Below is a round-up of key Covid-related developments for employers over the last six weeks:
- The Prime Minister has just confirmed that Step 3 of the roadmap for relaxing the Covid-19 restrictions will go ahead on Monday 17 May as planned. The Prime Minister had earlier confirmed plans to lift the ‘work-from-home’ guidance for England as part of Step 4, from 21 June, but this date is subject to change in light of developments, with concerns currently focussing on the transmissibility of the Indian variant.
- As part of a Social Distancing Review launched on 5 April, BEIS is consulting with employers about the possible introduction of long-term social distancing measures in the workplace (which could include the implementation of six months of social distancing each year and the longer-term use of masks and see-through plastic screens). A separate review is considering whether social distancing restrictions can be reduced by introducing COVID-status certification, although the Equality and Human Rights Commission has warned that this could involve a risk of discrimination against marginalised groups. Further guidance for employers on the social distancing requirements post 21 June is expected by the end of May.
- The Treasury Direction extending the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme until the end of September 2021, as previously announced, has now been made. The terms of the scheme remain largely the same, save that from July there is a mandatory employer contribution towards the cost of unworked hours, set at 10% in July and 20% in August and September. In order to make a claim for an employee after 1 May, the employer must have created and started a PAYE payroll scheme on or before 2 March 2021 and have made a Real Time Information submission in respect of the employee between 20 March 2020 and 2 March 2021 inclusive. An employer can also claim for an employee TUPE transferred on or after 1 January 2021 if the previous employer made an RTI submission between those dates. The regulations on calculating a week’s pay for furloughed employees for various purposes have also been extended again, to 30 September 2021
- The ONS estimates that over one million people have reported experiencing long COVID (including symptoms such as fatigue, ‘brain fog’, anxiety and depression as well as more physical symptoms). Acas has published a guide to help employers handle associated sickness absence and the return to work and ensure reasonable adjustments are made for those qualifying as disabled. Training managers on how to recognise possible symptoms and respond appropriately will be a key step in the return to work process.
- The Government (in conjunction with the Loneliness Employers Leadership Group) has published new guidance on how organisations can address loneliness among their workers.
- During the pandemic the Government made temporary changes to right to work checks, removing the need for face to face and physical document checks; originally it was announced that this concession would end on 16 May but the end date has now been revised to 20 June (aligning with Step 4 of the roadmap). Further details are available here.
- Businesses that registered for the Government’s free workplace testing programme and offer regular twice weekly testing to their staff can now showcase their participation, using stickers and posters available through a newly launched ‘We Offer Testing to our Staff’ endorsement scheme; see details here.
- The Government is calling on employers to join its campaign to promote positive vaccination messages and encourage employees to get the vaccine when offered; an Employer Toolkit is available here.
- The Government has just published its response to the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee’s report “Unequal Impact? Coronavirus and the Gendered Economic Impact“. The response confirms that, although the Queen’s Speech this week did not include an Employment Bill, the Government remains committed to introduce one “when parliamentary time allows”. The response also confirms that the planned extension to redundancy protection during pregnancy and maternity remains on the agenda, as does a consultation on strengthening the right to request flexible working (expected later this year). The Government also promises responses in due course to earlier consultations on mandatory publication of parental leave policies, reforms to SSP and proposals for addressing health issues in the workplace, and ethnicity pay gap reporting; a proposal for disability pay gap reporting has been rejected. The Government is also still considering Acas’s confidential report on employers’ use of “fire and re-hire” tactics to make detrimental changes to employees’ contracts; the Queen’s Speech did not include any commitment to legislate on this notwithstanding parliamentary calls to do so.
Our round-up of earlier Covid-19 developments to 31 March is available here.