The government has issued advice to employer on how to manage COVID-19 and the support that is available. While this is subject to change at little notice, these FAQs are based on the latest information published and cover some of the areas which haven’t been as widely discussed.
Q: If we have had to shut down, are we able to request that employees carry out different duties which are still possible?
A: This is a dilemma that many businesses have faced, such as restaurants who have switched to takeaway food only. The short answer is that you can’t force any employee to carry out duties which aren’t covered by their existing contract of employment.
You can however, ask employees to temporarily take on different duties in order to protect the business and secure their employment in the longer term. Many employees will agree to this if it means they can carry on receiving their usual full salary.
Q: What considerations should there be for pregnant workers?
A: If you have any employees who are pregnant, they should be encouraged to work from home. If their job does not facilitate remote working, you should assess the business to see if there are any temporary, alternative duties they could perform. If this is not possible, serious consideration should be given to placing the employee on medical leave (and receiving full pay).
Q: Can we ask employees to take annual holiday leave?
A: Yes. Employers have the right to ask employees to take their annual leave at a specific time, providing they give reasonable notice. Unless there is a specific clause in the contract, the notice you should provide is double the amount of leave you are asking them to take.
The exception to this is employees who are on sick leave, and those who are self-isolating. Employees in either category cannot be compelled to take annual leave.
Q: Can we refuse to cancel a holiday request which had already been booked?
A: With the restrictions on travel, employees may request to cancel pre-approved holiday and save their leave for a later date. If workloads are low, employers may prefer for annual leave to be taken now. In these cases, it’s entirely reasonable for an employer to refuse to cancel annual leave which had already been booked and approved.
The exception is employees who are sick or who are self-isolating. In both cases, they have the right to cancel pre-booked annual leave.
Q: For employees who have been furloughed, do I have to make up the difference so they receive full pay?
A: Many employers choose to do so, but you are not obliged to pay the difference in salary between the government funding and the employee’s full pay. From August onwards, the scheme will be changing so employers will need to share the costs with the government.
The only exception to this rule are workers who take annual holiday leave while being furloughed. They are entitled to receive full pay for any period of holiday. This means that you will need to pay the difference so they receive full pay while they are on annual leave.