National lockdown 3 – What does this mean for employers?

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement of a third national lockdown on 4 January 2021, the official government guidance has been updated once again.

From 12:00 am on 5 January 2021, a person will only be allowed to leave their home if they have a ‘reasonable excuse’. It is expected that the latest restrictions will be in place until at least mid-February pending a review of covid-19 transmission rates.

Working from home

The guidance identifies attending a place of work as a ‘reasonable excuse’ to leave your house but only where ‘it is unreasonable for you to do your job from home, including but not limited to people who work within critical national infrastructure, construction or manufacturing that require in-person attendance’. This means that the vast majority of office-based workers must now work from home. As identified in our article discussing ‘homeworking’, many employers have already implemented a more agile working policy, with increased working from home on a more permanent basis following the first two national lockdowns.

Anecdotally there have been some reports that employers may be encouraging or requiring their employees to still come into work, regardless of the updated guidance. Employers must ensure that they are aware of and fully understand their new obligations. Employers need to consider the updated guidance and review how this applies to their employees’ current working position. It is also essential that employers make the relevant arrangements to facilitate their employees working from home, including the provision of IT equipment.

We set out some of the more frequently asked employment questions in relation to home working here.

Childcare

Schools, colleges and universities have now closed for most students but colleges, primary schools (reception onwards) and secondary schools will remain open for vulnerable children and children of critical workers. All other students will now switch to remote learning.

This creates a number of difficulties for parents who will now have to balance their own remote working, in addition to supervising their children and facilitating their home learning. Employers may wish to consider agreeing arrangements with employees in order to enable and support a more flexible agile working approach during the lockdown period. This may mean making amendments to their agile working policy if one is already in place or changing normal working hours.

Furlough

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) has been extended until 30 April 2021. The official guidance on the CJRS can be found here. It is expected that there will be a surge in the number of CJRS claims in the coming weeks as employers look to utilise the opportunity to furlough their employees whilst businesses have been forced to close as a result of the national lockdown. 

The government has also updated the time limits for making furlough claims up to April 2021. It is important to note that claims must be submitted by 11.59pm 14 calendar days after the month you’re claiming for. The updated time limits are as follows:

Claim for furlough days in / Claim must be submitted by

December 2020: 14 January 2021
January 2021: 15 February 2021
February 2021: 15 March 2021
March 2021: 14 April 2021
April 2021: 14 May 2021

Our overview of the furlough claim time limits can be found here.

If you have any queries about the updated guidance or any of the points raised above and would like to discuss them, please contact a member of our Employment Law Team.