“Covid Secure” practical workplace guidance for employers

The Covid Secure guidance published by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (DBEIS), covers workplaces that can re-open this week, as well as some the Government hopes will reopen on 1 June 2020:

  • Construction and outdoor work
  • Factories, plants and warehouses
  • Homes
  • Labs and research facilities
  • Offices and contact centres
  • Restaurants offering takeaway or delivery
  • Shops and branches
  • Vehicles

The guidance relates to workplaces, rather than sectors. This means that a firm could have workers in several of these workplace categories and will need to take account of the guidance relating to each workplace category. For example, a construction business could have workers on a construction site, in vehicles, in other people’s homes and in offices.

DBEIS says that the key points underpinning the guidance in each type of workplace are:

  1. Those who can work from home should continue to do so, but those who cannot should return to work.

Clinically extremely vulnerable people who have been asked to shield should not return to work, but clinically vulnerable employees may do so if they cannot work from home. However, clinically vulnerable employees should be offered the safest roles available.

The guidance also reminds employers to be mindful of equality in the workplace and that they must not discriminate against anyone who has a protected characteristic, particularly highlighting responsibilities towards disabled workers and new or expectant mothers.

  1. Employers should carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment, in consultation with workers or trade unions.

The requirement to consult with employees means consulting the health and safety representative selected by a recognised trade union or a representative chosen by workers where there is no recognised union.

  1. Maintaining two metres social distancing, wherever possible.

Employers are advised to consider measures such as increasing the number of entry points to the building, staggering start and finish times and introducing one-way systems within buildings.

  1. Managing transmission risk where people cannot be two metres apart.

The guidance says that where two-metre social distancing cannot be maintained, employers should consider whether that activity is necessary for the business to continue to operate. Where such an activity must go ahead, employers should consider the use of increased handwashing and surface cleaning, keeping activities as short as possible, using back-to-back or side-to-side working instead of face-to-face and using small fixed-teams to carry out such work.

The guidance recommends against the use of face-coverings in most non-clinical settings.

  1. Reinforcing cleaning processes.

Employers should assess and clean workplaces before reopening. Once reopened, the guidance contains detailed advice on cleaning the workplace and ensuring effective hygiene at all times.

Businesses and organisations with more than 50 employees are expected to publish their risk assessments online, while all employers are expected to display a signed poster, which can be downloaded with the guidance here  https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5eb97d30d3bf7f5d364bfbb6/staying-covid-19-secure.pdf .  This includes contact details for the Health and Safety Executive.

In some circumstances, bringing employees back into the workplace could create a risk of an employment dispute arising and so employers should seek advice to minimise the chances of a dispute arising.

Bounce Back Loan scheme is now live – apply today

The Government’s new Bounce Back Loan scheme (BBLS) has now gone live online and is open for applications. 

This new scheme is aimed specifically at small to medium-sized businesses looking to borrow a smaller amount to assist them with cash flow and other issues.

Key Features 

  • Businesses can borrow up to 25 per cent of their turnover, from £2,000 up to a maximum loan amount of £50,000.
  • Unlike the Coronavirus Business Loan scheme (CBILS), the BBLS is 100 per cent backed by the Government – ensuring that loans can be provided with fewer checks to more businesses. 
  • The BBLS is being administered by the British Business Bank and the loans will be provided by accredited lenders (find details of accredited lenders by clicking here).
  • There will be no interest or repayments due on BBLS finance for 12 months, and after this period the Government has agreed to a low fixed interest rate of 2.5 per cent.
  • The length of the loan is for six years but early repayment is allowed, without early repayment fees.
  • There will also be no guarantee or administration fees, or any requirements for personal guarantees.
  • Businesses that have already acquired finance of less than £50,000 from the CBILS can transfer into the BBLS. 
  • Despite the backing of the Government, borrowers will remain 100 per cent liable for the debt from the finance. 

Eligibility

The BBLS is open to businesses from most sectors and those applying must be able to self-certify the following to lenders:

  • It is UK-based in its business activity and established by 1 March 2020;
  • It has been adversely impacted by the Coronavirus (Covid-19);
  • It is not currently using a government-backed Coronavirus loan scheme (unless using BBLS to refinance a whole facility);
  • It was not a business in difficulty at 31 December 2019; and
  • It is not in bankruptcy, liquidation or undergoing debt restructuring.

Some organisations are excluded from BBLS finance, this includes:

  • Credit institutions (falling within the remit of the Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive)
  • Public sector bodies, 
  • State-funded primary or secondary schools 
  • Insurance companies.

Application Process 

Once a business has selected an accredited lender via the British Business Bank website here, they will be required to fill in a short online application form on their chosen lender’s website.

This self-certifies that they are eligible for a Bounce Back Loan facility. The bank will then undertake standard customer fraud, Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Know Your Customer (KYC) checks.

If the bank is satisfied that the borrower meets the conditions of the BBLS then they should be able to release funds within a matter of days – in some cases within 24 hours. 

To start the BBLS application process please click here

It may be best to make the first application with a bank which the business has an existing relationship with, as some banks have said they are only currently entertaining applications from existing clients.

If one lender turns a business down, they can still approach other lenders within the scheme.

BBLS is designed to be fast for lenders to process and quick and easy for businesses to access, which is you will only be required to fill out a short application form online for each new lender. 

Here to help

If you need advice or support with finance for your business as a result of the current crisis, please contact our team.

Employer and employee obligations for homeworking

Hundreds of thousands of UK workers have made the move to homeworking follow the Government’s ‘stay at home’ guidance and have been fulfilling their work duties from home for weeks. 

However, the sudden change to homeworking means that some employers and their employees may not be fully aware of their legal obligations under these arrangements. 

To help you gain a greater appreciation of each party’s requirements and rights, we have looked at and provided answers to seem key homeworking questions. 

As an employer what are my health and safety obligations when it comes to home working?

You cannot monitor employees 24 hours a day while they are working at home or even carry out regular health and safety risk assessments, but you are still expected to meet certain obligations when it comes to health and safety.

As such, where possible, you should:

  • check that each employee feels the work they’re being asked to do can be done safely at home and that they have the right equipment
  • keep in regular contact with employees to make sure they do not feel isolated or under supported
  • make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for an employee who has a disability.

Where a change is needed, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure it is carried out properly. However, it is not the sole responsibility of employers to ensure that health and safety rules are observed and employees must tell their manager about any health and safety risks and/or any homeworking arrangements that need to change as a result of health and safety concerns.

Health and safety typically focuses on physical health, but what are my expectations regarding employees’ mental health?

The social distancing measures needed to reduce the rate of COVID-19 infection has led to a significant rise in mental health issues among the UK population. Employers have a general obligation to ensure their employees come to no harm while working. 

As such they should be encouraging employees to take regular breaks, for example, to avoid sitting at a computer for too long.

They may also wish to, but are not required to, provide activities that alleviate stress and anxiety, this may be achieved their internal communications. Examples include hosting quizzes, holding lockdown bake-offs and video conferencing.

My employee requires certain equipment/technology to fulfil their role, am I required to provide this?

Employers are responsible for all equipment and technology provided to employees that allows them to work from home. As such, they should:

  • discuss equipment and technology requirements with employees and agree what is needed
  • support the employee to set up any new equipment or technology.

Employers should also regularly assess how systems and temporary arrangements are working and make improvements if necessary, to ensure employees are supported. 

The performance of an employee appears to have been affected by home working, what should I do?

Employers and managers have a responsibility to ensure that those working from home know what is expected of them.

As such they should agree:

  • hours of work
  • how they will communicate
  • how their work-life balance will be managed
  • rules around storing information and data protection
  • how performance is managed and measured.

Employers should recognise that some employees may find homeworking difficult or struggle to organise themselves while working at home. Employers should discuss this with employees at the earliest opportunity and put practical steps in place that are designed to improve their performance. 

How does homeworking affect pay and the terms and conditions of employment?

If an employee is working from home, they must still receive the same rate of pay, as long as they are still working their regular contracted hours.

During this period, their usual terms and conditions of employment still apply, apart from their place of work. It is also important that employers ensure staff follow the law on working hours and take breaks. 

My employee is having to juggle childcare and working from home, what are the rules regarding this?

With schools and nurseries closed and other family members unable to look after children, many working families may be finding it difficult to balance childcare and working from home. 

If this is the case, then employers and employees may be able to agree a more flexible homeworking arrangement. This could include:

  • working different hours
  • agreeing to a reduced working week
  • reducing work targets
  • being flexible about deadlines, where possible.

It is important that employees discuss any change in circumstance regarding care, be it for a child or vulnerable adult, with their employer so that they can agree on working arrangements and expectations. 

Bounce Back Loans scheme for small businesses

The Chancellor has announced a new loans measure, known as the Bounce Back Loans Scheme (BBLS), which will allow small businesses to borrow up to 25 per cent of their turnover, up to a maximum of £50,000.

The BBLS will be 100% backed by a Government guarantee, unlike the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan scheme (CBILS) and will offer an interest-free period for 12 months.

Businesses will be able to apply online via a short and simple two-page self-certification form and because the loan is entirely Government-backed it is hoped that lenders will have the confidence to offer finance without the lengthy and complex red tape associated with CBILS and other loan schemes. 

Importantly, firms applying for the new loans will only have to prove that they were viable in the past before the crisis, not that they will remain viable after the crisis.   This future viability criteria has been a major issue with CBILS. 

There remains some concern that banks will still wish to assess the latest financials through a ‘cash available to service debt’ calculation. Where there isn’t sufficient cash to service the debt then there are fears that the loan may still not be granted despite the Government guarantee. Further clarification is expected soon.

The scheme has been designed specifically for small firms, including sole traders, that require ‘vital cash injections’ to help them operate during these challenging times.    It will launch for applications from 9am on Monday 4 May and the loans will be provided through a network of accredited lenders.

The Government said that loans will be “advanced as quickly as possible” and that they will “agree a low standardised level of interest for the remaining period of the loan.”

We will keep you up to date on the application process once more is known. 

Webinar – Legal Issues for Businesses during COVID-19

OGR Stock Denton LLP would like to invite you to join our live webinar on the Legal Issues for Businesses during COVID-19

10am, Friday 1st May 2020

Zoom webinars

Join our live session where our panel of experts consider the various issues for businesses in light of COVID-19 including:

  • Enforceability of Commercial Contracts
  • Top tips for Commercial Tenants
  • Top tips for businesses to recover Debt
  • Employment issues for businesses to consider

The webinar will be hosted by Ian Pearl, who will be joined by Robert Rosenberg, Hayley Trovato and Stephen Silverman.

This interactive discussion will have an open Q&A for you to ask any questions relating to your business or personal situation.

If you would like to join this webinar, please email Ali Kabani:

akabani@ogrstockdenton.com

 020 8349 5514