Flexible Furlough Scheme and H&S aspects of returning to work
  • Cipd
  • FSB
  • St Andrews Business Club
  • HR Inner Circle
Flexible Furlough Scheme and H&S aspects of returning to work
  • Cipd
  • FSB
  • St Andrews Business Club
  • HR Inner Circle
The HR Insights - Flexible Furlough Scheme and H&S aspects of returning to work
01 July 2020

Welcome to the first in a series of blog posts from my HR Insights podcast.

I’m going to be thinking about the flexible furlough scheme and the considerations for business recovery and reopening the workplace. Specifically, I will be answering the following questions. What do you need to know about the changes to the furlough scheme and in particular, the details around staff being brought back part time? What do you need to start thinking about and what records do you need to keep?

And secondly, what health and safety measures do you need to take in order to ensure the workplace is sufficiently safe? How are you going to consult with employees about a safe return to work? How are you going to make the workplace as safe as possible? Later in this post, you can read the transcript of my interview with Clark Boles, health and safety specialist who helps to answer these questions.

Firstly, then, I'm going to talk about the corona virus job retention scheme or furlough, as it has become more commonly called.  And specifically focus on the changes recently introduced and what businesses will need to do now in order to plan for the future.

Before this pandemic, the term furlough, was hardly used in the UK and now it's being banded about and will surely see an entry into the Oxford Dictionary for 2020. The furlough scheme was introduced by the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, in response to the Corona virus pandemic in a bid to save jobs. The government agreed to pay 80 percent of wages up to a maximum amount of two thousand five hundred pounds as part of the scheme.

And it has already been extended firstly to the end of June and then secondly, and more recently to the end of October, when we are firmly told it will end. The furlough scheme has covered eight point seven million workers to date and costs approximately 14 billion pounds per month. The change is being introduced. We'll see a sliding scale of government cutting back the amount they are subsidising toward staff costs and employers increasingly expected to pay a higher contribution until the end of October.

The scheme will close for new entrants from the 30th of June. The deadline for adding a member of staff to the furlough scheme was the 10th of June. The only exception to this is for staff returning from family related leave. They will still be eligible to the furlough scheme, even if they weren't placed on furlough before the 10th of June cutoff date.

By way of recap, the phasing is as follows:

In June and July, the government will continue to pay 80 percent of fully furloughed employees salaries, plus their national insurance and pension contributions.

Employers are not required to pay anything unless they voluntarily agree to supplement furlough pay or the employees return to work part time, in July.

In August, the government will continue to pay 80 percent of furloughed employees salaries up to a cap of two thousand five hundred pounds per month. Employers will now have to pay national insurance and pension contributions, regardless of whether employees are working part time or not. Employers will also pay for any part time hours worked.

In September, the government will continue to pay 70 percent of furloughed employees salaries up to a cap of two thousand one hundred eighty seven pounds fifty per month. Employers will also pay national insurance and pension contributions and 10 percent of wages to make up 80 percent of the total, up to a cap of two thousand five hundred pounds per month. Employers will also pay for any part time hours worked.

In October, the government will continue to pay 60 percent of furloughed employees salaries up to a cap of one thousand eight hundred and seventy five pounds per month.  Employers will also pay national insurance and pension contributions and 20 percent of wages to make up to the 80 percent of the total up to a cap of two thousand five hundred pounds per month. And employers will also pay for any part time hours worked.

Flexible furlough guidance was published by HMRC on Friday, the 12th of June. And it's complex. Here are the main headlines of the scheme. Under the new scheme, previously furloughed staff will be able to return to work either at home or in the workplace, working some of the week and be furloughed for the remainder.

There will need to be a written agreement between employer and employee for any part time hours worked, and employers will still be able to claim the furlough grant for the hours not worked. By way of example, if someone returns to work for three days and is on furlough for two days, then the employer can claim the grant for the two days when the employee is not working. The minimum claim period will be one week. It is currently three consecutive weeks.

The maximum number of claims per month is four. And there is a cap on the number of claims an employer can make, limited by the maximum number of claims made in any single instance between March and June. Employers need to start thinking ahead and planning for their workplaces to gradually reopen. Given that they can agree working arrangements with staff to return from the first of July.

Many staff are going to be concerned and anxious about being in the workplace or travelling there.

They're going to need a lot of reassurance that this needs to be at the heart of any decisions and plans that employers are making in readiness. In terms of record keeping there are a number of actions to take. Firstly, check your furlough letters now that the timescale has changed. Did your original letters link furlough to the original scheme? If so, you will need to write to staff to seek their agreement to continue being furloughed. Check the end date and check the percentage salary payments.

If these are incorrect, you will need to write to staff again. So make sure all your further letters are accurate, regardless of when the member of staff was placed on furlough. It's important that any agreement between employer and member of staff regarding their return to work is mutually agreed and followed up in writing. It's sensible to do this for both flexible furlough and part time return or even a full return to work from furlough. If you're asking someone to return to work fully from furlough, firstly, you will need to give them reasonable notice.

You need to think about their personal circumstances because some staff are going to need more notice than others due to perhaps child care or home schooling issues, particularly as they might need to make arrangements for childcare or other dependants care. This notice does not need to be in writing. Employers will need to ensure that they inform their payroll staff or provider that furlough has ended or that an employee has returned to work part time so that they can make the correct payments and claim the correct amount of grant.

Turning now to preparing for workers to return to the workplace the CIPD, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development have helpfully given businesses three essential tests to meet before bringing people back to the workplace. And I'm going to use that framework in this podcast. The tests are one, this is essential that people return to the place of work. Two, is it sufficiently safe? And three, is it mutually agreed? I will cover these in more detail in this series.

Today I'm going to consider the health and safety matters relating to a gradual return to work, as well as the government guidelines to provide a Covid 19 safe workplace. Not only is this a health and safety issue, it is highly emotive too. We all know that employers have a responsibility to ensure the health, safety and well-being for their employees. This also extends to all staff, workers, apprentices, agency workers, contractors, visitors, the public and customers. Breach of health and safety is a criminal matter, and at worse can lead to unlimited fines.

Not to mention the reputational damage it brings to an organisation. Corona virus safety measures need to address the ways in which Corona virus can spread, which is either by being in close proximity to an infected individual, particularly through coughing and sneezing or contact with contaminated surfaces. Employers need to manage this risk in the workplace, and today I'm going to touch on some of the issues you need to think about. And in podcast number three in this series, I'm going to focus much more on the practicalities when reopening your workplace, as well as the behavioural considerations of encouraging staff to stick to the new rules.

Firstly, I recommend you using the government's Covid 19 safe workplace guidance to help you work towards making the workplace sufficiently safe. There are different guidance documents for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Secondly, I recommend you complete a Covid 19 risk assessment and document your findings outlining all the risks you've identified and how you will reduce or remove these risks. This isn't about creating huge amounts of paperwork, but rather is about identifying sensible measures to control the risks in your workplace.

If you have less than five workers, you don't have to write this down. The Health and safety executive has guidance for businesses on how to manage risk and risk assessment at work, along with specific advice to working safely during the Corona virus outbreak. This will be an important document for you to consult with your staff about and to involve them so that when they return to work, you can share your findings and reassure them that you are doing all that you can to ensure their health, safety and well-being on their return to work.

The risk assessment will also help you to identify any gradual return to work in order to safeguard staff. It might be, for example, that you are not able to provide any additional car parking spaces for staff and therefore, rather than putting pressure on public transport that you're restricted to those returning to work to those who can walk, cycle or drive to work, leaving those who use public transport to a later date. Perhaps you might decide to gradually phase people's return or introduce a phased start and finish times.

There are many factors to consider, all of which need to be discussed with your staff. By adopting a phased return to work of your staff. It gives you an opportunity to test the health and safety measures that you're putting in place to ensure that they will work with larger numbers before encouraging more people to return to the workplace. Use the risk assessment to discuss with your staff their return to work and if they are concerned about their return, explore alternative options with them, including then remaining on furlough.

They need to feel reassured and comforted that their physical and mental health is at the forefront of your planning. Remember, is their role essential? Is it safe for them to return to work? And is their return mutually agreed? At the most basic level, all workplaces need to observe the government's social distancing guidance. And at the time of this recording, these are different across the UK. Staff who can work from home are expected to carry on doing so in phases one to three of the roadmaps.

If you recognise trade unions and or if you have a health and safety group, use them to help review the measures you're proposing to adopt. Keep them under review. By involving staff, they will feel encouraged that you are wanting to hear their feedback. And they will identify things that you probably won't have thought of. All key measures will continue to apply to minimise the spread of infection, including regular and effective handwashing. The provision of hand sanitiser, if your premises has been closed for a while, you should consider carrying out a deep clean before reopening.

And depending on your work environment, you may need to consider providing additional personal protective equipment PPE, including gloves, masks and hand gel. This may also involve training and briefing staff on correct use. And I will cover all of this in the next two episodes.

 

Interview with Clark Boles of CBO Associates, Health & Safety Expert

Caroline

Today, I'm joined by Clark Boles, managing director of CBO Associates, specialists in health and safety. Welcome, Clark.

Clark

Hi Caroline, glad to be asked.

Caroline

It's great to have you. Thank you.

Caroline

And Clark, before we get into the questions, I know that there's something that you would personally like to share with our listeners.

Clark

Yes. There is.  I mean, I've actually found during the Covid 19 is that it's not just businesses that need to adapt, I've had to adapt as well. Now I had a very serious speech impediment when I was young, and it's always there when I get stressed, or if there's something I'm unsure about. So, I've had to change, I've had to adapt as well by working at zoom, using new forms or ways of communicating, and that's why I agreed to do this podcast, it'll probably be my first and only ever podcast!

Clark

But it’s actually to tell people, they shouldn't be afraid to step out of their comfort zone. And I know that during this podcast, I'll not be as fluid as what I would normally be if I'm face to face with people where it's easier to actually be where they are.  I think that, it's been a big learning curve for me, and I'm not afraid to put myself out there, because I know that people don't judge me by my speech impediment, people judge me by what I can do for them in regards to Health and Safety or any other offer of support services the we offer.

Clark

So, thank you for giving me the opportunity here Caroline.

Caroline

Thank you so much for sharing that Clark. I think that's really valuable for a lot of people, thank you.

Caroline

Clark. It would be really helpful if you could give the listeners some particular things to think about as part of a Covid 19 risk assessment, which is something that I've just been telling them all about.

Clark

Not a problem at all. As we emerge from the lockdown, Covid 19 is here to stay. And we need to manage it like any other risk within our business. The most important thing is. to continue to follow the government's social distancing guidance in relation to your business. Now I'm actually just about to give you a few aspects, and areas where you would like to consider when you are looking to put a Covid 19 risk assessment together.

Now it's important to put a plan in place to monitor and support employees' physical and emotional well-being. Now that's if they are at work or at home. It's also important as well before you commence any workplace alterations it's necessary to have all your PPE and your cleaning products and that's including soap and water and hand sanitiser in place. That must be available to every operator.  It's also important to ensure that all people attending your premises are made aware of any additional new rules such as changes to the induction process, any extra hand washing cleaning stations that are in place.  There may also be changes to your fire evacuation procedures and your First Aid measures as well.  You may also look to change the direction of travel within your workplace.  Do not share any pens, any food, any crockery.  You may want to revise your shift changes, your break times to reduce congestion and contact at all times.

It's also important that arrangements must be in place to arrange for transportation of anyone from site who falls unwell. Any non-essential visitors will not be allowed on site. You may want to consider any hand cleaning measures around welfare facilities as well.  You may want to hold meetings outside or in a well ventilated room or, as I have been doing, I've been making use of zoom a lot these days. You want to identify employees who are at risk because of family members that need to be shielded. More importantly, as well, when you're actually conducting the risk assessment it must be done in consultation with your employees. You want to share the results of your risk assessment with your employees.  Now if you've got over 50 employees, the government is encouraging you to display your risk assessment on your Web site as well.

Now, if you are considering hand sanitiser, I suggest that it can either fall into EN1500 or EN1276 standard.  You get alcohol free hand sanitiser, which is non flammable and non toxic. But if you are going to get hand sanitiser with alcohol, make sure that it's got at least 60 percent content.  It's also important to make sure you've got a safety data sheet and a COSHH report. I'll just leave you with one last thought.

PPE.  The HSC issued a safety alert around face masks of KN95. If they've not got a CE marking do not use them as they are not classed as an effective control measure in the workplace.

Caroline

That's really helpful Clark, because that's obviously up to date information for people, and particularly in terms of the PPE and knowing about the markings and the standards that have recently been issued. Thank you for that. What about travelling to work? Are there any particular things that staff should be informed about or be aware of?

Clark

I think that's actually a very important issue to address.  Number 1 option is that we should consider the options first, you don't want non-essential travel.  It's important if people stay at home when they can still do their job while adding value. Also, as well, if you're travelling on public transport, wear a face covering and carry your own bottle of hand sanitiser as well, it's very important.  Employees are encouraged to use their own private transport to get to work where possible. But then I've actually seen myself as well instead of using the car, I've been cycling to a few of my customers, and I've actually quite enjoyed that as well.  Where you are actually sharing a car or a van with other operators it's very important that you clean the inside of that vehicle on a regular basis.   would even go a step further.  I would say if you're actually sharing a vehicle, it's important to wear a mask, because if you sneeze, if you actually have a a mask on, that will actually contain it. There's only so much cleaning that you can do, so if you've actually got a mask on that's going to prevent germs being everywhere in that enclosed space.

The essential fact is all staff must wash and sanitise their hands prior to entering the site or a place of work but it's very important that we still adhere to that.  Apart from that, I think just an element of common sense.

Caroline

And continuing to do what we do naturally when we're just popping out to the shops or whatever that might be whatever journey we're doing.

Clark

Yeah.

Clark

Absolutely. I mean, if I'm actually going down to the supermarket, I always make sure that I have hand sanitiser and use it before I leave the car and as soon as I enter the supermarket and as soon as I come back into the car. It's just trying to put into place the practice.  I don't see these things going away overnight. I see these things be this as part of the new norm going forward so we just all need to get used to it.

Caroline

I agree.  Are there any environmental issues that we also need to think about?

Clark

Well, for the last 15 years, I've been operating from home in some form or capacity and even I've been finding it a struggle at times because of lockdown. And there's a lot of distractions for people at home who are not used to working remotely. And that could be children.  That could be animals, music, TV. We need to try and find a quiet space at home to work and it's hard to find if people don't have the space.

So distractions at home can be a very important factor. Also, as well is the single use PPE.  It could be the paper masks that people are wearing. They should be handled separately from other waste which will limit the contamination risks. They shouldn't be put in with your normal recycling. We also find in the work place as well is that we have people wearing company clothing that needs to be laundered a lot more often, in accordance with the guidelines. And I would suggest that you wash any clothing at sixty degrees to try and kill off any germs.

I've actually seen more people putting in more paper towels as an alternative to hand driers in handwashing facilities.  It's already been well documented, where hand dryers are used, the droplets of Covid 19 are spread.  So, if you can stop using hand dryers and use paper towels.  Even when you're using paper towels, they need to be disposed of in a bag and those bins or bags need to be emptied at regular intervals. It's also very important as well to display appropriate public health posters and notices around the workplace as well.  I would also encourage people to have a clean desk policy at the end of the day.

Paper.  If you can do your job whilst minimizing the use of paper.  Use your IT a lot more, send emails, use video conferencing facilities, try and reduce the amount of paper that you use.  And I think if you just become more aware of what you are doing in the workplace from the environment.  It doesn't matter if it's in your house or in your office. Just be more aware of the guidance.

Caroline

Thank you. Thank you so much, Clark, for some really helpful tips there. And we obviously need to keep up to date. How can people contact you if they would like a bit more information?

Clark

Yes. If you actually contact me on my telephone number, which is 07543 497938 or you can email me on [email protected] and I'd be more than happy to discuss the type of support you need.  You can also go to www.cboassociates.co.uk and you can find out a little bit more about services that we offer

Caroline

That's really helpful. Excellent. Thank you.

TAGGED IN: HR, Flexible Working, Health & Safety, Policy, Coronavirus, COVID-19, Pandemic, HR Support, furlough
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