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Remote working: the new normal?

Remote working – for the few or the many?

While the coronavirus crisis is wreaking havoc across the globe, it is also forcing a change that none of us could have foreseen.

Just last year, 65% of workers said they felt more productive working from home than in an office environment. Despite this, home working was mainly a luxury reserved for the few.

Fast forward and here we are with around 20 million people working remotely, according to an ONS survey.

As soon as lockdown looked like a real possibility, businesses and workers began preparing. In early March, Google saw a surge in people looking for information on home working and tips on setting up their new habitats.

Priorities and mindsets have shifted rapidly. We’ve been shown a new way of living and working and we like what we’ve seen.

So much so that many remote workers have already asked to continue with the arrangement and even more would like to make it a permanent arrangement. These requests haven’t been met with enthusiasm by all employers though.

Why is homeworking so popular with employees?

People find they have more free time – considering the average daily commute is just short of an hour a day, that’s time that can be better spent. Less commuting is also great for the environment.

Half of those working remotely said their work-life balance had improved. While, of those not remote working, a similar percentage said they are considering a career change in order to achieve a work life balance.

Employers adapting to change

Government advice is to help people work from home where possible.

Businesses reap benefits by being more open to remote working and being flexible with the working day. Regardless of the sector, workers value flexibility – this has been proven to be a great motivator.

Drawbacks of remote working

While remote working is seen as a positive change by many, one in five remote workers say they struggle with loneliness. This can be particularly so for those who live alone.

While some have said that they find it difficult to switch off after they finish work. This could lead to stress or anxiety.

Many workers would like their employers to provide better technology to help them stay connected with colleagues.

Check in on remote workers

Employers have a duty to ensure their staff are safe in their work environment, whether it’s home or office.

Check remote workers are able to work safely and comfortably and have the right tools for the job. Check in regularly with them – a simple call to ask how they are and if they have all they need will generally suffice.

Legal support for employers

If you are having to adapt to change in the workplace, make sure your policies and procedures reflect the new working practices. For expert help and advice on all aspects of employment law call 01302 320621 or email info@athertongodfrey.co.uk  

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Extended furlough arrangements will benefit thousands

Extended furlough arrangements will allow more than 200,000 additional workers to benefit from the scheme.

Initially, the scheme was only aimed at those actively employed by a UK company on 28 February 2020. However, eligibility has now been extended by a further 3 weeks so that anyone who was on a company payroll on 19 March can also be furloughed.

Furlough is a temporary paid leave of absence and is one of many financial measures announced by the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, as part of the Job Retention scheme.

Applications for the scheme can be made from Monday 20 April 2020. This will allow a business to furlough employees while the government guarantees to pay 80% of their wages, up to £2,500 per month per person, per job.

Following criticism that the scheme was going to leave thousands of recently employed workers at risk of redundancy, the government carried out a review and has now extended furlough arrangements.

In addition to the monthly salary, the government will also cover both pension contributions and National Insurance contributions.

The ultimate aim of the scheme is to support businesses whose operations have been severely affected by the coronavirus lockdown. It enables employees to continue earning and safeguards their jobs so they can return to work when lockdown has ended.

Companies applying for support under the scheme must prove that their employees are no longer able to perform their jobs because of the lockdown. They must then submit details of furloughed staff to HMRC before they set up the reimbursement scheme.

The furlough scheme will run from 1 March until 1 June and those claiming should see their first payment this month.

Working while on furlough

Employees are not allowed to work for their employer in any capacity while on furlough. However, they are able to work for other employers, subject to restrictions in their employment contract, where it is to help businesses or organisations that rely on staff to be able to survive the crisis, or to replace staff taking leave to care for relatives. This is particularly helpful to retail distribution, agriculture and care sectors.

Furlough eligibility

Any UK employer with a UK bank account can take advantage of the scheme, regardless of the nature of their business. Eligible employers include charities, public bodies, businesses and agencies.

Employers can claim the higher of either the salary paid in the same month the previous year or an average of the monthly salary before tax.

Furlough conditions

  • The employee must remain on the employer’s payroll
  • Employees must remain on furlough for at least three weeks
  • Employers can place employees on furlough more than once
  • Those self-isolating due to coronavirus cannot be put on furlough, but will be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) of £98 instead
  • Those shielding because of chronic illness or age, can go on furlough at any time
  • Annual leave continues to accrue during the lay-off or furlough period
  • SSP, maternity and paternity rights also remain as do unfair dismissal rights and rights to redundancy pay
  • Those on fixed-term contracts can be furloughed with the possibility of contracts being renewed or extended during the furlough period
  • Apprentices can be furloughed and continue to undertake their training throughout the furlough period
  • Employees on annual leave can be furloughed, so long as the leave period started after 28 February

Additional support from employers

Employers are able to top up the 80% if they wish to, but are under no legal obligation to do so. Some employers may choose to pay employees and reclaim the amount later; again there is no legal obligation to do this.

Employees made redundant between 28 February and 1 April can be rehired and placed on furlough. However, the employer is under no legal obligation to do this and much will depend on the long-term viability of the company.

Redundancy fears

The Treasury has said that the furlough scheme could potentially run for longer. However, there is an urgent need for government to clarify whether the scheme will be extended or not. Otherwise businesses may be forced to start redundancy procedures on Saturday 18 April so that they do not fall foul of the minimum 45-day consultation period.

See the Gov.uk website for more details on the government furlough scheme

If you would like advice on any aspect of employment law, either on an ad-hoc basis or on a more permanent basis, contact us today. We are able to offer bespoke solutions for any business. Call 01302 320621 or email info@athertongodfrey.co.uk