Myth-busting coronavirus for employers

There’s an awful lot of false and misleading information circulating on social media and in the press, so we’re busting some of those myths!

Myth: No-one has to go to work except for key workers

Fact: Government instruction is that you may leave your house if you are travelling to and from work, but only where this absolutely cannot be done at home.

There was a Twitter post circulated from 10 Downing Street stating only key workers needed to go to work. This has since been amended but has made its way out into the wider public audience.

Certain businesses MUST close. They include non-essential shops, libraries, community centres, leisure facilities, playgrounds, places of worship, hotels, B&Bs, campsites and caravan parks, but the government have not yet stated that ALL businesses must close.

If your employees CAN work from home, you MUST allow them to do so (you could end up with a fine or a enforced closure if you don’t allow them to), but if they can’t, they should still come to work.

You may want to give your employees a letter explaining why they cannot work from home, just in case they get stopped on their way to or from work.

You must ensure social distancing rules are followed in the workplace, ensuring employees are keeping 2m apart.

Myth: I can claim 80% of my employees’ wages and still have them working, or pay them holiday pay, or reduce their hours

Fact: Furlough means NO WORK and that you cannot pay your employees.

To reclaim the 80% wage, you must place your employees on furlough. They cannot work for you during this time. Any employees who are still working (regardless of hours) or taking holiday pay are NOT on furlough and are not eligible. The upcoming bank holidays will not count as holiday pay for your furloughed workers.

Myth: I have to top up the other 20% of furloughed employees’ wages

Fact: You can choose to do this, but you don’t have to. You must communicate with your employees though and explain what you are doing and why.

Myth: Employees can request to be put on furlough if they don’t want to come into work

Fact: Furlough is a decision taken by the company where there is no work available and the company cannot therefore afford to pay its employees. Employees have no right to request furlough as an alternative to attending work.

Placing an employee on furlough because they simply don’t want to come into work would make you ineligible for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme grant as work is still available for them.

Reassure your employees you are doing all you can to mitigate risks and that they are still expected to attend work. If they have concerns because they, or someone in their household, is vulnerable, give this consideration and look for an alternative if possible (such as unpaid leave, annual leave or working from home).

Myth: I’ve already started the redundancy process; I can’t go back on this now

Fact: A key part of redundancy consultations is looking at ways to avoid redundancy. Furlough would be an acceptable way to avoid redundancy.

Call your employee into a formal consultation meeting and offer them furlough as an alternative, then confirm in writing.

This doesn’t stop you from carrying out a redundancy process later down the line if it becomes necessary.

Myth: I have to pay contractual sick pay for those who are isolating

Fact: If you have a company sick pay scheme, for those who are displaying symptoms themselves, you will need to pay company sick pay.

For those who are self-isolating because someone else in their household has symptoms, you don’t need to pay company sick pay, although you can choose to do so.

Myth: Employees who are absent due to childcare issues can claim SSP or be put on furlough

Fact: Unless they are self-isolating, shielding, or there is no work available for them in the workplace, employees with childcare duties are not entitled to SSP or to be put on furlough.

They may take unpaid leave, unpaid parental leave, work from home or use some of their holiday.

Myth: Vulnerable employees must self-isolate for 12 weeks and can claim SSP or be put on furlough

Fact: Only those who are classed as extremely vulnerable are currently being told to shield for 12 weeks – they are entitled to be furloughed and will have received an official letter from the NHS. Anyone who hasn’t received this letter is advised to practice social distancing, but they aren’t yet entitled to SSP or to be put on furlough.

Myth: Employees will lose any holiday they can’t take this year

Fact: The government have announced that any annual leave that cannot be taken in this leave year, may be carried over into the next 2 years (up to a maximum of 4 weeks).

Myth: I have to rehire anyone who has left the company since 28th February 2020

Fact: If you have made redundancies after this time, you may choose to re-hire these employees and place them on furlough. At the time of writing, any other re-hires would not be eligible for furlough and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme Grant. Ex-employees may ask you to re-hire them, but you are not obligated to do so for any reason.

Myth: I can furlough my employee for a week then return them to work

Fact: Furlough is for a minimum period of 3 weeks. It is unclear whether employees have to return to work for a further 3 weeks between furlough periods.

Myth: I have to put the whole company on furlough

Fact: If you have work for some departments or areas of the business, but not others you can furlough just those sections of employees that you don’t have work for. Just be sure to follow a fair selection process.

Myth: Employees on sick leave, maternity leave or other statutory leaves must be furloughed

Fact: For employees on long term sick, maternity, adoption, paternity or shared parental leave, you should continue with their leave and pay arrangements in line with this. If they are due to return to work and you have no work available for them, you may then furlough them.

Myth: The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme Grant will pay out on company cars, commissions and bonuses

Fact: The grant will only pay out up to 80% of an employees’ usual wage costs, exclusive of bonuses, commissions and other extras. It will however, pay out the employers’ national insurance and pension contributions on top of the 80%. You still need to make normal deductions from employees’ wages.

Myth: Only those with fixed hours can be furloughed and be eligible for the grant

Fact: Furlough applies to most employees, be they full time, part time, agency workers or zero hours. For workers with irregular hours you can use the same month’s earnings from the previous year or the average earnings for the 2019-20 tax year, or use a pro-rate of their earnings to date if they’ve not been with you for a year.

  • For further Lancashire business news, advice and analysis subscribe to Lancashire Business View or join the LBV Hub from just £2.50 per month. Click here to subscribe now.