covid19 Archives - MLP Law

Chancellor confirms that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is to continue until October 2020.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, has today confirmed that the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will remain in place until October 2020.

This announcement follows concerns raised by business leaders, workers and politicians alike that the end of the scheme, under which employees can be furloughed from their jobs with 80% of their wages covered by a government grant claimed by their employer, could result in significant damage to the UK economy.

The scheme will now be extended to the end of October 2020 (the original end date was the end of June 2020).

Mr Sunak also confirmed that there will be no change to the way the scheme operates until the end of July 2020, following which additional flexibility will be implemented into the scheme for August, September and October.

This additional flexibility will include allowing employers to bring back their employees part time, in contrast to the current system which only subsidises employees who are not working at all.

Against expectations, Mr Sunak confirmed that employees will continue to receive 80% of their salary, but employers will be required to make a contribution. There had been speculation that the scheme would be lowered to only cover 60% of an employee’s wages.

As has become a common refrain as economic measures have been introduced throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the finer details of the scheme, include the level of contribution required from employers, are eagerly awaited, which we expect to receive by the end of May.  The MLP Law Employment team will make sure you are kept up to date on every development as it happens, so keep an eye on our twitter account @HRHeroUK or get in touch with us on 0161 926 9969 or employment@mlplaw.co.uk.

Returning to work: Who? How? When?

On Sunday 10 May 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced significant changes to the Government’s coronavirus guidance. These changes cover many fundamental aspects of everyday life, including social interactions and exercise. However, perhaps of most significant for those in business, is the change in guidance on who can return to work.

So what has changed?

The Prime Minister’s announcement confirmed that all workers who cannot work from home are, from Wednesday 13 May 2020, “actively encouraged” to return to their physical place of work and that sectors of the economy that are allowed to be open should be open.

The Government’s recovery plan, entitled “Our Plan to Rebuild: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy”, specifically states that this this includes food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research in laboratories, with the only exceptions being workplaces such as hospitality and non-essential retail, which for the time being must remain closed.

How can my employees return to work?

If you have employees who are unable to work from home, and your business is permitted to be open, you can implement a return to work from Wednesday 13 May 2020. In doing so, you must follow the new “COVID-19 Secure” guidelines, which set out sector by sector guidance on health and safety measures to be implemented by employers when bringing employees back to work.

The guidelines are lengthy and should be read in detail by any employer intending to bring their employees back to work. The guidelines supplement existing health and safety and employment law obligations.

In summary, amongst other things the guidelines state that employers should:

  • consult with employee representatives about the return to work;
  • conduct risk assessments, share these with employees and in some cases publish these online;
  • implement strict and enhanced hygiene and social distancing measures, which will vary from workplace to workplace and industry to industry;
  • minimise interactions between employees, customers and third parties, including by staggering working patterns, using floor markings and implementing other physical distancing measures;
  • encourage employees to avoid public transport when travelling to work.

Interestingly, on the subject of personal protective equipment (“PPE”) the guidelines indicate that this is of minimal benefit in comparison with the hygiene and distancing measures outlined above and that, should it not be possible to implement these measures, an employer should give careful consideration to whether the proposed activity should really be carried out at all.

What hasn’t changed?

If you are a hospitality business or “non-essential” retail outlet, for the time being the situation remains unchanged for you. Under the Government’s recovery strategy (see link above), it is envisaged that your business will be able to reopen as normal on 4 July 2020 at the earliest, subject to the Government being satisfied that the coronavirus pandemic is under control.

The situation also remains unchanged for employees who are able to work from home, who must continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Similarly, the Government’s guidance on individuals who show symptoms of the coronavirus is unchanged, meaning a 14 day isolation period will still be required for the individual and their household.

How can MLP Law help?

The Employment Team at MLP Law can also help you with any of issues raised in this update. Just contact us on 0161 926 9969, employment@mlplaw.co.uk or on our employment law-specific Twitter account @HRHeroUK.

MLP Law is also are hosting a free live Post-Lockdown Q&Q webinar on Thursday 14 May 2020 at 9.30am – 10.30am, where we will be expanding on some this week’s developments. You can register your place by emailing tanyam@mlplaw.co.uk or employment@mlplaw.co.uk.

Contact-tracing app: Dangerous tool or necessary evil? Data Protection and Privacy Vs “the greater good”

Introduction

Zoom quizzes, lockdown, social distancing, furlough: just a few of the words and phrases we have been unable to escape for the past two months. Life pre Covid-19 now seems like a distant memory. Despite the Prime Minister’s recent announcement that the lockdown rules would be relaxed slightly, we are still a long way off to returning to normal.

Contact-tracing app

As a result of Covid-19, 7.5 million people are currently taking advantage of the UK Government’s furlough scheme, putting unprecedented strain on the economy. Understandably, the Government is keen for the country to get back on its feet as soon as possible. One of its key strategies to help things return to normal is with the upcoming roll out of the new NHS coronavirus contact-tracing app (App). Put simply, the App, using Bluetooth signals, is designed to track people down who have been in ‘close contact’ with someone who has Covid-19. These people may then be asked to self-isolate to halt any further spread of the virus.  For clarity, ‘close contact’ means being within 2 metres of an infected person for more than 15 minutes.

The App is currently being trialled in the Isle of Wight, and at the time of writing, has been downloaded around 55,000 times. If deemed successful, it will be implemented across the rest of the UK in due course.

Privacy concerns

It’s been less than 2 years since the UK’s data protection laws got a massive overhaul thanks to the GDPR. In addition, devices such as Alexa, Google Home, and Hive are quickly becoming part and parcel of our daily lives. As a result, there is an ever increasing awareness of how companies collect and use our data, raising very real concerns about our privacy.

It is perhaps unsurprising therefore that there have also been many concerns about how exactly the App will monitor users and what information it will collect, and potentially share, about them.

According to the NHSX (the NHS’s digital arm), the App will not collect personally identifiable data from users and therefore, users of the App will remain anonymous. Moreover, the App will not track users’ location and will not, for example, monitor their movements for law enforcement purposes, such as to locate, identify, and fine users who are not self-isolating. Nor will the app be able to access any other information on the users’ phones. Crucially therefore, App will be used for the sole purpose of managing and (hopefully) eliminating the spread of Covid-19.

Notwithstanding NHSX’s comments about how the App will be used, many users are still concerned about the risk of privacy intrusion. However, as explained above, such concerns are unfounded, and in any event, users are free to delete the App and its data at any stage.

Benefits

Taking everything into account, the use of the App will most likely result in a dramatic decrease in the spread of Covid-19. Surely the benefits of this: countless lives saved, businesses reopening, and significant pressure being taken off the NHS – far outweigh these minor (and unfounded) privacy concerns. 

On this basis, if it helps with to speed up the release of the lockdown measures then we’re all for it on behalf of our clients. Do you agree or not? Let us know.

For advice on the App or any other advice on Data Protection, Technology, IT or Privacy please contact our commercial and IP team on commercial@mlplaw.co.uk or 0161 926 9969