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Archive

Keeping you in our focus with proactive, straight-talking insights to support your practical people management during the coronavirus pandemic.

Furlough fails may give employees enhanced employment protection

Posted on: September 15th, 2020 by Ginny Hallam

Whether it’s opening the post, checking emails or even volunteering to do the gardening at work, if you’ve allowed employees to do any work for you whilst they’ve been furloughed (even at their request), you’ll have fallen foul of the Job Retention Scheme.

If you’re considering restructuring or going through any other employment process which may leave an employee disgruntled, they may try and protect their employment position by suggesting you’ve claimed furlough inappropriately. We’ve seen that there have been 8000 calls already to the HMRC’s fraud hotline.

Any disclosures an employee makes (whether internally or externally e.g. to HMRC) about suspected furlough fraud or uncorrected errors are likely to be amount to “protected disclosures” or “whistleblowing”. This means unlimited compensation at tribunal if the employee can show that they were dismissed or suffered a detriment as a result of making the disclosure.

If you know or suspect that you’ve acted inappropriately in respect of furlough or are the subject of a whistleblowing disclosure, here are a few things to consider:

Act first – if you think you’ve made an inappropriate furlough claim, let HMRC know immediately. See our previous update for further details. If an employee has already blown the whistle, self-reporting won’t remove the employee’s whistleblower protection but your actions show you’re not trying to cover up wrongdoing (making any argument that the employee suffered a detriment as a result of their disclosure less plausible).

Signpost – ensure employees are clear about how they should raise their concerns and to whom – a whistleblowing policy should set out that the employee is to come to you first giving you an opportunity to understand their concerns and address them. We’ve got this covered in our “Safe return to work policy” or “whistleblowing policy” – for details of how to access click here.

Deal with rule breakers – if an employee has chosen to work despite your requests for them not to do so, consider taking disciplinary action against them and/or documenting your concerns and requests for them to stop. Failure to do so could mean they later suggest that you agreed to them behaving in breach of the Job Retention Scheme or that you even encouraged them to do so.

Evidence your thought process – if you’re following a formal process (e.g. redundancy) just because an employee has blown the whistle doesn’t mean you can’t continue. Clearly you’ll need to investigate their concerns but you can usually do so alongside the formal process – just keep a careful note of your decisions and rationale.

Click here if you need advice from one of our expert lawyers.

 

This update is accurate on the date it was sent (15 September 2020), but may be subject to change which may or may not be notified to you. This update is not to be taken as advice and you should seek advice if anything contained within affects you or your business.

Contact-tracing app launch date – 24 September

Posted on: September 14th, 2020 by Ginny Hallam

After the first version was abandoned in June, a new contact-tracing app will be launched across England and Wales on 24 September.

Here’s what we know so far:

  1. The app will be used to alert you if you’ve been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus and advise you on what to do to protect yourself and others
  2. It will use QR codes to scan and register visits to hospitality venues – those venues who have been using their own QR code-based systems will be asked to swap to the NHS version
  3. Businesses will be asked to display QR posters to support the NHS system, and venues such as universities, hospitals, leisure premises (amongst others with communal areas) where people gather for more than 15 minutes will be asked to display the same posters
  4. The app will utilise Apple and Google technology to detect other smartphones, but businesses will be required to keep a manual register of visitors for those who don’t have a smartphone

Within your ‘safe return to work’ policy you can encourage employees to download the app. You can also require them to alert you immediately if they receive a notification from the app informing them that they’ve been in close contact with an individual with coronavirus so that you can take steps to protect them and others. Click for more information on accessing our ‘safe return to work’ policy.

We’ll update you as and when further relevant information for businesses is released.

 

This update is accurate on the date it was sent (14 September 2020), but may be subject to change which may or may not be notified to you. This update is not to be taken as advice and you should seek advice if anything contained within affects you or your business.

Over-payments and furlough fraud

Posted on: September 10th, 2020 by Ginny Hallam

HMRC’s whistleblowing hotline has already received 8000 calls so far from employees willing to spill the beans about their employer’s furlough practices. HMRC are entitled to recover inappropriately claimed furlough money, issue penalties and name and shame those employers who claimed when they shouldn’t have.

If you’re concerned that you have allowed employees to work for you (even at their request) when they’ve been furloughed, or that you have made a mistake in respect of furlough payments, here’s what to consider.

Penalties

In addition to reputational damage that flows from unlawful furlough claims, HMRC have been empowered by the Finance Act 2020 to recover payments you were not entitled to, along with being able to issue civil penalties, fines, and even criminal convictions in serious circumstances.

HMRC have stated they will not charge a penalty if you did not know you’ve been overpaid:

  1. at the time you received the grant; or
  2. at the time that your circumstances changed to mean you were not longer entitled to the grant.

They are also able to name and shame here if they believe actions have been deliberate. HMRC have stated they’re not actively searching for employers who’ve made “legitimate mistakes”, but even if you haven’t deliberately over-claimed, there is still the potential for penalties if you don’t act proactively.

If you think you’ve over-claimed / received an over-payment:

You must notify HMRC by the latest of either:

  1. 90 days after you received the payment you weren’t entitled to
  2. 90 days after your circumstances changed meaning you were no longer entitled to keep the payment received
  3. 20 October 2020

If you need to repay any money, this must be done within the ‘relevant time period’, which ends 12 months from the end of your accounting period.

If you suspect you may have over-claimed or received an over-payment, it is best to raise this with HMRC directly as soon as possible.

Click here if you need advice from one of our expert lawyers. 

 

This update is accurate on the date it was sent (10 September 2020), but may be subject to change which may or may not be notified to you. This update is not to be taken as advice and you should seek advice if anything contained within affects you or your business.

Employees on furlough – the dos and don’ts

Posted on: September 8th, 2020 by Ginny Hallam

Fraudulent or incorrect furlough claims have cost the government £3.5bn according to recent statistics. HMRC has announced they intend to recover funds lost through fraudulent or abusive use of the scheme and will be conducting one-to-one investigations.

HMRC do not intend to investigate businesses making ‘legitimate mistakes’. Instead, they’re asking you to review your claims and pay back any excess amounts. With less than two months left to run before the scheme closes, what can you ask of employees whilst furloughed?

Employees can:

  1. Take part in training to up-skill, plug gaps, or retrain ready for a fast start when they return (provided that training isn’t income generating for your business)
  2. Volunteer for another employer or organisation
  3. Work for another employer if their employment contract with you allows them to do so
  4. Work as union or non-union representatives (attending consultation meetings, for example)

Employees can’t:

  1. Do any work for you which makes money for your business or any other associated business – even if you find out employees are doing things off their own back (replying to emails or taking calls, for example), you must instruct them to stop (reminding them of your furlough policy).
  2. Do any work that provides a service for your business or any other associated business – no matter if it’s something small, routine or unrelated to their role (like collecting the post, for example), it will jeopardise your claim to reimbursement and result in penalties or repayment of any money claimed.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’re unsure about anything you may be asking of your furloughed employees. 

This update is accurate on the date it was sent (08 September 2020), but may be subject to change which may or may not be notified to you. This update is not to be taken as advice and you should seek advice if anything contained within affects you or your business.

Kickstart Scheme is live

Posted on: September 4th, 2020 by Ginny Hallam

The government Kickstart Scheme is now live. But unless you’re creating more than 30 roles, applying independently will not be possible. We’ve outlined your options below, and what support is being made available. 

Who can apply? 

Businesses offering fewer than 30 roles can apply through a Local Authority, Chamber of Commerce, trade body, or employer group to pool applications. Otherwise you can apply by clicking here.

Each application should include how you’ll:

  1. help participants to develop their skills and experience;
  2. support them to look for long-term work (career advice, setting goals);
  3. support with CV and interview skills; and
  4. develop basic skills (such as attendance, timekeeping etc.).

What support is the government offering under the Scheme?

To receive funding for the roles, the placements must be new roles and:

  1. participants must be 16-24, receiving Universal Credit and deemed to be at risk of long-term unemployment;
  2. not replace existing or planned vacancies;
  3. not reduce the employment or hours of existing employees or contractors;
  4. be for a minimum of 25 hours per week for six months;
  5. be paid at least NMW relevant for their age; and
  6. not require extensive training before commencing the placement (‘extensive training’ has not been clarified).

Provided that you meet the above criteria, following your application you’ll receive in respect of each role:

  1. 100% of the NMW for the first 25 hours per week (you can pay more if you want);
  2. 100% NICs for the first 25 hours per week;
  3. 100% of pension contributions for the first 25 hours per week; and
  4. £1500 per applicant for training, plus uniform and set-up costs.

Further help 

If you have any questions about the Scheme, there is a list of regional government contacts available to support you here, and further information on whether you can apply for funding here.

Does your business plan to use the Scheme? Click here to take our quick survey and let us know!

 

This update is accurate on the date it was sent (07 September 2020), but may be subject to change which may or may not be notified to you. This update is not to be taken as advice and you should seek advice if anything contained within affects you or your business.