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Lockdown 3.0 and COVID-related developments
The year began with a third lockdown and a stay-at-home instruction from the government. The following week has seen various COVID-related developments:
- The stay-at-home guidance from the government confirms that employers must take ‘every possible step’ to facilitate remote working. It is now unlawful to ask employees to work in the office if they can do their job from home.
- The working safely guidelines have been updated to reflect this latest lockdown.
- Previous rules on full and flexi-furlough still apply for those employed as at 30 October 2020 – see our guidance. Remember that from February 2021 HMRC will publish details of those companies claiming from December 2020 and the approximate value of their claims in bands.
- The concept of shielding has been reintroduced and those who have a letter from their GP confirming their status as clinically extremely vulnerable should not physically go to work.
- The furlough guidance has been amended to clarify that employers can furlough employees whose health has been affected by COVID-19 or any other conditions, including if they cannot work from home or are working reduced hours because they:
- are clinically extremely vulnerable, or at the highest risk of severe illness from COVID-19
- have caring responsibilities resulting from COVID-19 such as caring for children who at home because of school/childcare facility closures, or are caring for a vulnerable person in their household
- Despite the difficulties faced by working parents, with schools closed, no employee is entitled by law to be furloughed because of childcare issues. Employees with caring responsibilities do qualify for the furlough scheme but it is at the employer’s discretion (which must be exercised in a non-discriminatory way, for instance avoiding agreeing to all women being furloughed but no men). Employees can use holiday, take unpaid leave (as this is likely to count as a family emergency) or those employed for more than a year can request unpaid parental leave of up to four weeks a year taken in blocks of a week (unless the child is disabled when it can be taken in days) which an employer can delay for up to six months for good business reasons. Those employed for 26 weeks can make a formal request for flexible working which is a permanent change to their contract and an employer has up to three months to consider.
- New and important guidance was introduced just before Christmas in relation to pregnant employees.
- The HSE has updated its guidance on protecting vulnerable workers during COVID-19.