Monday 19th July marked “Freedom Day” in England – with the government bringing an end to most COVID restrictions, including the formal ‘work from home’ mandate and the face covering mandate.
Now businesses and individuals aren’t being advised to “work from home where possible”, this is likely to mean millions of workers across the country will return from furlough, prompting a mass return to the workplace.
With this in mind, we are urging the government to provide clarity and guidance to businesses regarding furlough rules for employees that are self-isolating.
At the time of writing, COVID cases are currently averaging nearly 40,000 per day, and around 350,000+ notifications* being sent out via Test and Trace. This is no doubt already causing large-scale workplace disruption. And with cases currently doubling every 9 days, there is widespread acceptance amongst scientists that cases will hit highs not previously seen during the course of the pandemic – with some predicting as many as 200,000 per day.
Without urgent clarity issued to employers around how they should handle employees who need to self-isolate shortly after returning to the office – many are likely to fall foul of misusing Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) funds provided by HMRC.
When potentially millions of employees returning to the workplace are inevitably “pinged” by the NHS COVID-19 app and therefore required to self-isolate, the most obvious path for the employer at this stage will be to return them to furlough. The challenge is that the government is offering conflicting and confusing guidance on whether this is allowed within the scope of the CJRS. This could put employers returning self-isolating workers back into furlough at risk of misusing CJRS funds, and potentially facing a HMRC investigation which would cripple many businesses.
Affected individuals told to isolate will need to do so for up to 10 days. They are eligible for statutory sick pay, however this is nearly 75% less than the National Minimum Wage for Workers 23 and over**. This discrepancy will hit hard-working, low income families the hardest.
Unless there is immediate and urgent intervention of the government, millions of workers could be isolating between now and the 16th August, having a significant impact on them and the businesses they work for. Ultimately, an ideal solution would be for workplaces to undertake daily testing, under the supervision of test and trace, which would reduce the risk to employers currently in a state of confusion about how to balance the health of their employees with the ongoing survival and success of their business.
If you are returning your employees to the workplace over the next few weeks and would like some help or guidance on making it a safe (and compliant) process for your employees and your business – please get in touch.
*Based on NHS Test and Trace information to week ending 30 June 2021.
** Based on average 40 hour week at National Minimum Wage (£8.91 for those aged 23 years and over). £356.40. Statutory Sick Pay is £96.35 per week.