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Coronavirus: Catch-up and Planning

Many employers are making plans to try to mitigate as far as possible the impact coronavirus will have on their organisation. With this in mind, we wanted to give you an update regarding the Coronavirus Bill so far as it relates to SSP and to direct you to some of the measures the government have announced to try to help support businesses.

We will also take a look at the employment law position, in light of the announcement by the government this afternoon that schools in Scotland and Wales are to close and that decisions regarding school closures in England are ‘imminent’.

Statutory Sick Pay

You may remember that the government has made a number of announcements regarding statutory sick pay (SSP). Two of which were that:

  • SSP will be available from the first day of sickness absence;
  • For businesses with fewer than 250 employees the government will refund the cost of providing statutory sick pay to any employee off work due to coronavirus for up to 14 days.

These provisions will be covered in the government’s Coronavirus Bill. The government has announced that they are aiming for the Bill to reach the statute book and begin to take effect from the end of this month. However, the provisions relating to SSP are intended to have retrospective effect to 13th March 2020.

As we reported in an earlier Legal Update coronavirus-preparations-and-ssp- Regulations have already come into force so that employees who are self-isolating in order to prevent the infection or spread of coronavirus in accordance with public health guidance and who are unable to work as a result will be entitled to SSP.

Government Support Announced for Employers

The Chancellor has announced what is described as a ‘package of temporary, timely and targeted measures to support public services, people and businesses through this period of disruption caused by COVID-19’ (coronavirus).

Information regarding the non-employment law aspects of these can be found on the government website guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses

School Closures

At the time of writing, the government has just announced that schools in Scotland and Wales are to close at the end of the week and decisions regarding school closures in England are imminent. As many employees are working parents school closures will have a significant impact on many organisations. Below we look at the current employment law position regarding statutory rights to leave and pay – however it’s important to check your contracts of employment as you may offer more generous entitlements to your employees either through their contracts or your custom and practice.

Employed parents who are affected by school closures may be entitled to take a reasonable amount of statutory unpaid dependent care leave. Whilst this would usually be a few days off whilst making alternative arrangements for the care of the child, there have been cases where tribunals have deemed a longer period to be ‘reasonable’. As we are in unprecedented times it is likely to be very difficult, if not impossible, for some employees to make alternative arrangements for the care of their children – many employees will need to personally take on their own childcare.

In light of this you may want to think about:

  • Whether employees could work from home in this situation (if they are not already doing so). Whilst home-workers would normally be expected to dedicate working hours solely to carrying out work and to be free of distractions, employers are likely to need to take a pragmatic view on this, particularly if a large part of the workforce will be affected;
  • Whether you could temporarily agree a change in working hours to help employed parents balance work and childcare responsibilities – whether employees are working from home or are attending the workplace;
  • Allowing affected employees to take some of the time off as holiday if they wish to do so. Whilst this is unlikely to cover the full duration of any school closure it may assist employee’s financially in the short term if they are unable to work and would not otherwise be entitled to pay in such a situation.

It’s worth bearing in mind that employed parents can request statutory parental leave which may assist them to take time off. However, employees will usually need one year’s continuous service to qualify for this, give a minimum of 21 days’ notice and there is no statutory right to pay. In light of this, we don’t think employers are likely to be inundated with requests for this type of leave. Particularly as, whilst the entitlement to leave is 18 weeks for each child, under the statutory scheme an employee can take only a maximum of four weeks in one year for each child. For further information regarding, statutory parental leave please contact your Employment Law Specialist for advice.

It’s important for employers to be aware that employees are protected from being dismissed for taking or seeking to take statutory leave, such as dependent care leave or parental leave, or from being subjected to a detriment for doing so.

If you would like advice on your situation, please do not hesitate to contact Kingfisher Professional Services Ltd as we are happy to help.