Coronavirus: Employment law updates for August 2020

Employers should take note of several important changes which will come into effect in August, as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme continues to wind down and public health guidance changes.


Job Retention Scheme:

  • The grant support available to employers under the Scheme will reduce in August for the first time. While the Government will continue to pay up to 80% of wage costs up to a maximum of £2,500 each month per employee for the hours they are furloughed, it will no longer cover employer NICs and pension contributions and responsibility for these costs will return to the employer.


  • It is important to note that while the level of grant support is reducing, furloughed employees should continue to receive at least 80% of their normal wages. This will continue to be the case once the level of Government support drops to 70% up to a maximum of £2,187.50 each month per employee in September.


Redundancy and notice pay:


  • The issue of how statutory redundancy and notice pay should be calculated for furloughed employees was not adequately dealt with by the Job Retention Scheme rules, creating much uncertainty as to whether these entitlements should be paid at 80% or 100% of an employee’s normal pay.


  • On 31 July the Government enacted new regulations which clarify that employees are entitled to statutory redundancy and notice pay based on their normal pay rather than the reduced furlough rate. While these regulations apply in England & Wales and not Northern Ireland, equivalent provisions should follow in this jurisdiction.


Shielding guidance


  • Shielding requirements for persons classified as “extremely vulnerable” have been paused in Northern Ireland from 31 July. While such persons are still considered as being at high-risk if exposed to Coronavirus, the level of community transmission is considered low enough that shielding is not required. Employers must consider the best way to reintegrate those who have been shielding if they had been prevented from working, subject to an appropriate risk assessment in light of current public health guidance.


  • Employers should also be aware that the pause in shielding will impact eligibility for statutory sick pay. It would be reasonable to anticipate that many formerly shielding employees will require support and reassurance in returning to work, and employers should take a reasonable approach, in line with the implied duty of trust and confidence.


  • It is likely that some formerly shielding employees will be reluctant to return to work and it may be appropriate to agree a period of annual or unpaid leave instead or consider flexible working patterns which might alleviate some of an employee’s concerns.


  • Where a formerly shielding employee has a condition which constitutes a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, employers must meet their legal obligations against discriminatory treatment and consider making reasonable adjustments where necessary.


  • Although this change has been described as “indefinite”, shielding has been “paused” rather than “ended” and employers should make contingencies in case public health guidance changes and shielding is resumed.


Please contact Jack or your usual Tughans contact, who can refer you to the employment team.

While great care has been taken in the preparation of the content of this article, it does not purport to be a comprehensive statement of the relevant law and full professional advice should be taken before any action is taken in reliance on any item covered.