Housing Benefit they receive

Redundancy

If an employer is forced to make staff redundant they must ensure they select employees fairly. An employer may choose to offer voluntary redundancy packages to reduce the number of staff they must select.

How are staff selected for redundancy?

If an employer must select staff they can look at a number of different areas. An employer can assess their staff based on skill, performance, disciplinary record and attendance when selecting for redundancy.

Will I receive notification of redundancy?

It is a legal requirement that employees must be consulted if there will be more than 20 staff made redundant. However, consultation is always good practice regardless of the numbers involved.

Will I receive redundancy pay?

Staff that have worked for the employer for at least 2 years may be entitled to a statutory redundancy payment. This is calculated based on age and length of service. It is a good idea for employees to seek further advice in relation to eligibility for redundancy.

Am I still protected from unfair treatment or discrimination?

Employers should not use this crisis to single anyone out unfairly and discrimination laws still apply. Anyone who feels they have been singled out or treated unfairly because of a disability, their race or religion or any other relevant reason should raise a grievance with their employer and seek advice.

Advice NI have produced a policy paper - Universal Credit and Redundancy Payments - that you may find useful.

Self-Employed Income Support Scheme

The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) is a grant-based system which gives self-employed workers a payment based on previous tax returns if they have experienced a drop in income as a result of coronavirus. The scheme has been extended to 30th September 2021.

The fourth grant is for the period from February to April 2021 and covers 80% of 3 months’ average trading profits, paid out in a single instalment capped at £7,500. It is open to people who became self-employed in the tax year 2019 to 2020. Claims must be submitted before 1 June 2021.

The government also announced a fifth grant covering the period from May to September 2021. The amount will be determined by how much turnover has been reduced in the year April 2020 to April 2021.

Who is eligible?

To be eligible for the scheme claimants must meet the following criteria:

  • self-employed or a member of a partnership and have traded in the tax years 2019-20 and 2020-21 and have either lost trading profits due to or would be trading now if not for coronavirus
  • intend to continue trading
  • submitted an income tax self-assessment tax return for the year 2019 to 2020 and submitted your tax return by 2 March 2021
  • trading profits below £50,000 and over half of the claimant’s income comes from self-employment

How much will I get?

80% of average monthly profits, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month for 3 months.

How is this calculated?

HMRC will use the self-assessment tax returns they already hold to calculate an average monthly income.

How do I apply?

Claimants start by completing the online eligibility checker using their Self-Assessment Unique Taxpayer Reference. Once eligibility has been established HMRC will provide a date for the claim to be submitted.

Is this repayable?

The payment is a grant and so is not repayable.

What support can I get now?

Self-employed people can also seek advice from the independent advice network in relation to possible entitlement to benefits, or an adjustment in benefits they already receive.

Statutory Sick Pay whilst in isolation

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is a non-means tested benefit, with eligibility based on how much a person earns rather than national insurance contributions. If a person qualifies for SSP it is the minimum amount an employer must pay them as long as they qualify.

In order to receive SSP an employee must satisfy certain conditions. If the person claiming SSP is isolating due to Coronavirus, they will not have to serve the usual 3 waiting days before receiving the benefit.

How much is it?

SSP is paid at a single rate regardless of the normal salary: the amount payable is currently £96.35 per week (2021-22). The amount paid is calculated based on the number of days in a week the employee normally works and the number of those days they are off sick.

How will it be paid?

SSP is paid by the employer in the same way and at the same interval as wages/salary. An employer may pay more sick pay depending on the employment contract (this is known as company, contractual or occupational sick pay).

How do I apply?

An employee must inform their employer as soon as possible via telephone of the reason they will not be working and the period of isolation recommended by PHA (telephone 111 for information). By law, medical evidence is not required for the first 7 days of sickness. After 7 days, it is for the employer to determine what evidence they require, if any, from the employee. This does not need to be a fit note issued by a GP or other doctor. If the employer requires confirmation of isolation the employee can request an isolation note online. If the person develops a prolonged illness during this period, the employer may then require a fit note.

How long can this be paid for?

A claim for statutory sick pay will cease payment at the end of the period of sickness and can be paid for a maximum of 28 weeks. If an employee does not qualify for statutory sick pay or their sick pay is ending the employer must inform them and provide confirmation. The employee can then submit a claim for Employment and Support Allowance and/or Universal Credit.

 

Vulnerable Workers

Due to the current health crisis it is important to protect those at a higher risk of infection and also those for whom the risk of serious side effects is greater.

Am I classed as ‘vulnerable’?

There are two classifications of vulnerability. The ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ (CEV) are those with specific medical conditions at greatest risk from Covid-19 (these are the people advised to ‘shield’ at the beginning of the pandemic). In addition, people over the age of 70 or with certain underlying health conditions, as well as those who are pregnant, are treated as ‘vulnerable’ (this group is effectively all adults who would normally be given a flu vaccine).

What should my employer do if I am in the vulnerable group?

Employers are encouraged to listen to the concerns of all staff and should take extra care to protect the health and wellbeing of vulnerable employees – normal rules about discrimination and unfair treatment apply. Employers can use their discretion to offer vulnerable staff paid or unpaid leave, although they are not required to do so.