The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (also known as the “furlough scheme”) has been in operation since April 2020, as part of the United Kingdom government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The scheme has enabled employers across the UK to retain their employees and protect jobs preventing unemployment and mass redundancies or reductions in force.
The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom has held in Asda Stores Ltd v. Brierley and others that Asda supermarket retail employees can appoint Asda depot workers as their comparators in an equal pay claim despite their working in different ‘establishments’ of the business.
Under section 109(1) of the Equality Act 2010 (EA 2010), an employer is liable for acts of discrimination, harassment, and victimisation carried out by its employees in the course of employment: “[a]nything done by a person (A) in the course of A’s employment must be treated as also done by the employer.” Section 109 further states that “[i]t does not matter whether that thing is done with the employer’s … knowledge or approval.” However, under section 109(4) EA 2010, an employer has a defence if it can demonstrate that it “took all reasonable steps” to prevent the employee from carrying out the act of discrimination. When considering an employer’s defence that it took all reasonable steps to prevent an employee from discriminating against another employee, a tribunal will examine how effective the steps were likely to be when they were taken and how effective they proved to be in practice. The decision of Allay (UK) Ltd v Mr S Gehlen looks at the scope of this defence.
As the 4 April 2021, gender pay gap reporting deadline approaches, the UK government has published an updated set of guidance for employers on the gender pay gap reporting requirements. Although the reporting requirements have not changed, the guidance has been updated to include information for employers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular relating to furlough leave and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).
On 4 January 2021, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a third national lockdown in England. The regulations allow the lockdown to continue until 31 March 2021, although the restrictions are expected to be reviewed in mid-February to allow for the possible reopening of schools. All of the United Kingdom is now under strict measures to curb the spread of the new fast-spreading COVID-19 variant—with Wales, Northern Ireland and most of Scotland also in lockdown (although these countries are governed by separate rules).
The news that several COVID-19 vaccines have been developed—and one approved for widespread use in the United Kingdom (Pfizer-BioNTech)—has come as a relief to many. Such news has prompted consideration of the legitimacy of compulsory vaccination in the United Kingdom, particularly in an employment context.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced in a press conference on 31 October 2020, that new national lockdown restrictions would apply in England from 12:01 a.m. on 5 November 2020, until at least 2 December 2020.
On 9 October 2020, the UK government announced an extension to the Job Support Scheme (JSS) for businesses that are legally required to close on account of coronavirus restrictions. This measure will sit alongside the original JSS and the Job Retention Bonus, replacing the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), which will end on 31 October 2020.
As part of its Plan for Jobs 2020, the UK Government announced in July 2020 that it would pay a bonus to employers that brought furloughed employees back to work and kept such employees continuously employed until 31 January 2021. Further guidance has now been published, in addition to a Treasury Direction, which states that the Job Retention Bonus is intended to “enhance and consolidate” the purpose of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), which is to preserve the jobs of furloughed employees.
The UK Government has enacted The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020, which came into force in England on 28 September 2020. Failure to comply with these regulations is a criminal offence, the penalty for which includes a fine of £1,000 for a first offence, with fines increasing up to £10,000 for subsequent breaches.
On 24 September 2020, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced new measures to support businesses and workers affected by the ongoing coronavirus crisis. The announcement came after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared a tightening of coronavirus restrictions in England on 22 September 2020.
Following recent events, employers may experience an increase in the number of race discrimination complaints in the workplace. Many organisations in the United Kingdom, in the United States, and globally have made public statements to reinforce their commitment to racial equality.
On 26 June 2020, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) updated its Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) Treasury Direction to take account of the flexible furlough scheme.
In May 2020, the United Kingdom welcomed the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act 1970, which was enacted to ensure the equal treatment of men and women in terms of pay and the conditions of employment. However, in recent months, research has revealed that women have suffered a larger fall in earnings in the United Kingdom and are losing their jobs in greater numbers than men during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) will gradually be tapered over the coming months until October 31, 2020, when it will no longer be effective. The CJRS has been a great support to many employers and their employees, however, as businesses begin to reopen and the UK government support decreases, many employers are now faced with difficult workforce decisions—some of which may include redundancies (i.e., reductions in force).
10 June 2020 marks the final date by which employers may furlough employees for the first time within the timeframe of the current minimum three-week furlough period that ensures eligibility for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).
On 28 May 2020, England and Scotland introduced contact tracing systems known as “Test and Trace” and “Test and Protect,” respectively. Northern Ireland has been operating a contact tracing system since 27 April 2020, and Wales introduced the “Test, Trace, Protect” system on 1 June 2020.
On May 29, 2020, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs issued further updates setting out the future of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).
On 18 May 2020, at the start of Mental Health Awareness Week in the United Kingdom, the UK government’s Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) published “Coronavirus and mental health at work,” a guide to how individuals can look after their mental health and how employers can “support employees’ health, safety, and well-being” while managing workplace mental health issues. The overriding message from the guidance is that good communication is key during this challenging time. The guidance also emphasises that employers should be aware of the signs of mental health concerns in the workplace and encourage openness between colleagues to support those who may be suffering.
As part of their “COVID-secure” return to work plans, some employers in the United Kingdom are implementing temperature screenings for their employees.
Following the UK government’s recent announcement of a COVID-19 recovery strategy, the government has published guidelines for working safely during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that are designed to help UK businesses get back on their feet while maintaining safe work environments.
The UK government has released its roadmap, “Our plan to rebuild: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy,” as it looks to ease the lockdown over the coming months.
On April 4, April 9, and April 15, 2020, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) updated the guidance for employers on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS). The updates aimed to clarify issues and answer questions asked since the initial guidance was published on March 26, 2020. In addition, on April 15, 2020, Her Majesty’s Treasury (HM Treasury) issued a Direction to HMRC under powers conferred by the Coronavirus Act 2020, containing the legal framework and instructions for making payments under the CJRS. This is likely to be the definitive guidance on how the CJRS works. However, despite the recent updates, there are issues that remain unclear.
The Coronavirus Act (CA) 2020 was enacted on March 25, 2020, and introduces a new statutory emergency volunteering leave (EVL) to support the National Health Service (NHS) and social care authorities.
As a complement to our frequently asked questions (FAQ) for U.S. employers, below are some answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the latest developments on the virus, guidance from applicable public health authorities outside the United States, and managing COVID-19 responses across multiple jurisdictions worldwide. For terminology purposes, these FAQs use the term “COVID-19” generally to refer to the illness that is the subject of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) pandemic declaration.
The spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United Kingdom has caused employers to be increasingly concerned and uncertain regarding the future of their workforces. Below are some answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) that employers may be facing as the virus affects UK workforces.
On March 20, 2020, the U.K. National Health Service (NHS) launched online isolation notes to enable employees to provide evidence to their employers that they have been medically advised to self-isolate due to the coronavirus (COVID-19).
April 4, 2019 will mark the first anniversary of mandatory private-sector gender pay gap reporting in the United Kingdom. One year in, and organizations appear to be in the same last-minute position they were in during the first reporting year, submitting their data just before the deadline. Regardless of timing, the key question is: has the last 12 months had any impact on the issue of addressing the gender pay gap generally?
The Government of the United Kingdom (UK) has launched a series of measures to tackle barriers facing ethnic minorities in the workplace.
The Ontario government recently introduced Bill 203, the Pay Transparency Act, 2018. The goal of this legislation is to increase transparency in pay practices in the hopes of closing the pay gap between male and female employees. The draft legislation also empowers the Ministry of Labour to impose fines on employers that do not comply with the legislation.