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  Coronavirus (COVID-19) FAQS

 

 Issues at work/on returning to work

- Health and safety measures
- Employees unable or unwilling to attend work
- Managing employees during the pandemic
- Data protection during the panademic

 Furlough under the Coronavirus job retention scheme (Original form)
 Furlough under the revised Coronavirus job retention scheme
 Lay-off and short-time working
 Financial support for your business

Disclaimer: These FAQs are intended to provide information and guidance on the HR and employment law implications of the Covid-19 situation. They do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. 


Managing employees during the pandemic

Last updated: 07/10/2020

1. Are there particular issues an employer should consider in relation to employees who are temporarily working from home due to Covid-19? (Last updated 25/09/2020)

It is important for employers to consider the health and safety implications of home-working; employers have the same health and safety responsibilities for home-workers as for any other employees. The Health and Safety Executive guidance notes that when someone is working from home, whether permanently or temporarily, their employer should consider: 

  • How to keep in touch with them 
  • What work they will be doing and for how long 
  • Whether that work can be done safely 
  • Whether any control measures need to be put in place to protect them 

From an employee wellbeing perspective, it is important to have regular communications with those who are working from home, to make sure they are healthy and safe and that they do not feel disconnected or isolated. 

There are also potential data protection risks to consider, as the home working environment may present challenges regarding data security. To help address these issues, employees should be reminded of the importance of: ensuring proper password protection on any home-based devices; ensuring secure access to the internet from home; allowing security software and firewall updates to install regularly (e.g. overnight); not opening suspicious emails; and ensuring documents are stored and disposed of safely. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has produced guidance on the data security issues that employers and employees should consider in relation to home working, with tips on areas such as cloud storage, remote applications and email. 

As employers will remain the data controller of any personal data their employees process in the course of their employment, employees should also be reminded how to deal with any personal data breach they might experience while working from home. The 72-hour timeframe for notifying the ICO of personal data breaches remains in force during the Covid-19 crisis, and the ICO’s publication on its regulatory approach, updated on 24 September, no longer includes the acknowledgment (that appeared in the previous version) that the pandemic “may impact” on organisations’ ability to meet this deadline. It is therefore important to have a solid incident response plan in place so that everyone knows what a data breach looks like and who they should report it to. (For further information on data protection considerations, see the FAQs on ‘Data protection during the pandemic’.)

2. Does an employee need to self-isolate if they return from overseas? (Last updated 07/10/2020)

On 8 June, a 14 day self-isolation period was introduced for passengers arriving in the UK from overseas (the quarantine period). This means that – subject to limited exceptions (see below) – all passengers returning to the UK from overseas, including British nationals and those who live in the UK, need to complete a ‘passenger locator’ form online before they travel to the UK and self-isolate for 14 days on arrival. 

The passenger locator form requires the individual to provide contact and travel information, including the address where they will be staying (and self-isolating if no exception applies – see below), so that they can be contacted if they, or someone they may have been in contact with, develops the virus, and to enable their compliance with the self-isolation requirement to be monitored. The individual will also need to provide details of countries or territories they have been in or through during the previous 14 days.

According to the Government guidance, self-isolation during quarantine means that individuals should not go to work, school, or public areas, or use public transport or taxis. They should not exercise outdoors, except in their own garden, and they should not have visitors, including friends and family, unless those visitors are providing essential support.

The Regulations that establish the quarantine rules make clear that failure to complete the contact form will be punishable with a £100 fixed penalty notice for a first offence, rising to up to £3,200 for multiple repeat offences. The police will have the power to enforce the quarantine requirements and in England may issue a fixed penalty notice of £1000, or potential prosecution. Enforcement in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be the responsibility of the devolved administrations.

Following its initial review of the quarantine rules after three weeks of operation, the Government introduced a list of ‘travel corridor’ countries, whose risk level for transmission of the virus is considered to be lower. Travellers returning from any of these countries are exempt from the self-isolation requirement unless they have travelled in or through any non-exempt country in the past 14 days. However, they are still required to complete the contact form when returning. The devolved administrations have separate powers over the lockdown measures in their respective nations and they are proceeding with the relaxation of quarantine requirements at their own pace, so the lists of exempt ‘travel corridor’ countries may differ in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

(Note that the Government guidance on the operation of travel corridors indicates that if an individual has been in a non-exempt country within the past 14 days but returns to England from an exempt country, this can reduce the amount of time the individual is required to self-isolate. The guidance gives the following example: “You are in a country that is not on the list [of exempt countries]. You travel to a country that is on the list and you stay there for 4 days from the day after you arrive. You then travel to England. When you get back to England, you will need to self-isolate for 10 days, not the usual 14 days. That is because you have spent 4 of the 14 days in a country that is on the list.”)

The Government guidance also includes a number of exceptions to the self-isolation requirements even where the individual is travelling from a non-exempt country. You should read these carefully to consider if any might apply to any of your employees. Some key exceptions include: 

  • road haulage and freight workers
  • in some circumstances, workers engaged in emergency works relating to certain essential services (such as water supplies, sewerage services, electricity generation, rail maintenance, off-shore installations, data security, etc.);
  • certain workers with specialist technical skills where those skills are essential to ensure the continued production and supply of goods;
  • defence contractors;
  • some medical professionals; and
  • a person who resides in the UK and who pursues an activity as an employed or self-employed person in another country to which they usually go at least once a week.
Individuals who fall within these exceptions still have to provide their contact information, but are not required to self-isolate. They are required to provide evidence at the UK border to show that they are covered by an exception. What evidence is required depends on the particular exception relied upon, but may be, for example a letter from the individual’s employer which includes the employer’s contact details and confirmation that the individual’s travel to the UK is essential for their work here. The guidance that sets out the exceptions provides only very limited explanation as to how they are intended to apply, but the Government have indicated to us that they expect employers to interpret the exceptions for themselves to determine whether any of them apply to their workers; there is no pre-approval process. In this regard, it is also worth noting that the Government have indicated to us that while the exemptions are intended to cover workers whose travel into the UK is essential for the purposes of their work here, they are not designed to allow such workers to take holidays and then return to work when they get back to the UK. We are seeking further information from the Government on this issue as the official guidance on the exceptions does not make this clear. (Note that there may be differences in how the exceptions apply to travellers arriving in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as the devolved administrations have separate powers over the lockdown measures in their respective nations.)
 
Individuals travelling from Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man (the Common Travel Area) do not need to complete the contact form or self-isolate on returning to the UK, provided that they have not been outside the Common Travel Area in the past 14 days.

The quarantine rules are subject to review every three weeks, while the list of travel corridor countries is under constant review so that the self-isolation requirement can be re-imposed if the risk level in any given country increases.

Note that, under regulations that came into force on 28 September, individuals who are required to self-isolate on return from overseas travel and who would be due to work during the self-isolation period must inform their employer of the fact that they are required to self-isolate as soon as reasonably practicable and, in any event, before they are next due to work. It is an offence punishable by a fine for an employer who is aware of an individual’s requirement to self-isolate knowingly to allow the individual, for any purpose relating to their employment, to attend any place other than the place where they are self-isolating. Company directors can be personally liable if the offence is committed with their consent or connivance or is attributable to their negligence. Fines start at £1,000 but could increase up to £10,000 for repeat offences and for the most egregious breaches. Note that, when the Government announced these regulations, it indicated that preventing others from self-isolating would be seen as an egregious breach. In view of these regulations, an employer should not allow any employee whom it knows is required to self-isolate to attend work for any reason during the self-isolation period. Self-isolating employees who are well enough and are able to do so should be enabled to work from home wherever possible – see question 2(a), below, on how to manage employees who cannot work from home during quarantine.

2(a). How should we manage employees who have booked or wish to book a personal trip overseas bearing in mind the 14 day quarantine rules? (Last updated 07/10/2020)

If an employee can work from home, then they can continue to work from home during the quarantine period and should be paid their normal pay. This is reflected in the Government guidance on self-isolation during quarantine and employment rights, which recommends that employees speak to their employer about working from home before they travel.

If working from home is not possible, the employee will not be able to work. This raises the question of how employers manage employees who take a personal trip to a non-exempt country and are required to enter a 14 day quarantine period on their return. The stance you take may depend on whether an employee has booked their holiday before or after you communicate your approach to quarantine leave.

The Government guidance on self-isolation during quarantine and employment rights does not mention sick pay as a possibility. Indeed, the Government’s guidance on SSP makes clear that employees cannot get SSP if they are self-isolating after entering or returning to the UK and they do not need to self-isolate for any other reason. This is helpful confirmation for employers, as it gives a good justification for not paying company sick pay during employee quarantine either.

Since SSP is not payable, to facilitate the taking of quarantine leave, you could provide that employees must book additional holiday to cover this extra time off. Where your employees are otherwise working normally, it would not be appropriate to operate a policy of placing employees on furlough during their initial booked holiday. This is because the Government guidance on furlough warns that employees “should not be placed on furlough for a period simply because they are on holiday for that period.” We assume that this is intended to prevent employers from using the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (the Scheme) where they do not otherwise need it, simply to subsidise the cost of employees’ holiday pay now that there is no minimum furlough period.

However, the Treasury Direction establishing the Scheme refers to the purpose of the Scheme as being to continue the employment of employees whose employment activities have been adversely affected by Covid-19 or the measures taken to prevent or limit its transmission – and the definition of a ‘furloughed employee’ includes similar language. Given this, we think there may be a potential argument that employers could place employees on furlough to cover a period of quarantine following their return from overseas travel, provided the employees are eligible (i.e. have previously been furloughed for at least a 3 week period commencing on or before 10 June) and the employer does not exceed the maximum number of employees it can claim for in a claim period. Note, however, that furlough will not be available after 31 October when the Scheme comes to an end. In addition, the fact that furlough is not mentioned as a possibility in the Government guidance on self-isolation during quarantine and employment rights, which was first published on 13 August to coincide with the removal of France from the list of travel corridor countries, suggests that the Government does not view furlough as an appropriate option to cover post-travel quarantine. Accordingly, we would not generally recommend that employers seek to rely on furlough in these circumstances. 

(Note that, if furlough is a possibility, there are also potential employee relations issues to consider. For example, how will you treat employees who are not eligible to be furloughed and manage any sense of unfairness if they are treated less favourably than those who can be furloughed? And what approach will you take to an employee who needs to quarantine when you cannot furlough any more employees during a particular claim period as you have already hit the maximum number? See our FAQs on Furlough under the Revised Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for further discussion of the eligibility requirements, how to place employees on furlough and the interaction between furlough and holiday.) 

If employees do not have enough holiday to take to cover the quarantine period and furlough is not an option, you could allow them to take unpaid quarantine leave instead. 

For personal overseas travel that is arranged after you have communicated your approach to the quarantine period, you could also provide that if an employee has not agreed with you before they travel overseas that they can be absent for the quarantine period, you can treat the absence as unauthorised and take disciplinary action.

Note, though, that we do not recommend that you instruct employees not to make personal trips overseas. Instead, it is important that you communicate clearly to employees what your policy on quarantine periods is, and that it may change depending on any future Government guidance on how employers should treat them. In addition, we would suggest that you explain to employees the Government rules on contact forms and quarantine periods for returning travellers. You may want to reiterate processes for booking holiday, restating your right to refuse holiday requests and the requirement for employees to get their holiday request approved before booking any travel. Knowing what absence is permitted, the status of that absence and whether or how much they will be paid may influence employees’ behaviour when they consider where they wish to travel for their holidays, e.g. it could dissuade someone from booking a long weekend trip abroad to a non-exempt country. We also suggest that you make clear to employees that any breach of the quarantine rules will be treated as gross misconduct. Make UK members can access our Checklist: Deciding your policy for managing employee absence due to quarantine after overseas travel as part of our Furlough Letters and Resources Pack, in the HR & Legal Resources section of our website. Non-members can purchase access to the Furlough Letters and Resources Pack here.

If an employee has complied with quarantine requirements, then unless they have developed Covid-19 symptoms or are otherwise required to self-isolate under another aspect of the Government guidance, from a health and safety perspective it should be safe for you to allow them to re-enter the workplace at the end of the quarantine period despite their travel to a non-exempt country.

Note that, as the list of travel corridor countries is being kept under constant review, it is possible that an employee may book a holiday to a country that is exempt from the 14 day self-isolation requirement at the time of booking, but for which the self-isolation requirement is subsequently re-imposed shortly before the employee departs for their holiday or while the employee is away. In these circumstances, employers will need to take a flexible approach to managing the employee’s quarantine on their return. 

Employers could, for example, decide that in these circumstances employees will usually be allowed to either take additional holiday, be furloughed if furlough is available (see above), or be granted unpaid leave to cover the quarantine period. However, if the self-isolation requirement is re-imposed sufficiently far in advance of an employee’s departure and their extended absence due to quarantine would cause operational difficulties, the employer might wish to discuss with the employee the possibility of cancelling the holiday. Employers should be careful how they handle any such requests for employees to cancel booked holidays – see further question 2(b), below. It is important for employers to communicate clearly the approach that they will take in such situations so that employees understand the possible implications if the list of travel corridor countries is amended at short notice. 

Finally, it is worth noting that the Government guidance on self-isolation during quarantine and employment rights identifies dismissal as a “last resort” for dealing with employees who have to quarantine on return from overseas travel. The guidance flags the need for employers to have a fair reason for dismissal and follow a fair process in order to avoid the risk of an unfair dismissal claim. Notwithstanding the fact that the Government guidance refers to dismissal as a possibility, we would strongly caution employers against dismissing employees simply because they have to quarantine on return from overseas travel as this is likely to be unfair in most cases. If you are considering taking disciplinary action or dismissing an employee in relation to post-travel quarantine, we suggest that you take advice on your particular circumstances. 

2(b). Can we prevent employees from taking holiday, e.g. because we need all hands on deck during the recovery period, or because we don’t want them travelling for safety reasons? (Last updated 03/07/2020)

If an employer wishes to prevent employees from taking holiday on particular dates, for example because it needs all employees at work during the recovery period, it can do so by giving notice in accordance with the Working Time Regulations (WTR), which require the employer to give as many days’ notice as the period of holiday to which the notice relates.

Generally, an employer should exercise caution if it wishes to cancel a period of annual leave which it had previously agreed an employee could take. Cancelling holiday at short notice will be unpopular and may damage employee relations. In addition, if an employee had made plans, e.g. to travel, they may seek compensation from the employer in respect of any cancellation charges that they incur. It is also worth noting that if you act unreasonably in cancelling an employee’s holiday plans, there is a risk that this could amount to a breach of the implied duty of mutual trust and confidence. This may be a particular issue where an employee had agreed annual leave for an overseas holiday before the UK’s quarantine rules for travellers returning from overseas were introduced, or where an employee had booked a holiday to a country that was exempt from the 14 day self-isolation requirement at the time of booking but has since had that exemption removed, and their employer wishes to cancel that agreed annual leave because it cannot accommodate the employee being absent from work for an additional two weeks of quarantine – see questions 2 and 2(a), above.

If you don’t want employees to travel for safety reasons, you should bear in mind that, as noted at question 2(a), above, if an employee has complied with quarantine requirements, then unless they have developed Covid-19 symptoms or are otherwise required to self-isolate under another aspect of the Government guidance, from a health and safety perspective it should be safe for you to allow them to re-enter the workplace at the end of the quarantine period despite their overseas travel. Accordingly, it may not be reasonable for you to seek to restrict employees’ travel plans for this reason.

Employers that prevent employees from taking holiday on particular dates should also be aware of their obligation to enable all employees to take their annual leave – usually, this must be during the relevant holiday year. 

However, on 27 March, the Government introduced regulations allowing workers to carry forward up to four weeks’ annual leave into the next two leave years, if they have been unable to take it due to Covid-19 (four weeks being the minimum annual leave under the EU Working Time Directive). 

The Government press release explaining the changes stated that they will give all employers the flexibility to allow workers to carry over leave at a time when granting annual leave could leave them short-staffed and enable workers to continue working in the national effort against Covid-19 without losing out on their holiday entitlement.

Employers that require employees not to take holiday during the recovery period should therefore consider whether this will mean employees have holiday to carry forward under these regulations. Government guidance on holiday entitlement and pay during coronavirus notes that employers should do everything reasonably practicable to ensure that employees can take as much of their leave as possible in the holiday year to which it relates. They should consider various factors when determining whether an employee must be permitted to carry holiday forward under the regulations, such as:

  • whether the business has faced a significant increase in demand due to coronavirus that would reasonably require the worker to continue to be at work and cannot be met through alternative practical measures;
  • the extent to which the business’ workforce is disrupted by the coronavirus and the practical options available to the business to provide temporary cover of essential activities;
  • the health of the worker and how soon they need to take a period of rest and relaxation;
  • the length of time remaining in the worker’s leave year, to enable the worker to take holiday at a later date within the leave year;
  • the extent to which the worker taking leave would impact on wider society’s response to, and recovery from, the coronavirus situation; and
  • the ability of the remainder of the available workforce to provide cover for the worker going on leave.

Where holiday is carried forward, the guidance emphasises that it is best practice to give employees the opportunity to take it at the earliest practicable opportunity. Members can access further guidance on how to handle holiday that has been carried forward in the HR & Legal Resources section of our website.

2(c). If we need to implement a longer than usual summer shutdown because of reduced demand or supply chain disruption due to the pandemic, can we require employees to take additional holiday to cover this? (Last updated 16/07/2020)

It is standard practice for employees to be required to take holiday during a planned annual shutdown. An employer that is implementing a longer shutdown than usual will need to consider whether it will also require employees to take holiday during the extension to the shutdown. 

If it does so, the employer will of course have to ensure that it pays employees in full for the extended shutdown period in order to comply with the law on holiday pay. 

However, requiring employees to use their holiday entitlement during an extended shutdown is likely to give rise to practical and employee relations issues. For example, some employees may not have enough holiday left to cover the extension to the planned annual shutdown and those who do may have been saving their holiday to use later in the year, e.g. during the October half-term or over the Christmas period. 

Important note - see further questions 26(b) and 26(c) of our FAQs on Furlough under the Revised Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for full discussion of the circumstances in which furlough can be used to cover original planned shutdowns and extended shutdowns.

3. What if employees want to cancel their booked annual leave? (Last updated 07/10/2020)

The FCO’s advice is still to avoid all but essential travel to most countries. However, the FCO has relaxed its advice on travel to countries that are on the Government’s list of ‘travel corridor’ countries to which the 14 day self-isolation quarantine requirement does not apply (see questions 2 and 2(a), above). Some countries have relaxed their lockdown rules and are welcoming foreign tourists, while airlines are now flying to certain destinations, so some employees’ holidays will be able to go ahead. However, some employees may still have their upcoming holidays cancelled, or want to cancel them because of the UK’s 14 day quarantine rules on return from overseas travel.  

This may result in employees asking to cancel pre-booked periods of annual leave. Employers should be flexible in this regard, but should monitor the situation carefully. There are no statutory rules governing whether an employee can cancel the annual leave that they have booked off work and most holiday policies do not cover this. Therefore, so long as employers take a reasonable and consistent approach, they do not necessarily have to agree to an employee cancelling annual leave that they have booked if it would be helpful to the employer operationally for the employee to take the leave as planned, even if their trip has been cancelled or they no longer wish to travel.

If lots of employees cancel their annual leave because of Covid-19, employers may face high levels of demand for annual leave towards the end of the holiday year, which they may not be able to accommodate. 

In those circumstances, employers may find that they need to refuse some holiday requests in order to meet staffing needs. If they do so, employers will then need to be mindful of their obligation to enable all employees to take their annual leave – usually, this must be during the relevant holiday year, but (as discussed at question 2(b), above), regulations introduced on 27 March allow workers to carry forward up to four weeks’ annual leave into the next two leave years, if they have been unable to take it due to Covid-19.

Some employers are encouraging employees to take a pro-rata amount of annual leave rather than storing it up. Even though holiday travel to certain countries may not be possible, there is still a benefit to employees in having a period of relaxation away from work, especially as certain lockdown restrictions have eased and employees will be able to enjoy leisure activities. In this regard, it is worth noting that the Government guidance on holiday entitlement and pay during coronavirus makes clear that employers can still require employees to take holiday on specified dates, notwithstanding the Covid-19 pandemic, by giving notice in accordance with the WTR. The required notice is double the number of days’ holiday you want the employee to take. (Note, this guidance also applies where employees are on furlough, although certain additional issues need to be considered – see question 26(b) of the FAQs on ‘Furlough under the Revised Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme' for details.) 

Employers should also take note that the ACAS guidance on coronavirus and using holiday encourages employers and employees, as a matter of best practice, to be as flexible as they can about holiday during the coronavirus pandemic. In particular, the guidance recommends: talking about plans to use or cancel holiday as soon as possible; discussing the reasons why holiday might need to be taken or cancelled; listening to each other’s concerns and welcoming ideas for alternatives; considering everyone’s physical and mental wellbeing; and being aware that it’s a difficult time for both employers and staff. 

4. Can we continue with disciplinary and grievance processes during the Covid-19 crisis? (Last updated 22/09/2020)

Employers may be unsure whether they can progress a disciplinary or grievance process, e.g. by conducting investigations while home-working, and holding hearings remotely via Skype or Zoom, where key employees are working from home or are furloughed. Here, we consider the potential issues such action could raise. 

HR and line managers who are working from home should, we think, be able to conduct investigations into grievances or alleged misconduct remotely, provided they have access to relevant technology and materials. For example, if an investigating manager needed to review social media posts or emails they could presumably do this from home, whereas inspecting the site of an alleged act of misconduct could not be done remotely. Employers will need to consider whether a reasonably thorough investigation has been completed in each individual case and decide on that basis whether it would be appropriate to hold the disciplinary/grievance hearing, or suspend the process until further investigation is possible. 

Note that the ACAS guidance on disciplinary and grievance processes during coronavirus specifies that disciplinary and grievance procedures must always be fair and reasonable and, during the pandemic, must be carried out in a way that follows public health guidelines around social distancing and the closure or phased re-opening of certain workplaces. However, the guidance also emphasises that procedures should be taken forward without unreasonable delay. It flags the importance of considering the individual circumstances of each case, highlighting that matters such as gross misconduct allegations or grievances about unlawful harassment may need to be dealt with more urgently than minor disciplinary issues which it might be reasonable to postpone to a later date. The guidance suggests that employers discuss with everyone involved (including the employee, their companion, the manager chairing the hearing, any witnesses, etc.) whether to suspend or proceed with the process and recommends that any decision to suspend a process is kept under regular review. 

Where the employer decides that an investigation can be progressed or that a hearing can be held, there may be particular concerns around doing so remotely where an employee is accused of gross misconduct and the likely outcome of the disciplinary hearing would be dismissal. 

In our view, holding a hearing remotely should not of itself make a dismissal unfair, provided that all other procedural steps are taken correctly, e.g. there was a thorough investigation, the employee has been given full details of the allegations against them and had time to consider those allegations, etc. When seeking to schedule a remote hearing, however, the employer will need to be careful to check the availability of the employee's companion and ensure that all parties have access to the necessary technology. 

With regard to grievance proceedings, we doubt that holding a hearing remotely would, of itself, amount to a fundamental breach of the implied term of trust and confidence giving an aggrieved employee grounds to resign and claim constructive (unfair) dismissal. That said, assuming it has been possible to complete a proper grievance investigation and all that is left to do is hold the hearing, the most practical approach may be to discuss the situation with the aggrieved employee and ask whether they would prefer to have their grievance dealt with via a remote hearing, or face-to-face provided that appropriate safety measures can be put in place. 

The situation will be more complex if some/all of the employees that need to be involved in the process are on furlough leave (see the FAQs on ‘Furlough under the Revised Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme’). One of the conditions for furlough leave is that an employee cannot do any work for their employer during the furlough leave period if they are on full furlough, or during their furloughed hours if they are on flexible furlough, and work is defined to include generating revenue for or providing services to the employer or an associated organisation. Accordingly, we do not think it would be possible for an HR manager or line manager to run a grievance or disciplinary process while on full furlough – and if on flexible furlough they would only be able to run the process during their working hours. 

As for the aggrieved employee, or the employee who is the subject of disciplinary proceedings, we think that participating in a grievance or disciplinary hearing is unlikely to amount to ‘work’, and that such participation should therefore be possible while the employee is on full furlough/during their furloughed hours on flexible furlough. Note that in practice, if a fully furloughed employee is not willing to participate, they are likely to simply refuse to engage in the process at all. In these circumstances, the employee’s furlough will not be broken, but the employer will need to consider whether it is possible to conduct a fair process in the employee’s absence or whether the process needs to be suspended to give the employee a chance to change their mind about participating. 

With regard to the employee’s companion, the Government guidance on furlough confirms that employees who are union or non-union representatives may undertake duties and activities for the purpose of individual or collective representation of employees, so long as they do not thereby provide services to or generate revenue for or on behalf of the employer or a linked organisation. We think this should permit an employee’s companion (whether they are a colleague or a union representative) to perform their role in any disciplinary or grievance proceedings. 

5. We’re due to on-board some new employees next week. What should we do about carrying out right-to-work checks given that we won’t be able to meet the employees in person? (Last updated 07/10/2020)

The usual right-to-work check process requires an employer to physically inspect an employee’s original right-to-work documents before the employee starts work. So under the normal rules it would be necessary for you to take a copy of the employee’s original right-to-work documents (e.g. passport), and sign and date the copy for your records. 

However, during the Covid-19 outbreak the enhanced stay at home guidance made it exceedingly difficult for employers to carry out a normal valid right-to-work check. Helpfully, on 30 March 2020 the Home Office released temporary right-to-work check guidance, to take into account Covid-19. This temporary guidance allows right-to-work checks to be completed over video call without the employer having the original documents. 

Now that more workplaces are open, some employers will be able to conduct in-person right-to-work checks for new starters. However, the temporary Home Office guidance does remain in place so employers can continue to rely on it if they are taking on someone new who will begin as a remote worker.

If you are carrying out a right-to-work check for a new starter whom you cannot meet in person, it is important to read the Home Office's temporary guidance carefully to make sure that you follow the process precisely. The guidance also includes a requirement for employers to carry out a retrospective check of the original documents within eight weeks of the end of the temporary measures. The Home Office has stated that it will inform employers when the temporary measures come to an end. 

6. Will Covid-19 impact on a migrant employee’s application for indefinite leave to remain (ILR)?  (Last updated 03/07/2020)

It is likely that Covid-19 will cause some disruption to a migrant employee's ILR application. This could include a prolonged absence from the UK, if the migrant temporarily returns to their country of origin, or the inability to complete parts of the ILR application due to social distancing measures. For example, as part of the ILR application, the migrant must sit a 'Life in the UK Test'. All test centres were closed during lockdown and, consequently, many applications have been put on hold, although test centres are now beginning to reopen so applicants may now be able to book their test.  

In addition, a migrant applying for ILR must provide evidence that they have not been absent from the UK for more than 180 days in a 12 month period. If a migrant has gone to their country of origin due to the Covid-19 crisis, they and their employer should provide evidence of any disruption and absence within the ILR application. The Home Office will take into account 'compelling reasons' as to why there has been an extended absence. With sufficient evidence (e.g. travel tickets showing the dates of travel) the migrant should be able to prove that their extended absence was due to Covid-19 related disruption.

7. What legal obligations should employers keep in mind when making decisions relating to Covid-19?

In addition to express and implied obligations in employment contracts, employers should be mindful of the following duties:
 
  • To protect the health, safety and welfare at work of the workforce and others who might be affected such as customers, suppliers and visitors (under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 as amended and related legislation). There is also a common law obligation to take reasonable care of the health and safety of their workforce.
  • Not to discriminate against staff with protected characteristics, and to make reasonable adjustments for those with disabilities (under the Equality Act 2010) Health and Safety. 

Employers should also be aware of their obligations under data protection law. Some of the issues that might arise when processing personal data relating to Covid-19 are discussed in the FAQs on ‘Data protection during the pandemic’