Coronavirus implications for employers – an important furlough deadline (and why we’re not blogging)

From the very early days of COVID-19 arriving in the UK, employers have been dealing with a multitude of challenges with their people, including operational impact, social distancing, shielding, supporting the vulnerable and dealing with the individual concerns of employees.

On 19 March 2020 the Chancellor announced the furlough scheme (officially, the ‘Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme’). Starting from scratch to provide employers and employees with considerable financial support; it has been impressive to see a scheme grow from nothing to protect 8 million employees in a matter of just a few weeks. It’s had its challenges though for those trying to utilise it!

Like most employment lawyers we’ve been living, eating and breathing the issues around furlough over the last 10 weeks. We can hardly now remember that ‘furlough’ was a word not even used in the UK before then! Two legal Directions and numerous guidance notes have been produced by government as the scheme evolves to meet the varied needs of business. It’s not been straightforward (either for those trying to rely on the scheme or those trying to advise on it), and guidance and advice has had to adapt throughout.

As things have been moving so swiftly, we’ve been regularly updating clients and contacts with direct emails, so we’ve prioritised that rather than blog updates here. Many of our clients’ businesses have been significantly impacted by COVID-19, for example in the hospitality industry, so providing updates as soon as changes occur has been a priority. (If you’d like to be added to receive direct email updates in future, do just let us know)

However, as the furlough scheme moves towards its flexible phase and there is a new and important deadline, this update seems an appropriate time to blog again.

An important furlough deadline looms…

Deadline on 10 June: The furlough scheme will be closed to new entrants from 1 July. This means that any employer who is considering using the scheme for an employee who has not previously been furloughed, must ensure that those employees start a minimum period of 3 weeks of furlough by 10 June 2020. For those who have previously been furloughed but may now be back at work, it looks as though the scheme will allow employers to place them on furlough again in the future even if they work through June.

Urgent action will be needed if you want to benefit from the scheme for additional employees during the remaining month from July to October.

Maximum number of employees that can be claimed for: In the government’s new Fact Sheet on the revised furlough from 1 July, there is a curious additional sentence: ‘the number of employees an employer can claim for in any claim period cannot exceed the maximum number they have claimed for under any previous claim under the CJRS’.

If you currently rotate employees on and off furlough and may like to have them all on part time furlough in future, you may need to make sure more are furloughed at the same time before the end of June.

Perhaps a little frustratingly, full details of the new flexible furlough scheme from 1 July are not due to be published until 12 June.

Guidance links

In light of the extensive and varied guidance, we thought it would be helpful to pull together the links to some of the key documents relevant for employers managing Coronavirus issues (…and sorry for the long list; there’s a lot of guidance!):
The first legal Direction: The Coronavirus Act 2020 Functions of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme) Direction (15 April 2020) sets out the authority given by government to the Treasury to implement the scheme.
The second legal Direction: The Coronavirus Act 2020 Functions of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme) Direction (20 May 2020) which amends and effectively replaces some of the original directions. It brings the legal position more in line with the guidance.
Financial support for businesses during coronavirus ( COVID-19) 
Check which employees you can put on furlough to use the coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS) 
Check if you can claim for your employees’ wages through the CJRS
Work out 80% of your employees‘ wages to claim through the CJRS 
Claim for wages through the CJRS  including details about how the scheme is changing
Factsheet in relation to the support for the self-employed, which includes details about the proposed flexible furlough scheme  (We’re not entirely sure of the status of this document, but the government guidance provides a link to it, and currently is the only detail we have about the proposed flexible furlough.)
Reporting employees’ wages to HMRC when you’ve claim through the CJRS 
Claim for you all employees’ wages through the CJRS: a step-by-step guide for employers
CJRS calculator 
Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19) which includes a list of guidance notes for specific workplaces
Holiday entitlement and pay during CJRC 
How to treat certain expenses and benefits provided to employees during coronavirus (COVID-19) 
Staying alert and safe (social distancing) (includes reference to going to work) 
Staying safe outside your home (includes reference to going to work) 
Coronavirus outbreak FAQs: what you can and can’t do (including a section on going to work) 
ACAS:   coronavirus advice for employers and employees   & disciplinary and grievance procedures during the pandemic 
Equality and Human Rights Commission: coronavirus (COVI-19) guidance for employers 
Enforcement: Recovering payments to which recipients were not entitled under the CJRC (consultation only at this time)

The links should be automatically updated as guidance is amended.

Our comment

These are incredibly challenging and difficult times for employers, and we are doing our very best to support our clients and contacts during this period. If you’re not already receiving our emails, but would like to receive regular updates as the changes occur, please do let us know and we’ll add you to our circulation list