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HR FAQs - Coronavirus

These are frequently asked questions received on the HR Helpline during the Coronavirus crisis:

Contractual issues

If people are carrying out different roles, do I need to change their contracts?

Most contracts will have a clause that states that employees need to carry out any reasonable duties asked of the employer, or that their duties may change in line with business need. This is sufficient to cover any changes to duties during the current crisis.

Should you need to change the terms and conditions in contracts, if there are more than 20 employees affected, the practice would need to carry out a Collective Consultation process. To change terms and conditions in employment contracts, you must seek the agreement of the employee.

What is Furlough leave, and is it likely to apply to practices?

Furlough leave is the governments Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, where employees that cannot work receive 80% of their pay from the government.

The guidance from the government states that any business where staffing costs are provided by the government are not expected to use the Furlough Scheme. It does state in very rare circumstances it might be suitable, but we have no guidance as to what those circumstances might be and no guidance as to whether HMRC can refuse to pay a business for an employee that has been Furloughed incorrectly.

As practices are not receiving a reduction in funding and are having the costs covered for any staff required to cover absences, the practice should not be in a position where they need to consider Furlough.

NHS England have confirmed that practices should not use the Furlough scheme.

Sickness payments 

When should I be paying Statutory Sick Pay/SSP?

The government has advised that all employees off work self-isolating should receive at least SSP (£95.85 a week). This should be paid from their first day of absence, unlike usual sickness where it is paid on the 4th day. So employees who should receive AT LEAST SSP are:

  • Those isolating as they have Covid-19 symptoms
  • Those isolating as they have someone in their family who have Covid-19 symptoms

Has SSP changed?

For employees self-isolating due to Covid-19, SSP is payable from day one, rather than day 4 as it is with usual sickness absence.

For sickness not related to Covid-19, usual rules still apply.

When should I pay Contractual Sick Pay/CSP?

This is at the discretion of the employer. Many practices are choosing to pay sick pay in line with their usual sickness policy. So, some employees self-isolating could be paid CSP, instead of SSP. The practice could choose to pay CSP for all employees, even those not yet eligible. Ideally the practice will pay what can be afforded and try to support their employees as much as possible during this difficult time.

Absences

Should absence policies be amended to include coronavirus?

It is certainly worth putting down in writing the practices response to Covid-19 in terms of absence and pay. This will ensure that all employees are always treated fairly during the crisis.

How do I deal with people absent due to Coronavirus?

Each person is being affected differently and an individual approach is necessary. It might be that some employees self-isolating may have very mild symptoms and be able to work from home, it might be that others are looking after ill family members and therefore not able to work. Generally speaking, keep communication channels open and stay in touch, support where you can and protect your other employees by ensuring the employee with symptoms or family members with symptoms stay at home in line with government advice.

Do I need a sick note from an employee absent due to Coronavirus?

Not necessarily. Employees can self-certificate for 7 days, as they usually can. This means that those with symptoms that recover within that 7 day period will not need any sick notes. If the absence is likely to go over the 7 day period, employees can get an Isolation Note from the NHS 111 website that can be used in the same way as the usual fit note. However the government guidance does ask you to consider whether you really need this Isolation Note. Either way, decide as a practice what your policy will be and stick to it. This is the link to get the “Isolation Note” https://111.nhs.uk/isolation-note

What do we do if an employee has symptoms at work?

If an employee shows symptoms of coronavirus at work they should:

  • Go home immediately
  • Try to touch nothing
  • Use a separate bathroom where possible
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue and put this into the bin
  • The employer should then disinfect the area the possibly infected employee sat, such as phones, keyboards etc.

Can the employee be sent home?

The government has said that all employees with coronavirus symptoms should be sent home and receive at least SSP. Most employees should be accepting of this, as it is to save lives and protect their colleagues and the NHS.

Employees sent home because they cannot carry out their work safely, such as a pregnant or vulnerable employee, where the employer cannot make their workplace safe for them to work within the social distancing guidelines could be placed on Medical Suspension. This is only at the discretion of the employer, and only if the employer sends the employee home as they are worried about their welfare.

If an employee is sent home, what do we pay them?

The government advice states that all employees self-isolating in line with guidance should receive at least SSP. If the practice has decided to pay more than SSP for those self-isolating, in line with their usual sickness policy for example, they may of course pay more.

If an employee has been sent home on Medical Suspension, they should receive full pay.              

 

Part two will be published next week.

FPM Members can download the complete FAQ’s in the Pandemic Toolkit section.

If you have a question not answered by any of the above, send an email to hrhelp@firstpracticemanagement.co.uk

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