We have spent the best part of a year learning new vocabulary that most of us don’t want to use ever again; 'furlough', 'self-isolation', 'CJRS' to name a few. The heady days of the Government announcements, usually on Fridays, and new schemes and contradictory treasury directions following a few days later are thankfully passed.

That said, employers are facing new challenges and situations each day as the pandemic reaches yet more unchartered waters. Here are some of the salient markers to help navigate those waters:

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) – status and stats

  • On 17 December 2020, the Government announced that the CJRS ('furlough') had been extended to the end of April and that the Government would continue to contribute 80% towards the payment of eligible employees (up to a maximum of £2,500 per month). The Government had previously only promised the 80% contribution until the end of January 2021. 
  • Employers are required to continue to pay furloughed employees’ national insurance and pension contributions. 
  • On 10 December 2020, the Government announced that from February 2021, HMRC will publish information about employers who claim for periods starting on or after 1 December 2020. There are certain circumstances, as published on 13 January 2021, where employers can request such information is not published. These are limited and an employer must demonstrate that there is a serious risk of violence or intimidation if the information was published.
  • Furlough remains available for employees who are shielding or those who have caring responsibilities as a result of school or childcare facilities closing. There have been calls for a statutory right for carers to be furloughed but this has, at this time, not been granted.
  • Employers cannot claim for any days after 1 December 2020 during which the furloughed employee was serving either contractual or statutory notice (this includes retirement and resignation notice periods).

Vaccinations and testing – requirement v refusal
The news of the vaccinations for the Coronavirus was welcome to many but not all. The issue that many employers are now facing, especially in the health and social care sector, is dealing with employees who, for whatever reason, are refusing to either be tested for Covid-19 or be vaccinated. 

Neither the Covid-19 vaccine nor testing is mandatory in any sector at the time of writing. With that in mind, an employer cannot force an employee to do either. That said, an employer is under certain key obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its employees so far as is reasonably practicable; this includes ensuring that these employees are not exposed to Covid-19 by virtue of their work. 

We would advise that an employee’s refusal to take a test, where an employer can demonstrate it is necessary to protect them and their family, is potentially fair grounds for dismissal. Please see my blog post on this issue. 

The same can be said for the Covid-19 vaccine although there are some more nuances to the vaccines that need to be appreciated. In recent weeks there has been a growing 'anti-vac' movement taking hold together with reports that large parts of some BAME communities are resisting the vaccine either for religious or historical reasons. With the first group, we have yet to hear calls that it be recognised as a belief and so those holding that belief be protected under the Equality Act 2010. With the second group, there is a clear discrimination aspect to be aware of when discussing why employees are resisting the vaccine. Our advice would be to always have conversations with employees who are resisting and assess the strength and source of their resistance prior to taking any further action. 

For more information

For further information in relation to any of the above, please contact your relevant ACS contact or Anna Dabek.