The Government has updated the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme guidance to extend eligibility for furloughing of staff. This means employers can now claim for furloughed employees that were employed and on their PAYE payroll on or before 19 March 2020, rather than the previous cut-off date of 28th February 2020.
To tackle the spread of coronavirus the Prime Minister has announced new rules to Stay at Home and only go outside for food, health reasons or work (but only if you cannot work from home); if you go out, stay 2 metres away from other people at all times; wash your hands as soon as you get home; Do not meet others, even friends or family.
Due to this, many employers, employees and business owners are facing an anxious time. While the primary concern is health, many people are concerned about their jobs or business, and are deeply concerned about how to support their families.
This explainer goes through what is on offer for people who are employed, self-employed, and others, including who is eligible for sponsored furlough ('paid leave') and what other help is available from the government.
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
- This scheme allows employers to put their people on leave (or in 'furlough'), while the government pays 80% of their salary, up to £2,500 a month.
- All UK-wide employers with a PAYE scheme that was created and started on or before 19 March 2020 will be eligible including: Businesses, Charities, Recruitment Agencies (agency workers paid through PAYE) Public Authorities
- It's up to your employer to decide who to put on this scheme and why. It could be because you've no work to do, but it can also be because you have to be at home to look after your children or because you're self-isolating or shielding.
- 80% of your salary will be based on your usual pre-tax monthly salary, as it was on 19 March (if you earn fees, commission or bonuses on top of your usual salary, this won’t be included). If your pay varies from month to month – for example, because you’re employed on a ‘zero hour’ contract – the 80% will be calculated based the higher of: (1) your earnings in the same month of the previous year; or (2) your average monthly earnings from the 2019-20 tax year. If you’ve worked for your employer for less than a year, it’ll be calculated based on your average monthly earnings while you’ve worked there.
- Money will be paid 'before the end of April'. It will be issued through grants which can be paid out to any employer. Wages paid will be paid backdated to 1 March if appropriate.
- The government is looking for ways to support people and want to help as many employed people as possible. They are not looking to catch people out so talk to your employer about making use of the scheme if you think it might help.
- It is a way of putting jobs on standby until the markets pick up again, so that employers don't get rid of all their staff just to hire them again when the Covid-19 shutdown is over. Employees (at closed pubs or hotels, for example) go into sleeper mode during the crisis, so that they are instantly ready to restart things and get the economy running again when the crisis is over. It is important to note that you cannot work for your employer at all for the duration of the scheme.
- Your employer can choose to ‘top up’ the Government grant if they are able to. Many won't have the funds to be able to do this.
- You’ll still need to pay tax and national insurance contributions on this wage. And while you’re on leave, you’ll still have the same rights as you did when you were employed – including any entitlement to statutory sick pay or maternity pay, as well as redundancy payments.
Lost your job already? Or lost out because in middle of a job change?
Before Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was announced, some people were:
- laid off by companies
- about to start a new job but were informed that their new job was delayed or no longer existed.
The government have confirmed that in either of these scenarios, you could be eligible for furlough, but only if:
- your old employer agrees to take you back on to its payroll; AND
- you were on their payroll on 19 March.
Unfortunately, there are no guarantees that you'll be offered furlough retrospectively, but definitely speak to your old employer to see if they can help you.
If you're an employer, please do all that you can to help your current and former employees to enter this scheme - it is what the government want.
Statutory sick pay from day one
The NHS is asking anyone with a high temperature or cough – or living with someone with a high temperature or cough – to self-isolate. This involves staying indoors and avoiding contact with other people for up to 14 days.
- If you need to take time off work due to becoming unwell from coronavirus, you'll be entitled to your usual sick leave and sick pay.
- If you're self-isolating on Government advice you should be entitled to statutory sick pay.
- Statutory sick pay currently stands at £94.25 a week and you must be employed and earn an average of at least £118 a week to be entitled to it (see full eligibility criteria).
There are, however, a few new rules to take note of:
- The Government has confirmed that statutory sick pay is now payable from day one, not day four.
- This new rule applies retrospectively from Friday 13 March.
- The new rule only relates to those self-isolating due to coronavirus. If you are off sick for any other reason, standard rules apply and statutory sick pay will kick in from day four, not day one.
- You must be self-isolating for an official reason. These are if you have coronavirus or if you or someone in your household has coronavirus symptoms, or if you've been told to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111.
Employers will receive the grant from HMRC, and all UK organisations can self-certify that it has furloughed employees. Employers should also be flexible about requiring evidence for sick leave from employees, for example if you're unable to provide a doctor's note due to being in self-isolation.
If you're not unwell or in quarantine but your employer asks you not to come to work – for example, because you've recently been abroad to an affected area – you should receive your full pay.
For full help on your employment rights during the coronavirus outbreak, see the ACAS website.
Need time off work to look after your child?
Schools, nurseries and other childcare providers across the UK are now closed for everyone except the children of 'key workers' (for example, NHS staff, police and delivery drivers) as well as the most vulnerable children.
If your child's school is closed due to coronavirus, you should be able to take time off to look after them:
- By law, employees have the right to take time off work to help someone who depends on them in an unexpected event. However, you DON'T have a legal right to be paid for this time, though some employers may offer paid time off in this situation depending on your contract or your workplace's policy.
- There's no official limit on how much time you're allowed to take off. It just must be 'reasonable' for the situation. The Government hasn't been able to confirm exactly how much time would be seen as reasonable to take off for school closures – for example, if schools stay shut for several weeks or months – but has told us it's keeping the situation under "active review".
- Look at other options including taking annual leave or unpaid parental leave. If you do need to spend a longer period away from work, you may also be able to book the time off as holiday, or take unpaid parental leave. Parental leave is available for employed parents who have been with their company for more than a year, and is usually limited to four weeks' leave per year, per child – though it could be extended at your employer's discretion.
- See if flexible working can help. You also have the legal right to ask to work flexibly as long as you've worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks, and it must consider your request and deal with it "in a reasonable manner". This could include asking to change or reduce your hours so you can look after your children, or working from home (though many employers have already implemented working from home for all employees as a result of the coronavirus outbreak).
For all these options, speak to your employer to see what it can offer you – many companies will be updating their policies for employees who are parents in light of the school closures.
If you have a question about coronavirus related to schools or other educational establishments, you can call the Department for Education's coronavirus hotline on 0800 046 8687, which is open 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.