During the course of last week, HMRC updated its guidance on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) to confirm that employees may be furloughed if they are unable to work, or are working reduced hours because of caring responsibilities which have arisen as a result of COVID-19. The amended guidance states that caring responsibilities include caring for:
- children who are at home as a result of the closure of schools or childcare facilities
- a vulnerable individual in the household
Employees who find themselves in this situation are encouraged to speak to their employer about whether they plan to furlough staff.
The changes come after both the Labour Party and the TUC called on the Government to provide greater support for parents during the UK’s third lockdown. The Shadow Chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, warned that parents, particularly mothers, were at risk of losing their jobs as a result of the school closures. According to the TUC, during the school closures in March 2020, one in six mothers reduced their working hours due to school and nursery closures, with single parents also greatly affected. Both the Shadow Chancellor and the TUC also called for better promotion of the CJRS to increase employer awareness of how it can be used to support working parents with childcare responsibilities.
On a similar note, the Swiss insurance firm, Zurich, has introduced “lockdown leave” which constitutes two weeks’ paid leave for parents facing emergency childcare issues in the face of primary and secondary school closures during the third lockdown. Zurich claims that it is the first UK employer to offer such lockdown leave and it estimates approximately one in five of its employees who have children will benefit from the provision.
At the other end of the scale and on a different note, the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) published a list at the end of last year of 139 employers who had collectively failed to pay the National Minimum wage amounting to £6.7million to over 95,000 workers between September 2016 and July 2018. The list included a number of household names, such as Tesco and Pizza Hut, and this is the first time the Government has “named and shamed” employers since 2018.
To be fair, it appears many of the breaches of minimum wage rules were wholly unintentional and indeed all of the 139 employers listed have now paid the arrears of wages to their employees. It seems two of the main causes of breaches were low paid workers being made to cover work related costs, such as paying for uniforms, training or parking fees, and employers failing to raise workers pay after they have a birthday which would have moved them into a different National Minimum Wage bracket.
If you require guidance on any of the above issues, or have any other queries in relation to employment or HR law, please contact Jonathan Moreland by email on firstname.lastname@example.org or call him on 0191 3842441.
(With thanks to Practical Law and Thomson Reuters)