Employment law is at the top of many agendas with the current Corona virus pandemic. Many employment laws have been affected by the pandemic and we have set below some of the most common ones facing people in these unprecedented times.

Lay-off and short-time working

Lay-off is when there is less work to do for employees, but the employer does not want to dismiss or make redundancies. In effect it is a short-term measure.

Many employers, particularly those with a significant blue-collar workforce, will have “lay-off” clauses in their employment contracts.  Employers must have lay-off clauses in order to lay off workers. They then have the flexibility to lawfully reduce the time the employees spend at work.

Short-time working is similar to lay-off. The difference is that lay-off is for a day at a time and short-time working reduces the number of working hours in a day.

If an employer does not have lay-off clause in the employment contract it cannot lawfully lay off employees. If it does lay-off employees in these circumstances it is in danger of being sued for breach of contract and constructive dismissal. However, it can seek to change the employment contract to include one and thereby avoiding such circumstances.

Time off for dependants

More employees will be caring for sick dependants whilst the pandemic continues. Remember that such employees may qualify for being ‘furloughed’ (see our article on furlough).

Employers may consider allowing employees to work part-time around their childcare responsibilities or to juggle home-working with childcare. As long as unfair disciplinaries do not result, there is little employment law risk in terms of unfair constructive dismissal. Discrimination remains a risk with disabled or pregnant employees or those with caring responsibilities.

Sick pay

There have been changes to statutory sick pay (SSP) in light of the current pandemic. These include that employers must pay sick pay from day one of absence (not day four).

A full-time employee on the national living wage who is self-isolating receives around 34% of their usual wage. Employers should avoid categorising sick staff as furloughed to get them 80% of their usual wage as that could amount to a fraud on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme that will run during the pandemic.

UK-based small and medium-sized businesses (with fewer than 250 employees) can reclaim 100% of SSP (SSP reclaiming was discontinued in 2014) paid for sickness absence due to the pandemic.

The repayment scheme details have not been published yet. In dealing with the pandemic, employment law legislation is slightly behind.

Q: What if an employee currently has no written contract?

A: This is a good time to ensure that any employees who have not been issued with paper contracts are given them now. It helps the employer and gives certainty to both parties if they are signed and returned. If there is to be any dispute about the terms, they can be ironed out in the coming weeks.

Q: What if an employer wants to make changes to a contract?

A: In the current climate this could arise where, for example, the employer wishes to include a lay-off clause or some other change related to pandemic measures. There will usually have to be a negotiation, as one party to a contract cannot unilaterally impose a change on the other party.

Hatton James Legal can help you with these and many other employment law issues. To comply with Government’s pandemic guidelines we have adapted our business to offer our services completely online; e.g. holding meetings via skype and other online platforms and dealing with enquiries via email and telephone.