COVID-19 Employment Law Update: 25 March 2020

Government calls for 250 thousand volunteers who will be eligible for unpaid leave from their jobs

During the government’s daily news conference, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced a new scheme seeking 250 thousand volunteers to assist the NHS with the delivery of medicines and shopping for those who are isolated and need to protect their health. Employees will now be able to take unpaid leave from their normal jobs to fill health and social care roles while accessing a fund that will compensate them for loss of earnings.  Employees who take emergency volunteer leave will be entitled to the benefit of all of the terms and conditions of their employment which would have applied if the employee had not been absent, with the exception of pay.

Government tells employers who compel employees to attend work to ‘practice safe distancing’

Journalists who attended today’s daily news conference by video link pressed government officials to comment on employers who are requiring their employees to attend work because they cannot perform their jobs at home but are also not key workers performing essential work.  BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg asked Secretary Hancock, “Who should people listen to, their boss or advice from the government?”.  The Health Secretary said attending work where work cannot be done at home is within the four permissible reasons that individuals can leave their homes but Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries said that employers have a duty to practice safe distancing and ensure employees are more than two meters apart in the workplace.  Government advice to employers can be found here.

Amendment to protocol on tribunal hearings

For clients bringing or defending claims in the Employment Tribunals, the Presidents of the Employment Tribunals (England & Wales, and Scotland) have issued an amendment to the Presidential Direction first issued last week on the conduct of in-person hearings: amendment to the Presidential Direction. In-person hearings will now only be converted to telephone case management hearings if the hearings were due to start on or before Friday 26 June 2020.  Any in-person hearings due to start on or after Monday 29 June 2020 will remain listed as normal for the time being.

ACAS Guidance on Coronavirus

The UK Government’s Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (“ACAS”)  has issued guidance for employers and employees on the Coronavirus. Among ACAS’ recommendations, employers should support employees in following government advice on social distancing and “employers must be especially careful and take extra steps for anyone in their workforce who is in a vulnerable group. They include, but are not limited to, those who have a long-term health condition, for example asthma, diabetes or heart disease, or a weakened immune system as the result of medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy; are pregnant; are aged 70 or over; or care for someone with a health condition that might put them at a greater risk.”

Proposed guaranteed income for freelancers and self-employed people

The House of Commons Public Bill Committee has published a proposed amendment to the proposed Coronavirus Bill which, if approved, will give freelancers and self-employed people a guaranteed income of 80% of their monthly net earnings, averaged over the last three years; or £2,917 per month, whichever is lower (see the full text below).  Many observers believe that the Government may accept the amendment following pressure from the Trades Union Congress and the Independent Union Workers of Great Britain after they threatened legal action to ensure the self-employed are protected.

The proposed Coronavirus Bill is now with the House of Lords.  For further details of employment-related measures in the bill, please see our Employment Law Round Up of 23 March 2020.

Government Equalities Office suspends gender pay gap reporting

Due to the Coronavirus outbreak, companies with 250 employees or more will not be required to meet the gender pay gap deadlines for the reporting year of 2019/2020.  The Government Equalities Office and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have announced they will suspend the enforcement of the gender pay gap deadlines.

Hiring sprees at UK supermarkets

Supermarkets including Tesco, Morrisons and Aldi have created more than 30,000 new jobs to help ensure stores are replenished. Tesco is seeking 20,000 temporary workers, Aldi wants 9,500 more workers and Morrisons is creating an additional 3,500 jobs. More details here.

Other updates for SM&B clients

Covid Corporate Financing Facility now open for applications

The Bank of England’s new lending facility for larger firms – the Covid Corporate Financing Facility – is open for applications.  £330 billion of loans and guarantees is available to help firms continue to operate.

Government SMS message to millions

Working with mobile phone operators, the government texted millions of people across the UK today to inform them of the stay-at-home rules announced by the Prime Minister on 23 March 2020.  The SMS message read, “GOV.UK CORONAVIRUS ALERT New rules in force now: you must stay at home. More info & exemptions at gov.uk/coronavirus Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.”

Should you require any assistance with your employment arrangements during this difficult period, do not hesitate to contact the Co-Head Partners of our Employment team. Please get in contact with Ewan Keen at 020 3206 2724 or via email and Tamara Ludlow at 020 3206 2739 or via email.