Following the announcement by the Government of it’s COVID-19 roadmap out of lockdown and the subsequent budget announcement confirming the extension of furlough, many businesses are now considering how the gradual opening up of restrictions will affect their workforce.

What does the COVID-19 roadmap  and the 2021 budget mean for employers?

We look below at what the Government’s COVID-19 roadmap means for employers, the extension of the furlough scheme announced in the 2021 budget and what employers should do next in terms of working from home, furlough arrangements and planning for the future.

What does the COVID-19 roadmap say about working from home?

When the lockdown order ends on 29 March 2021 the roadmap confirms that people should continue to work from home where they can. It also advises that employees should minimise the number of journeys they make where possible and avoid travel at the busiest times. It’s therefore clear that no immediate return to the workplace is in sight for those currently at home.

The roadmap confirms that working from home should continue wherever possible until a review of social distancing and other long-term measures to cut transmission has been undertaken, which will be before Step 4 begins. Step 4 is of course not due to start at the earliest until 21 June 2021.

Employers should therefore plan for home working to continue until at least the end of June 2021 where possible. Given that some social distancing and other measures are expected to continue after Step 4, realistically home working for those that can for at least a proportion of the workforce is likely to continue to over the summer.

What does the 2021 budget say about furlough and support arrangements?

The furlough scheme was due to end on 30 April 2021.

The Government confirmed in the 2021 budget that it will extend the Coronavirus Job Support Scheme (known as furlough) to September 2021 across the UK. Employers will continue to be able to claim up to 80% of employee’s wages for hours not worked (or £2,500 if lower) under the furlough scheme.

From 1st July 2021 the level of grant will be reduced each month and employers will be asked to contribute towards the costs of furloughed employees’ wages as follows:

Employers do not need to have previously claimed for an employee to be eligible. Employers can furlough employees for any amount of time and any work pattern, while still being able to claim the grant for the hours not worked.

For periods starting on or after 1 May 2021 employers can claim for employees who were employed on 2 March 2021, as long as they have already made a PAYE Real Time Information submission between 20 March 2020 and 2 March 2021, so the extension covers recently employed employees.

What other changes affecting employers were announced in the budget?

The Government has announced other changes that may benefit employers in the future, predominantly focusing on increasing employment opportunities for those entering into the workplace.

This includes an extension of the apprenticeship hiring incentive in England to September, and increasing the payment that employers hiring apprentices can be eligible for to £3,000. The Government also announced £7 million for a new “flexi-job” apprenticeship programme in England, that will enable apprentices to work with a number of employers in one sector and additional funding for high quality work placements and training. There is also a new Help to Grow scheme to offer eligible companies a digital and management boost.

Small and medium-sized employers will continue to be able to re-claim up to two weeks of eligible statutory sick pay costs per employee from the government where absence is connected to COVID-19.

What should employers in closed sectors do to prepare?

Employers in retail, hospitality and other industries that are currently closed should start to plan now so that they have all necessary steps in place to allow a return to work for employees once each step of the roadmap is reached.

Employers should consider:

What should employers looking to return to office based working look to do to prepare?

Employers that have successfully implemented home working should start to consider now how they will plan to unwind these procedures and return to the office, when this is permitted. Issues to consider now include:

For further information on planning for the future and the implications of more permanent home working, please see our separate blog “The future of flexible working | COVID and changes to how we work“.

Employers that consider these key issues in their planning for the coming year will be well placed to ensure that they can put their best foot forward when each step of the roadmap takes effect. If you would like further support in relation to any of these issues please contact Tabytha Cunningham in the Employment Team.