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Coronavirus (COVID-19): Advice and guidance for small businesses and the self-employed

LAST UPDATED 26.05.20 12:01 | Advice and guidance on reducing the risks from the Coronavirus (COVID-19) virus to you and your business.

With the rapidly changing nature of the COVID-19 outbreak, information and advice from Government can change quickly. For all the latest Government information on COVID-19 and the measures the Government, and Devolved Governments, are taking, please visit the UK Government website, the Scottish Government website, the Welsh Government website or the Northern Irish Government website.
The information below is kept under continuous review and is updated often, please be sure to check the COVID-19: guidance for employers and businesses from the Government for the latest updates.

Latest news

26 May 2020
Shops and retail opening up again in England
  • The Government has announced that outdoor markets and car showrooms will be able to reopen from 1 June, as soon as they are able to meet the COVID-19 secure guidelines to protect shoppers and workers.
  • All other non-essential retail including shops selling clothes, shoes, toys, furniture, books, and electronics, plus tailors, auction houses, photography studios, and indoor markets, will be expected to be able to reopen from 15 June if the Government’s five tests are met and they follow the COVID-19 secure guidelines, giving them three weeks to prepare.

Find more details about going back to business here

£50 million boost to support the recovery of our high streets

The Reopening High Streets Safely Fund aims to help councils prepare for the safe reopening of high streets across England 

Read the press release

 

What help is there?

On Thursday 26 March, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced the Self-employment Income Support Scheme. This will see eligible self-employed receive up to £2,500 per month in grants for at least 3 months.

In addition to income support, FSB has succeeded in securing a range of other coronavirus-related support measures for small businesses and the self-employed – from business rates, cash grants, and interest/fee-free loans to help with VAT deferrals and mortgage/rent payments. We continue to push for these measures to be as generous as possible, open to as many businesses as possible, and delivered as fast as possible.

What funding is available for my business?

With the Government announcing a range of financial measures, guidance and advice to support small businesses and the self-employed during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, FSB is here to help you.

Funding options and criteria can be complex, which is why we’ve simplified the process so you can easily check your eligibility for different schemes. You’ll find tailored information for businesses in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as advice on what you can access if you’re self-employed. Download the PDF guide for your home nation to get started. 

England

Read now

Scotland

Read Now

Wales

Read now

N. Ireland

Read now

Frequently asked questions

On 20 March 2020, the government ordered the closure of cafes, pubs and restaurants by that evening, except for take-away food. It further ordered that nightclubs, cinema, theatres, gyms and leisure centres should close “as soon as they reasonably can”.  A business operating in contravention of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Business Closures) Regulations 2020 will be committing an offence.  On 23 March 2020, the government announced that all “non-essential” shops and community spaces are to be closed with immediate effect for at least 3 weeks and until further advised and the Regulations will be extended to apply to those businesses too.

Alongside its broad 'Our Plan to Rebuilddocument outlining its approach to moving the economy into a recovery phase, the Government has now published detailed guidance for employers and sole traders looking to return to work. You can view the working safely during coronavirus guidelines here

The Government has also issued guidance on safe travel advice for those travelling for employment purposes, find out more here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-safer-travel-guidance-for-passengers

What is the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme?

If you are self-employed, you can claim a grant through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. Find out if you are eligible and how to apply here.

This scheme is for self-employed individuals across the UK (and includes members of partnerships) who have lost income due to the restrictions implemented to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The scheme allows those who qualify to claim a taxable grant woth 80% of your trading profits up to a maximum of £2,500 a month for the next three months and will be extended if required. 

Salaried company directors can be furloughed and receive support through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. They may still carry out duties which fulfil the statutory obligations they owe to their company but cannot undertake any work which would generate revenue or provide services to or on behalf of their company. 

In Wales: The Welsh Government has announced a new fund for the self-employed and businesses to help deal with the impact of the Coronavirus. FSB has encouraged the Welsh Government to use this money to help those that have not been covered by the recent announcement of the Self-employment Income Scheme, and for the money to be available before the HMRC’s June go live date. Find out more here:

What is the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS)?

A new temporary Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, delivered by the British Business Bank (BBB), launched 23 March 2020 to support primarily small and medium-sized businesses to access bank lending and overdrafts.

The scheme was significantly expanded on 2 April 2020:

  • No personal guarantees for facilities under £250k: Personal guarantees of any form cannot be taken under the scheme for any facilities below £250k.
  • Personal guarantees for facilities above £250k: Personal guarantees may still be required, at a lender’s discretion, but recoveries under these are capped at a maximum of 20% of the outstanding balance of the CBILS facility after the proceeds of business assets have been applied. A Principal Private Residence (PPR) cannot be taken as security to support a personal guarantee or as security for a CBIL backed facility.
  • Security: For all facilities, including those over £250,000, CBILS can now support lending to smaller businesses even where a lender considers there to be sufficient security, making more smaller businesses eligible to receive the business interruption payment

New eligibility criteria:

Smaller businesses from all sectors can apply for the full amount of the facility. To be eligible for a facility under CBILS, a smaller business must:

  • Be UK based in its business activity, with turnover of no more than £45m per year.
  • Have a borrowing proposal which, were it not for the current pandemic, would be considered viable by the lender.
  • Self-certify that it has been adversely impacted by the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

The full rules of the Scheme and the list of accredited lenders is available on the British Business Bank website. There are a number of accredited providers in all with more being added. Businesses wishing to apply for this scheme should approach the lenders directly. 

As an FSB member, you can now check your eligibility with a range of CBILS accredited providers through FSB Funding Platform, even if you were initially unsuccessful when the original scheme went live. With one simple application, we’ll show you what is available, saving you time and effort. Register now to learn more and check your eligibility

The BBB have communicated that these changes should be retrospectively applied by lenders for any CBILS facilities offered since 23 March 2020.  For any commercial (non-CBILS) facilities offered since the same date, providing the borrower meets the CBILS eligibility criteria, lenders have been asked to bring these facilities onto CBILS wherever possible (e.g. where the lender is accredited to offer the same facility through CBILS) and changes retrospectively applied as necessary.

The Development Bank of Wales is currently offering all business customers a 3 month capital loan repayment holiday. More information can be found here: https://developmentbank.wales/coronavirus-support-welsh-businesses

The Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS)

A second scheme is due to launch later this month providing a government guarantee of 80% to enable banks to make loans of up to £25 million to firms with an annual turnover of between £45 million and £500 million. We expect this scheme to launch during April and will update once further details are known. 

Talk to your bank

Talk to your bank about financial help if needed, to tide you over if your business gets into difficulty. FSB is asking banks to have a presumptive ‘yes’ when an otherwise viable small business goes to them in distress. 

In addition to considering new overdraft facilities, banks and finance providers should also be lenient on things like loan repayments. We hope also that they will agree to mortgage holidays for commercial as well as residential premises. You’ll have seen the Bank of England cut interest rates from 0.75% to 0.25%.

Other sources of funding

It's worth checking with your local authority what is in place locally. The Government has also announced the launch of a billion pound support package for innovative firms hit by coronavirus. You can find out more about the package and how to apply for the Future Fund via: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/billion-pound-support-package-for-innovative-firms-hit-by-coronavirus

What is the support for larger firms through the COVID-19 Corporate Financing Facility?

Under the new Covid-19 Corporate Financing Facility, the Bank of England will buy short term debt from larger companies to support your business if it has been affected by a short-term funding squeeze and allow you to finance your short-term liabilities. It will also support corporate finance markets overall and ease the supply of credit to all firms, all UK based businesses are eligible for this scheme. 

Full details and how to apply can be found on the Bank of England website 

Through the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loans Scheme (CLBILS) all firms with a turnover of more than £45 million will now be able to apply for up to £25 million of finance, and up to £50 million for firms with a turnover of more than £250 million. You can read more details on the GOV.UK website.

Can I make a claim on my insurance policy if I have had to close my business?

Firstly, you need to check your policy wording, or contact your broker to find out if you have Business Interruption cover in your commercial insurance policy.

Standard Business Interruption is provided for consequential loss of income or the additional cost of working following (mainly) physical damage to buildings and contents. Some policies extend that cover, often in a very limited way, to provide for certain events which might impact use of the premises

Once you have confirmed that you have Business Interruption cover, you will need to check whether you have an extension for “notifiable diseases” (can also be referred to as “Infectious Diseases”). This extension is not common. If the policy wording lists specified diseases covered, then you will need to ask whether COVID-19 is included. As this worldwide pandemic is now touching every business and household in the UK in some way, if you are not currently covered, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to get your policy extended to include it at this time.

Standard policies are highly unlikely to include any protection if your business suffers due to an outbreak of disease, regardless of circumstance but, it’s worth checking.

Proactive insurance considerations

As tens of thousands of workers make the change to work from home, some with new equipment, it’s important to make sure that their home insurance providers are made aware. You can reassure your workers that this will likely not impact their premiums as most home-workers will be doing clerical work.

If you normally work from premises and are now relying on deliveries/working away, you will also need to let your insurer/broker know.

If your business is sending employees home, temporarily closing or working from a reduced number of sites, you will have premises which are unexpectedly empty. Empty premises are vulnerable to a few, perhaps unexpected risks.

Your policy will likely have a clause in it to protect against your premises being empty for short periods, but since you may have to vacate the property for longer, you will need to let your Insurer/Broker know and this may involve making a mid-term adjustment on your policy. For tips on preventing damage to unoccupied property, you can read our blog here

FSB Insurance Service is a member of BIBA (British Insurance Brokers Association) who are lobbying for insurers to take an understanding view on the changes in situation for many business owners, to ensure that cover is available and changes in premium are minimal.

Coronavirus: Insurance advice

What impact will Coronavirus (COVID-19) have on your business insurance? FSB Insurance Service give us their six most asked questions.

Read More

I'm working from home, do I need extra cyber security?

If are working from home, it’s important to ensure that your devices and documents are secure and safe. So make sure you:

  • Regularly change passwords
  • Consider encrypting your devices if it contains sensitive data
  • Ensure your anti-virus software and firewalls are up to date

Keep on top of your security by:

  • Being extra vigilant for email phishing and mobile phone smishing (spoof text) attacks – never click - always verify (especially watch out for Coronavirus, HMRC, finance department and tech support scams)
  • Only use business approved software, avoid non-trusted/verified downloads and links. Do not upload material to your business systems from external sources unless trusted/verified
  • Ensure all mobile phones used are password protected and have full device and apps security up to date

If your staff are working from home:

  • Ensure everyone knows who to contact if IT or security issues arise
  • Consider extra training for helping staff when working from home, including the use of new technology such as video conferencing
  • Remind staff about policies relating to cyber security and data protection

If you are using video conferencing you should:

  • Password protect online meetings where possible
  • Some software allows calls to be recorded, so do check if a session is being recorded, or if a session should not be recorded due to the sensitivity of a topic
  • Train your staff to use software like Skype and Zoom

Further advice on cyber security when working from home cane be found at:

https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/guidance/home-working

https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/guidance/suspicious-email-actions

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/blog/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2020/03/Work-fromhome-guide.pptx  

You can also download our guide to getting started working from home. 

Do I still have to pay rent and business rates on my business premises?

We hope that landlords will take a generous approach to their small business tenants, many of whom have already seen trading and footfall dip. This is particularly important in areas of high rent, such as high streets or urban centres (including London). FSB is talking to major landlords to ask them to commit to rent breaks and discounts.

The Treasury have announced that they have introduced emergency legislation through the Covid Bill in Parliament to ban evictions for commercial tenants for at least three months. This means that no business will forfeit their lease and be forced out of their premises if they miss a payment up until 30 June, this will be extended if required. 

This is not a payment holiday, you will still remain liable for your rent and where possible still make payment. If you are struggling to pay this rent, you should talk to your landlord in the first instance. 

In England

The Government has announced an Expanded Retail Discount scheme which will provide a 100% discount for the year 2020/21 for eligible properties. Businesses need to take no action, your local authority will send you a revised bill. You should be aware that these bills may be sent to your place of businesses, if you think you are eligible for this relief, and have not received a letter you should contact your local authority. 

This discount applies to the majority of properties which have been ordered to close as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Full guidance on eligible properties can be found on the GOV.UK website

In Scotland

All non-domestic properties in Scotland will get a 1.6% rates relief, you do not need to apply for this relief and it will be applied to your bill by your local council. Retail, hospitality and leisure businesses will get 100% rates relief. To get this relief, a property has to be occupied. The Scottish Government are working with Scotland's 32 Councils to make sure this relief is administered in the most effective way. 

In Wales

Retail, leisure and hospitality businesses with a rateable value of £500,000 or less will not have to pay any business rates during the financial year 2020 to 2021. Businesses need to take no action and will received a revised bill from their local authority. 

In Northern Ireland

The Small Business Rate Relief scheme will continue in 2020-21. There will be a three month rates holiday for all business ratepayers (excluding public sector and utilities). This will be shown as a 25% discount on your bill which will be issued in June 2020. 

Do I still have to pay Tax and VAT?

The Government's Time To Pay service has been scaled up

HMRC have scaled up their Time to Pay offer to all firms and individuals who are in temporary financial distress as a result of COVID-19 and have outstanding tax liabilities. If you think you or your business is eligible for support through Time to Pay, you can call the following helpline number to get practical help and advice on 0800 0159 559.

Arrangements are agreed on a case-by-case basis and are tailored to individual circumstances and liabilities. For more information, please check the HMRC site here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/tax-helpline-to-support-businesses-affected-by-coronavirus-covid-19.

The payment of VAT has been deferred for the next quarter

If you have a VAT payment due between 20 March 2020 and 30 June 2020 you have the option to defer the payment or pay as usual. Taxpayers will be given until the end of the 2020 to 2021 tax year to pay any liabilities that have accumulated during the deferral period. VAT refunds and reclaims will be paid by the government as normal. 

You will still need to submit your VAT returns to HMRC on time. Customers who normally pay by direct debit should cancel their direct debit with their bank if they are unable to pay. Please do so in sufficient time so that HMRC do not attempt to automatically collect on receipt of your VAT return. 

Income Tax Self-Assessment, payments due on the 31 July 2020 have been deferred

You need to take no action, if you are eligible this will be automatically implemented. There will be no penalties or interest for late payment will be charged during this deferral period.

Proposed changes to IR35 have been postponed to 2021

The government announced on 17 March that the reform to the off-payroll working rules (commonly known as IR35) - that would have applied for people contracting their services to large or medium-sized organisations outside the public sector - will be delayed for one year from 6 April 2020 until 6 April 2021. Business and individuals do not need to take any action.

If there are other tax bills you cannot pay due to coronavirus, you must contact the HMRC coronavirus (COVID-19) helpline to inform HMRC and discuss the options available. 

Who can I contact about support?

Each Government has set up business support helplines, some dedicated to coronavirus.

  • The Government’s Business Support Helpline provides free, impartial business support and signposting services to businesses in England – which currently includes advice on Covid-19. The number is 0800 998 1098. Lines are open Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm. You can also email [email protected].
  • The Scottish Government has set up a dedicated coronavirus helpline for business through Scottish Enterprise. The number is 0300 303 0660. Lines are open from Monday to Friday 8.30am to 5.30pm.
  • In Wales, the Business Wales Helpline is 0300 060 3000. Lines are open Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 5:30pm.
  • In Northern Ireland, the NI Business Info phone number is 0800 181 4422. Lines are open Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 5pm.

Business grants and rates relief are being administered by local authorities, any queries should be addressed to them directly. You can find contact details for your local authority vis the GOV.UK website

You can use your membership of your business group or trade union (if you’re self-employed) to see what benefits they provide that could help. At FSB, our website help on coronavirus is open for all small businesses and the self-employed, and includes a lot of detailed advice and guidance that is constantly updated – head to www.fsb.org.uk

FSB members also have access to provider services that could be crucial for your business at this critical time, such as:

  • A 24/7 legal advice helpline staffed by UK-based lawyers, on 03450 727 727 (please have your membership number to hand)
  • Our FSB Care service providing practical advice and emotional support from a dedicated nurse for chronic physical or mental health conditions, disability or bereavement. If your concerns relate to any of these areas then please call 0808 20 20 888, Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm. However, if you feel that you need urgent medical attention telephone your GP or 111.
  • An insurance advice helpline, a business continuity planning toolkit, and other help – such as how to check your current insurance policies for a ‘notifiable disease’, on 020 3883 7976 Monday to Friday, 9am-5.30pm
  • Unsecured Cash Advance for instant help, and a Funding Platform to access finance - read more here 
  • For help, FSB’s Customer Services Team is available on 0808 20 20 888, Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm

As a small business owner or self-employed, it is very important for you to keep in touch at a time of crisis with others in your sector, in your locality, and in your local FSB. This is useful as you share experiences on your plans to protect your business.

This is a fast-moving issue, with more detail emerging by the day, and sometimes faster. So please follow FSB’s social media channels and especially on Twitter - our UK accounts are @fsb_policy, and @fsb_voice; our national accounts are @fsb_scotland@fsb_wales and @fsb_NI, and every FSB England Region also has an account to follow for any region-specific guidance. This way you will stay connected, get the latest and can share your plans, ideas and support.

It may be worth bookmarking on your computer the official page of guidance from the UK Government, for businesses.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

The Chancellor has announced that the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will remain open until the end of October. There remains no changes to the current scheme, but from August the Government will announce changes to get employees back to work and boost

Full details from the Government here

Employees will still be entitled to receive 80% of their salary (less the usual income tax and National Insurance deductions) up to a cap of £2,500 under the extension of the CJRS until October 2020 (unless further extended beyond that date). We await further details but it would appear that employer payments made to employees whilst they are working will substitute the grant either totally or partially but employees will continue to receive 80% of wages through the grant for periods not working under the CJRS. Employers should bear in mind that employees are entitled to receive at least the National Minimum Wage rate for work carried out or for compulsory training. This will need to reflect the April 2020 increase in the National Minimum Wage/National Living Wage rates.

HMRC has published guidance for small businesses planning to claim the wages of furloughed employees through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Use the links below to check your eligibility and find out what information you'll need to make a claim. 

HMRC Guidance: 

Check if you can claim for your employees' wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Work out 80% of your employees' wages to claim through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Claim for your employees’ wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) - A step by step guide for employers.

Apply for the scheme at:

Claim for wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme or login directly using the Government Gateway

Do I still have to pay pension contributions for my staff?

As an employer, you can’t legally withdraw your employees from any pension scheme. You must follow the opt out rule. Employees themselves must confirm in writing if they wish to take a break from paying into their pension, whether short-term or indefinitely.  The employee will then be marked as having left the scheme. You are not allowed to encourage or force employees to opt out of the scheme.

Coronavirus: Workplace Pensions Guidance for Employers

What impact will COVID-19 have on workplace pensions? Find out this and what do you need to do as an employer

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What about apprentices? (England only)

If your business is no longer able to operate, you can furlough the apprentice(s) who have been on your PAYE payroll scheme on or before 19 March 2020 and claim the wages under the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. To be eligible for the scheme, the apprentice(s) cannot undertake work for or on behalf of the organisation.  Apprentices hired after 28 February 2020 cannot be furloughed or claimed for in accordance with this scheme. The scheme will be open to employers for at least three months starting from 1 March 2020. You will be able to claim for 80% of furloughed apprentices’ usual monthly wage costs, up to £2,500 a month, through a HMRC online portal. The portal is expected to be available at the end of April 2020.  

What happens to apprentice who has been made redundant?

If an apprentice has been made redundant, they can continue their apprenticeship and proceed to their end-point assessment where possible. Training providers may be able to find alternative employment for them to continue their apprenticeship. If you are an FSB member and considering dismissing an apprentice by way of redundancy please contact FSB’s employment helpline for advice.

What happens to apprentices’ training?

Apprentices and training providers are encouraged to make use of online training and distance learning tools. Where providers can continue to deliver training remotely, furloughed apprentices can continue their training and therefore their apprenticeships whilst furloughed, as long as it does not provide services or generate revenue for their employer. If you have placed the apprentice on unpaid leave, you should consider a break in learning together with the apprentice(s) and training provider. If there has been a disruption in learning for less than four weeks, you do not need to report the interruption and there is no change to the funding payment for training. If the break is for more than four weeks, you and/or training provider must report a formal break in learning. Once the apprentice is back at work, they can resume their apprenticeship.

If you are using the digital apprenticeship service, then you can ‘pause’ the apprenticeship on the service at the point when the break in learning starts. This will suspend the payment of funding to the training provider for the duration of the break. You must not ‘stop’ the apprenticeship through the apprenticeship service as this will not permit to resume the apprenticeship subsequently.  You must only use this function when you are certain that training will not resume at any point. 

What happens to apprentices’ assessment?

Apprentices who are ready for assessment but cannot be assessed because of the coronavirus crisis, will be able to have their end-point assessment rescheduled.

Department for Education has a coronavirus helpline if you have any further questions: 0800 046 8687. Lines are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm and weekends 10am to 4pm.

What are my duties as an employer?

Employers have a duty under health and safety legislation to take steps to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all their employees, so far as reasonably practicable, including those who are particularly at risk for any reason. Employees also have a duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and that of people they work with. They must cooperate with their employer to enable it to comply with its duties under health and safety legislation. Employees who refuse to cooperate, or who recklessly risk their own health or that of others in the workplace, could be disciplined where this is appropriate. Where, for example, employees attend work but the employer reasonably believes the employee has symptoms that would require them to self-isolate in accordance with current public health advice (i.e. where they have a new persistent cough and/or high temperature), it is likely that the employer has a duty of care towards other staff to require the employee displaying those symptoms to stay at home and self-isolate for a period of 7 days or 14 days where applicable. Employees will be entitled to SSP in this scenario under new temporary SSP Regulations (see below). Alternatively, where employees are fit enough to carry out some work whilst self-isolating at home and it is practicable for them to do so, employees would be paid their normal wages for the period they are carrying out work.

Currently, the government’s advice is that where employees with symptoms of the coronavirus have attended work, employers do not need to take any special measures such as sending other staff home, closing the workplace or deep cleaning the workplace. This guidance is subject to change.

In respect of employees who have attended the workplace and who test positive for coronavirus, the employer will be contacted by the relevant local Health Protection Team to identify those who have been in contact with the employee and to discuss any special measures for the employer to take.

Are employers required to carry out a specific risk assessment for coronavirus?

The virus should be approached like every other disease. Some employers (particularly in higher risk industries, such as healthcare) may already have in place disease control risk assessments. For individuals that have been in contact with suspected cases, no restrictions or special control measures are required while laboratory test results for Covid-19 are awaited. For those that have been in contact with confirmed cases of Covid-19, the advice on undergoing a period of 14 days of self-isolation applies. Where employees have been in contact with confirmed cases of Covid-19 or it is reasonably suspected that they have been, they will be entitled to receive statutory sick pay (SSP) during their absence from work, subject to meeting the eligibility criteria for SSP.  

Are employees entitled to pay where employers require them to stay away from work?

Employers may choose to go further than the advice from the Public Health bodies and, as a precautionary measure, ask require employees to stay away from work when they are not sick or are not self-isolating in accordance with current Public Health advice, or where employers cannot put in place measures to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of certain employees in their workplace. In those cases, employers will need to pay employees their normal salary for this absence. This is because the absence is at the employer’s request and is not sickness absence.

Alternatively, employers may choose to ask employees to work from home if this is an option in which case, of course, they would receive their usual pay. Where employees are furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, employers are required to pay employees at least 80% of their wages under the Scheme.

What is the Government and Public Health Advice on Self-isolation?

The latest Government advice on self-isolation can be read at the gov.uk website

Previous government advice was that individuals returning from category 1 areas/countries should self-isolate for a period of 14 days from their return even where symptomless, with those returning from a category 2 area being required to self-isolate for 14 days only where they develop symptoms of the coronavirus. This advice has been replaced by the current advice on self-isolation:

  • Anyone who develops a high temperature (37.8 degrees and above) and/or a new, continuous cough must self-isolate for 7 days, but if you live with others, you must self-isolate for 14 days. They must stay at home and avoid all but essential contact with others for 7 days, or 14 days in a family or shared home, from the point of displaying those symptoms, to slow the spread of infection.
  • Individuals do not need to call NHS 111 to go into self-isolation. Where their symptoms worsen during home isolation or are no better after 7 days, they should contact NHS 111 online at 111.nhs.uk. For individuals without internet access, they should call NHS 111. For a medical emergency they should dial 999.
  • In Scotland, individuals should phone their GP or NHS 24 on 111 out of hours. Individuals in Northern Ireland should call 0300 200 7885.

Additionally, the government has advised schools to cancel trips abroad and for people over 70 with pre-existing health conditions not to go on cruises.

The household isolation instruction as a result of coronavirus does not apply if you need to leave your home to escape domestic abuse. If you or your staff are concerned about domestic abuse during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak the government have issued guidance on how to get help if you are a victim of domestic abuse.

Do I have to pay Statutory Sick Pay if employees are required to self-isolate?

The Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme is now live. This allows employers to claim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid to employees unable to work because they either have coronavirus or cannot work because they are self-isolating at home. 

Check if you can claim back SSP and how to apply here

Employees who develop symptoms of the coronavirus or symptoms which require self-isolation will of course be unfit for work. They will be entitled to SSP subject to meeting the qualifying criteria.

Temporary Reform of the SSP Rules

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, new Regulations known as The Statutory Sick Pay (General) (Coronavirus Amendment) Regulations 2000 came into force on 13 March 2020.  These will remain in force for a period of 8 months. These Regulations amend the Statutory Sick Pay (General) Regulations 1982 and provide that:

  • Individuals who self-isolate to prevent infection or contamination with coronavirus disease in accordance with guidance published by Public Health England, NHS National Services Scotland or Public Health Wales (i.e. advice from the public health bodies in Great Britain) and are unable to work for that reason will be entitled to SSP.

Equivalent legislation has been passed in Northern Ireland with effect from 12 March 2020 where employees are self-isolating in accordance with guidance published by the Regional Agency for Public Health and Social Well-being (i.e. the public health body in Northern Ireland).

In other words, this extends the current entitlement to SSP to those employees who are self-isolating for 7 days in accordance with Public Health advice due to having a fever and/or new persistent cough. This is subject to employees meeting the qualifying criteria for SSP.

For SSP purposes, the employer cannot require a medical certificate for the first seven calendar days of sickness absence.  If employees need to provide evidence to their employer that they need to stay at home due to coronavirus, they will be able to get it from the NHS 111 Online instead of having to get a fit note from their doctor.

These Regulations have been passed in order to encourage self-isolation and to minimise the risks to public health arising from coronavirus disease.

It was announced in the Budget on 11 March 2020 that further reforms to the SSP rules will be introduced as follows. These reforms are set out in the Coronavirus Bill which is set to come into force at the end of March 2020 and applies across the UK (including Northern Ireland). These new measures (once enacted) are as follows:

  • People who cannot work due to coronavirus and are eligible for SSP will get it from day one, rather than from the fourth day of their illness (i.e. the 3 waiting days for SSP will be removed). The Coronavirus Bill provides that this will apply retrospectively from 13 March 2020 i.e. from the introduction of the new requirements around self-isolation for fever and cough symptoms and the further public health advice requiring self-isolation for 14 days for those who live with someone who has developed symptoms.
  • The Government will reimburse small and medium employers (i.e. those employing fewer than 250 employees, as determined by the number of people they employed as of 28 February 2020) any statutory sick pay they pay to employees for the first 14 days of sickness as a result of coronavirus.
  • Under the new rules, employers should maintain records of staff absences, but should not require employees to provide a GP fit note.  
  • As the Percentage Threshold Scheme which previously permitted small businesses to reclaim SSP from the Government was abolished in 2014, the government will set up a new repayment mechanism for employers for reclaiming SSP in due course.

For individuals who are not entitled to SSP, such as the self-employed and those that fall below the Lower Earnings Limit, a ‘new style’ Employment and Support Allowance through the welfare system will be payable for people directly affected by coronavirus or who are self-isolating according to government advice, from the first day of sickness or self-isolation.  Those individuals may also be entitled to Universal Credit.

Emergency Voluntary Leave

Recently retired health care and social care professionals (i.e. those whose registration to practice has ceased within the last 3 years), including retired doctors, nurses and midwifes, will be contacted by the National Medical Council and The Nursing and Midwifery Council to re-register with them on a voluntary basis in order to practice.  Under the new legislation to be introduced under the Bill, employees will have the statutory right to take Emergency Voluntary Leave in blocks of 2,3 or 4 weeks’ statutory unpaid leave. Those who take the leave will be entitled to a payment from the government to compensate for loss of earnings and expenses to be paid at a flat rate for those who volunteer through an appropriate authority. Employees who take the leave will be protected by employment legislation from dismissal or any other detriment as a result of taking the leave. They will remain employed for the duration of their leave (and will continue to accrue statutory rights, such as annual leave whilst on leave). They will have no right to remuneration from their employers during the period of leave. They will have the statutory right to return to their roles at the end of their leave.  Employers that employ those categories of retired professionals will need to permit employees to take this leave any accommodate any subsequent staff shortages. 

Contractual Sick Pay

Employers that offer enhanced contractual sick pay over and above SSP rates, should consider whether or not they will revise their contractual sick pay eligibility criteria for contractual sick pay or exercise discretion to include employees who are self-isolating as a result of coronavirus but not unwell, or whether to pay SSP only in this circumstance. Employers considering amending their enhanced sick pay schemes as a financial measure (including on a temporary basis) in view of the likely increase in staff sickness levels due to coronavirus and the new Government guidance on self-isolation (particularly in relation to self-isolation now being for up to 14 days) should bear in mind the following points: 

  • Employers with discretionary sick pay schemes whereby the employer operates the SSP scheme but may exercise their discretion to pay more than SSP in any particular case must exercise their discretion fairly and reasonably and not arbitrarily or capriciously. In particular, to maintain mutual trust and confidence, the employer should ensure consistency in their decision making and must not discriminate against a particular employee because of their disability.
  • Employers with contractual (enhanced) sick pay schemes can only lawfully change the criteria for payment (including on a temporary basis during the coronavirus outbreak) with employees’ agreement, or in accordance with any contractual flexibility clause.  This means that a failure to make a payment in accordance with the rules of the scheme would amount to a breach of contract and, depending on whether the breach is sufficiently serious or not, it may entitle the employee to claim constructive dismissal (in the latter case, subject to the employee having at least 2 years’ service, or 1 years’ service in Northern Ireland

What about employees who are unable to attend work due to school closures or due to dependents self-isolating?

In England, schools have been asked by the government to begin phased openings from 1 June 2020. School closures and the closure of businesses providing childcare, except for the children of key workers and for vulnerable children have inevitably impacted on childcare arrangements and employees’ ability to work. It is also likely to be more difficult for employees to find replacement childcare cover due to more limited childcare provision as schools and childcare providers only remain open for key workers and for vulnerable children. Elder care arrangements may also be adversely affected.

Section 57A of the Employment Rights Act 1996 gives employees the right to a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work because (amongst other reasons) of the unexpected disruption or termination of arrangements for the care of a dependant. This includes where employees have children they need to arrange childcare for because their child’s school is closed, or to arrange care for their child or another dependant if they’re sick, or need to go into isolation.

An employee may complain to an Employment Tribunal where their employer has failed to permit them to take time off under this provision. Employees also have the right not to be subjected to any detriment for reasons relating to time off for dependants and any dismissal on these grounds is automatically unfair, regardless of the length of the employee’s employment.

Government guidance on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme states that employees who are unable to work due to caring responsibilities, or who are required to shield as a result of the coronavirus epidemic are eligible for furlough pay under the Scheme. Please refer to the factsheet on Furlough and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Should employees be encouraged to wear face masks to protect themselves from infection?

In most cases, employees are not recommended to wear facemasks (also known as surgical masks or respirators) to protect against the virus other than in health care, or some social care settings or where protective face masks might help employees working in particularly vulnerable situations. Face masks are only recommended to be worn by symptomatic individuals (advised by a healthcare worker) to reduce the risk of transmitting the infection to other people.

The Government is now advising that people should aim to wear a face-covering in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible and they come into contact with others such as on public transport or in some shops. This includes homemade cloth face-coverings. This is to help protect against inadvertent transmission of the disease to others if the user has it asymptomatically.

Employees are not required to wear face coverings in the workplace as social-distancing remains the most effective measure in the workplace. However, employers should support workers in using face coverings safely if they choose to wear one in the workplace. In those circumstances employees should be reminded to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before putting a face covering on, and after removing it. When wearing a face covering, they should avoid touching their face or face covering and practise social distancing wherever possible.

How should I respond if employees refuse to work?

To varying degrees, employees are likely to be anxious about the risks of being exposed to the virus, including when attending the workplace. The government has advised that homeworking should be put in place where possible. For employees who cannot work from home, they are encouraged to return to work where it is safe to do so.

It may be possible to agree with employees a temporary variation of their working hours to avoid them travelling during busier times on public transport. If this is not possible, the best approach would be to attempt assuage employees’ anxieties by reassuring staff regarding the additional hygiene measures the employer has put in place to protect their health, safety and well-being, so far as practicable.

It is unlikely to be reasonable to treat absences from work in those cases as unauthorized or as a disciplinary matter. Furthermore, doing so may place employers at risk of a claim. Where an employee has a reasonable belief that the danger to their health and safety of them attending work is serious and imminent (e.g. because they reasonably believe they would be at an unacceptable risk of contracting coronavirus in the workplace and that the preventative measures the employer has put in place are insufficient) and the employee could not reasonably have been expected to avert the risk (e.g. by first addressing their concerns with the employer), depending on the facts, the employee would be protected from an automatically unfair dismissal if the employer were to dismiss them due to their refusal to attend work for this reason (there is no minimum service requirement for employees to claim that their dismissal was unfair for an automatically unfair reason). 

Can I use Lay Offs and Short Time Working?

Most businesses have been severely affected by a downturn in work or custom. This has been caused initially as a result of public anxiety around contracting the virus through social mixing and latterly as a result of public health guidance to avoid non-essential social contact where practicable.  On 20 March 2020, the government ordered the closure of cafes, pubs and restaurants by that evening, except for take-away food. It further ordered that nightclubs, cinema, theatres, gyms and leisure centres should close “as soon as they reasonably can”.  A business operating in contravention of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Business Closures) Regulations 2020 will be committing an offence.  On 23 March 2020, the government announced that all “non-essential” shops and community spaces are to be closed with immediate effect for at least 3 weeks and until further advised and the Regulations will be extended to apply to those businesses too (a full list of the non-essential businesses which are to close are available here.

Takeaway and delivery services may remain open and operational. This means people can continue to enter premises to access takeaway services, including delivery drivers.

Online retail is still open and encouraged and postal and delivery services continue to run as normal.

Employees working in those businesses which have closed or experienced a downturn in custom due to social distancing will be particularly impacted by lay-offs, short time working and potentially, redundancies.

However, the Chancellor has since announced the proposed introduction of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.  Once this comes into force, all UK employers (i.e. employers in Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales) will be able to access funding from HMRC to continue paying 80% of their employees’ employment costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month, for those employees who are not provided with work and that would otherwise have been laid off (or made redundant) during this crisis.  Please see our factsheet entitled Furlough Leave for guidance on the Scheme, although the precise details of the Scheme have not yet been formulated.  In view of this, it is advisable that employees be retained where possible or kept on lay off or short-time working where this is already in place. This is particularly those employees have accrued unfair dismissal rights, who may otherwise assert that a redundancy dismissal prior to the Scheme coming into place is unfair in the circumstances) until the new Scheme is in place  Please refer to our template Letter to Staff about the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (Furlough).   

Where this may avoid redundancies, or whilst employers await the introduction of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, lay-offs and short time working can be put in place to address temporary work shortages or business closures, without having to resort to redundancy. However, employers can only lawfully take this action to avoid potential unlawful deductions from wages claims or breach of contract claims where employees agree to being laid off or kept on short-time working, or it is provided for in the contract (e.g. the contract contains a “lay-off” and/or “short-time working” clause).  Please refer to our factsheet on Lay-offs, Short Time Working and Guarantee Payments for further guidance.

What about Variations of Contract?

Businesses affected by a downturn are considering other temporary measures to avoid the need for redundancies and whilst awaiting the introduction of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, such as introducing a temporary reduction in pay, working hours, or removing/reducing certain contractual benefits.  Employers will need to consult with staff to obtain their agreement to these measures in the absence of any relevant contractual flexibility clauses or short-time working clauses. Please refer, for example, to our template Letter Seeking Agreement To Vary Terms of Contract of Employment. 

On the other hand, there will be a significant increase in workload for staff that are able to continue working during the coronavirus outbreak, particularly in certain sectors such as healthcare and social care. Employers need to consider what measures they can put in place to support those staff in helping them to manage increased workloads.  In the absence of existing contractual overtime provisions, employers will need to seek staff agreement to working overtime.  Employers may, for example, seek to agree a short period of lay off in the first instance which is kept under regularly review, with consent for a further period of lay off sought where necessary.  Agreement to any period of lay off should be confirmed in writing in the absence of existing contractual lay off provisions.   

What general measures can I take in the Workplace?

Employers should continue to monitor the latest travel advice from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office as this advice is rapidly changing.  At present the government has advised against all but essential travel.  Many international borders have however now closed making international travel impossible in most cases.

Whilst employees are now working from home where practicable and some businesses have been told by the government to temporarily close for at least 3 weeks and until further advised (please see above section on Lay offs and Short Time Working for details of these types of businesses), for those that are still attending their workplace, please refer to our factsheet, Employment Law Issues During a Pandemic Virus for guidance on workplace health and safety measures. In addition to informing staff of the new government requirements around self-isolation and social distancing, staff should be reminded (such as through written notices displayed in the workplace) to strictly adhere to the following hygiene practices:

  • Washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and to use an alcohol-based sanitiser gel where this is not available; as well as carrying tissues and using them to catch coughs and sneezes, and disposing of used tissues in the bin straight away. 

Employers should ensure that soap and running water is readily available in the workplace. It is also good practice to make available supplies of alcohol-based sanitisers, particularly for mobile workers who may not always have access to soap and water.  Employers should ensure that all potentially high-contact work areas, such as toilets, door handles and shared office equipment are regularly cleaned using household type detergents. The government has produced guidance on cleaning in non-health care settings, which can be accessed here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-decontamination-in-non-healthcare-settings/covid-19-decontamination-in-non-healthcare-settings    

Where homeworking is not practicable and employees are still attending their workplace, it is also good practice for employers to:

  • keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace
  • ensure employees who are in a vulnerable group are strongly advised to follow social distancing guidance (as set out above)
  • make sure everyone’s contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date
  • make sure managers know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes, for example sickness reporting and sick pay, and procedures in case someone in the workplace is potentially infected and needs to take the appropriate action

Employers should also remind employees of any existing risk assessments for reducing the risk of infection in the workplace and should ensure that these are still relevant and sufficient.    

The NHS has produced some posters around hygiene measures that can be displayed in public areas: 

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/866065/Handwashing_techniques.pdf

Government guidance applicable since 23 March 2020, which is to remain in place for at least 3 weeks and until further notice, states that retail and public premises which remain open to the public must:

  • Ensure a distance of two meters between customers and shop assistants; and
  • Let people enter the shop only in small groups, to ensure that spaces are not crowded.
  • Queue control is required outside of shops and other essential premises that remain open.

Financial Support for Employers, Employees and Businesses

At the Budget on 11 March 2020, the Government announced other measures it will introduce to support businesses that experience increased costs or disruptions to their cashflow as a result of coronavirus, including a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme and a dedicated HMRC helpline for those who need a deferral period on their tax liabilities.  Lending banks have also put in place their own measures to assist businesses during this period. The Government has since announced a wider range of financial support during the coronavirus epidemic, which includes the proposed introduction of the Coronavirus Retention Scheme. A summary of the government support can be found in the following link: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19.

We would expect to see an amendment to the Coronavirus Bill providing for Regulations to be made for government financial support for the self-employed who are not in scope for financial assistance under the proposed Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme soon, although no legislation has yet been passed by Parliament in this regard. Currently, self-employed individuals would need to apply for government benefits such as Universal Credit in the absence of any alternative financial support.

Please note - Markel Law owns the copyright on this webpage. You must not use this page in any way that infringes the intellectual property rights in it. You may download and print this page which you may then use, copy or reproduce for your own internal non-profit making purposes. However, under no circumstances are you permitted to use, copy or reproduce this page with a view to profit or gain. In addition, you must not sell or distribute this page to third parties who are not members of your organisation, whether for monetary payment or otherwise. This page is intended to serve as general guidance only and does not constitute legal advice. The application and impact of laws can vary widely based on the specific facts involved. This information should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal or other competent advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a Markel Law professional. In no circumstances will Markel Law LLP, or any company within the Markel Group be liable for any decision made or action taken in reliance on the information contained within this page or for any consequential, special or similar damages, even if advised of the possibility of such damages. 

Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19)

The government has published eight separate guides covering eight different types of work environments. These guides set out the steps employers can put in place for meeting their health & safety obligations in the workplace during the coronavirus pandemic. These guides can be seen and downloaded via the GOV.UK website. There is separate guidance for Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, if your business is located in these nations you should ensure you comply with your national guidelines. 

The guidance focuses on five key points, which the government has stated should be implemented as soon as it is practical

Employees should continue to work from home where they can

Employers should continue to take all reasonable steps to help employees work from home. For those who cannot work from home and whose workplace has not been told to close, employees should return to work where it is safe to do so.

Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment

Employers will need to carry out COVID-19 risk assessments in consultation with their workers or trade unions, to establish what health and safety guidelines to put in place. If possible, employers should publish the results of their risk assessments on their website and the government expects all businesses with over 50 employees to do so.

Maintain 2 metres social distancing, wherever possible

Employers should re-design workspaces to maintain 2 metre distances between people by staggering start times, creating one way walk-throughs, opening more entrances and exits, or changing seating layouts in break rooms.

Where people cannot be 2 metres apart, manage transmission risk

Employers should look into putting barriers in shared spaces, creating workplace shift patterns or fixed teams minimising the number of people in contact with one another, or ensuring colleagues are facing away from each other.

Reinforce cleaning processes

Workplaces should be cleaned more frequently, paying close attention to high-contact objects like door handles and keyboards. Employers should provide handwashing facilities or hand sanitisers at entry and exit points.

Source: Markel Law LLP 

The Scottish Government has published a four-phase plan setting out the approach for easing coronavirus restrictions in Scotland. Including news that some businesses could start re-opening from the 28th May if adequate provisions for employees and customers are made.

Maintaining 2m social distancing in the workplace is law in Scotland. Businesses are expected to take reasonable measure to ensure this can happen such as, reducing the number of people working on the premises at any one time, increasing space between staff and staggering shifts. Full guidance for businesses can be found here.

The Welsh Government has published a plan setting out the approach for easing coronavirus restrictions in Wales.

Maintaining 2m social distancing in the workplace is law in Wales. Businesses are expected to take reasonable measure to ensure this can happen such as, reducing the number of people working on the premises at any one time, increasing space between staff and staggering shifts. Full guidance for businesses can be found here.

The NI Executive has published a phased five-stage coronavirus recovery plan, setting out the approach the Executive will take when deciding how to ease coronavirus restrictions in the future.

Guidance for businesses that open throughout the recovery in Northern Ireland can be found here.

The Guidance focuses on three key areas:

  • Following Public Health Guidelines – this includes; ensuring there are facilities for handwashing available and that everyone should wash their hands when they get to work and throughout the day, facilitating and maintaining social distancing and providing PPE.
  • Safer Work Practices – this includes; avoiding non-essential travel, considering staggering start, finish and break times for employees and ensuring the workplace is thoroughly and regularly cleaned.
  • Mental Health and Wellbeing – this includes; employers and line managers to be alert to mood or behavioural changes in employees and talk to them compassionately about problems.

Key Resources

Carry out a risk assessment

Carry out a risk assessment

Learn how to identify hazards and complete a risk assessment form with our blog.

Download our checklist

Download our checklist

Download our guide covering the areas you need to ensure you address in your risk assessment.

Visit the FSB Legal Hub

FSB members can download a free Covid-19 risk assessment template to use in their premises.

 

Looking after your mental health

COVID-19 will be causing stress and worry for small businesses and the self-employed, and it is more important than ever to make sure you are taking steps to support your own mental health as well as that of any employees you may have.

Support and resources that can help:

  • FSB’s Wellbeing in Small Business hub
  • FSB Care is a long-term service providing practical advice and emotional support from a dedicated nurse for chronic physical or mental health conditions, disability or bereavement. If your concerns relate to any of these areas then please call 0808 20 20 888, Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm. However, if you feel that you need urgent medical attention telephone your GP or 111.
  • FSB have worked with Mental Health At Work to create a toolkit containing everything small businesses and the self-employed need to know about the government's help during the coronavirus outbreak.
  • Mind has issued tailored support for mental health in the wake of COVID-19, which includes tips for taking care of your mental health if you have been asked to stay and work at home.
  • The Government also has online advice to help support people with specific mental health needs on the gov.uk website 
  • Heads Together Workplace Wellbeing hub
  • NHS
  • Samaritans. Whatever you’re going through, you can call the Samaritans for free at any time, from any phone on 116 123. They are available to offer support 24/7. 
    If you need a response immediately, it’s best to call on the phone, otherwise you can email them, visit a local branch or write to them. Click here for more contact information.

FSB’s National Chairman, Mike Cherry, joins Simon Blake OBE, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England’s Chief Executive, as a guest on MHFA’s highly popular podcast Just About Coping. The podcast is an exploration of mental health and wellbeing looking forward in this unprecedented and challenging times. Mike shares his personal story and talks about the importance of looking after your mental health and wellbeing as a business owner.

For this year's Mental Health Awareness Week, FSB's Alan Soady is joined by Faye McGuiness from Mind and FSB members Sarah Windrum and Rich Bishop to chat about how employers and their staff are coping with their mental health during COVID-19, with some useful guidance and advice to help.

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