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October 9, 2020

It’s not surprising that many employers are struggling to keep up with the information provided by the Government, which is why we have decided to provide regular guidance and updates to help you stay up to date and remain compliant.

Local Restrictions vs National Restrictions

As we have heard in the news, especially over the last month or so, there has been increased scrutiny on cities and regions with high numbers of coronavirus cases.

The Government is reacting by applying localised restrictions which aim to contain the spread of the virus without emulating the feeling of a complete lockdown, as we felt nationally over the springtime.

Many cities in the North-East, Merseyside and areas around the West Midlands, are facing restrictions which mainly affect socialising as opposed to working environments.

National rules remain in place which enforce the two-metre distancing rule (or one-metre with extra precautions) and state that hand-washing should be for a minimum of 20 seconds and performed more regularly.

The ‘rule of six’ has been implemented across the UK, meaning that no groups of more than six can meet in any social situation, indoors or outdoors. 

Naturally, this does not apply to workplaces and educational settings.

Food and drink establishments are also subject to the ‘rule of six’ wherein no more than six people may be seated at the same table and opening times are restricted to between 5am and 10pm.

Face coverings are required in shops and lobby areas of establishments, and working from home is still encouraged wherever possible.

To add some further confusion to the matter, the devolved governments have also enacted their own set of rules and requirements around mitigation of the spread of coronavirus. (More information on this in the next update).

NHS COVID-19 App and QR Poster

The QR posters that you may have seen at the entrances to shops and restaurants have become a legal requirement for businesses to make available to clients, visitors and any other members of the public who are not employed by that business or who are not usually present on the premises.

Using the NHS COVID-19 contact-tracing app, people can ‘check-in’ to places they visit by scanning the QR code, this then records where the individual has been, allowing the NHS to contact individuals through the track and trace process and take the necessary steps if they have come into contact with an infected individual.

While the thinking behind the app is certainly intelligent, there have been some reports of a possible bug in the app which can cause ‘exposure’ notifications to alert individuals but once clicked on, the notification disappears and leads nowhere within the app itself.

We suggest taking all notifications seriously despite this possible bug and that you stay vigilant for symptoms.

So, what does this mean for me as an Employer?

There is understandably, a lot of information to take in regarding the rules and requirements around the management of the risks posed by the infectious disease, COVID-19.

Below, we have summarised some of the key points that all employers need to be aware of.

The Job Support Scheme

The Job Support Scheme is designed to help avoid redundancies and instead, aid companies in their ability to retain staff over the winter months, where some businesses may face lower demand and sales due to COVID-19.

From 1st November and for a period of six months, the Government has pledged to pay a percentage of staff’s wages for hours not worked. 

Great - but how much?

For each hour of work not performed by the employee, the employer will pay a third of the usual hourly wage and so will the Government, thereby giving the employee two thirds of their standard hourly wage. 

What’s the catch? 

There are a few rules to play by…

The government contributions apply only to hours not worked by employees and the hours they have worked must be paid solely by the employer, as will the pension contributions for all hours worked.

The employee must be working at least a third of their typical working hours. 

The contribution from the Government will be capped at just shy of £700 per month, and payments to the organisation will work on a reimbursement basis.

For further reading on the Job Support Scheme, click here.

The Kickstart Scheme

The Kickstart Scheme is for 16-24 year olds who are on Universal Credit and will look to place candidates in a six-month paid placement in a local workplace. 

This gives young people who are out of work the opportunity to gain experience whilst aiding the employer by covering 25 hours of work for the business at minimum wage. 

While the placement is for six months, employers are encouraged to keep Kickstart employees on after those six months, provided the role is being effectively fulfilled by the employee.

Employers are also given the option to top up the number of hours the Kickstart employee works and these extra hours are to be covered by the employer.

What’s the benefit to my business?

The Kickstart Scheme guidance states that “through the scheme, you’ll be able to access a large pool of young people with potential, ready for an opportunity”.

This could bring fresh perspectives; encourage new innovation, and will be fully funded up to 25 hours at minimum wage, by the Government.

Health and Safety

Risk assessments are the cornerstone to every organisations’ health and safety arrangements.  

All organisations must assess and manage any Health and Safety risks present within their workplace as required by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

Written Risk Assessments are a vital indicator that your business has assessed the health and safety risks present. 

Additionally, it reflects the considerations made and the changes implemented as time passes and conditions change. 

Therefore, it is paramount that all businesses undertake a COVID-19 specific risk assessment, ensuring that all activities and personnel, as well as visitors and clients, are included.

Once the risks have been assessed, it is imperative that the control measures the risk assessment has indicated are required, are implemented, monitored and reviewed as necessary.

Social distancing and good hygiene practices within the business premises are still key to ensuring that the work environment remains safe for everybody.

What Can and Can’t I do As an Employer?

As guidelines change and new restrictions come into play, it is understandable that employers struggle with what to tell their staff. 

Employers are still being encouraged to allow their employees to work remotely if they can effectively carry out their normal duties from home. 

If unable to work from home, workers should continue to go to their place of work to carry out their duties.

While the national ‘rule of six’ does not apply to work environments, it remains necessary to keep social distance within the workplace, keeping two metres apart where possible.

Many office environments have adapted to include Perspex barriers if employees will be working in close proximity to one another.

It is also suggested that businesses stagger starting and finishing times and alter set-ups of welfare facilities to enable effective social distancing.

The use of door stoppers can be helpful to minimise contact on common touchpoints.  Increased cleaning regimes are ideal for eradicating lingering germs, especially within communal areas.

Hand sanitiser and regular and prolonged hand-washing are still the best way to help combat the spread of the virus, along with effectively catching coughs and sneezes in tissues, which are disposed of immediately.

As we move into the winter months, many cold and flu-related symptoms will begin to emerge.

With this, we all need to be self-aware and on alert to recognise COVID-specific symptoms.

Employers should have a remote working policy and process, if possible, in preparation for an employee needing to self-isolate.

All employers need to be aware of the necessity for employees to self-isolate if contacted by an official representative of track and trace; in the event of an employee’s family member/close contact becoming infected with COVID-19 and in some cases, returning from a destination that is no longer on the UK safe list.

It is also important not to show discrimination towards those who self-isolate, should they suspect they have the virus.

If a staff member tests positive for coronavirus, they must self-isolate for a minimum of 10 days from the day the test was taken.  

For more information on the rules of self-isolation, visit the NHS website.

For a free initial consultation on how best to tackle COVID-19 risks, ensure that your organisation is compliant and have access to current information, contact us today.

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About the author 

James Rowland

James is the Commercial Director at Neathouse Partners and regularly writes articles surrounding issues in HR & Employment Law. Outside of the office, James is a keen Cricketer, playing in the Cheshire League for Nantwich CC. He also loves going to watch his football team, Crewe Alexandra. Feel free to connect with James on LinkedIn.

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