Why August is an important month for employers
For many employers, 1 August will be the start of a very important period of post-coronavirus economic recovery. This is because the Government’s plans to help the country survive through the necessary lockdown measures, implemented during the peak of the pandemic, has begun to unwind.
Here’s why 1 August marks the start of some very important developments in employment law:
• contributions to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough scheme) have begun
• shielding was paused in England and Scotland from 1 August and is yet to be paused in Wales
• employers have more discretion over whether staff should continue to work from home across England
The furlough scheme
The Job Retention Scheme was put in place to support employers who were not able to operate as normal due to the pandemic. Since its inception, thousands of employers have furloughed all, or part, of their workforce and claimed 80% of wage costs, to a maximum of £2,500 per employee per month, to pass on to employees.
Until now, employers have been able to claim the portion of the employee’s wages, together with employer National Insurance and pension contributions.
Even though the scheme does not end until 31 October 2020, firms must begin to contribute to the wages of furloughed workers’ wages. The first phase of contributions, introduced from 1 August 2020, has seen employers required to pay the employer’s National Insurance and pension contributions of furloughed workers’ wage costs in relation to the hours that the worker does not work.
Shielding was introduced for clinically extremely vulnerable people as a measure to both protect them from the risk of serious illness if they contracted coronavirus. In England, Scotland and Northern Ireland shielding has been paused from 1 August which means that those who received letters instructing them to stay at home for 12 weeks will be allowed to return to the workplace.
Notably, the Government has stated that they are simply ‘pausing’ shielding rather than bringing it to a permanent end. This means that the possibility of it being reinstated is likely, even on an individual basis, depending on how the next couple of months progress with the pandemic. Employers – in addition to making the workplace Covid-secure for all employees especially the most vulnerable – should therefore keep in mind that they need to draw up plans in preparation for a possible reinstatement of shielding rules at any time.
In Wales, shielding will be paused on 16 August.
From 1 August, employers in England have been granted more discretion to be able to ask staff to return to the workplace, ending any homeworking measures implemented as a result of lockdown. The Prime Minister stated that employers can decide where it is safe for staff to carry out their duties – either a continuation of homeworking or returning to a COVID secure workplace. Employees should be consulted on any return-to-work plans and should not be asked to return if it is not safe to do so.