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HR and employment news in brief – February 2021

Our round up of HR and employment law issues.

SME’s can apply for free Covid tests

If you employ 50 or more people who can’t work from home, you may be able to ask the government to supply lateral flow tests to help you identify members of staff who have the virus but don't have symptoms. Tests are free of charge (for now) and are simple and easy to use.

You can access the online application here. You have to confirm that you're eligible and provide your company's name, registered number and an email. It's a quick and easy process and applications will be processed within two working days.

We’ve answered a number of frequently asked questions about setting up lateral tests in work to help you understand the steps you need to take before implementing a testing regime in your workplace.

Who is claiming furlough? HMRC publishes its first list

HMRC has recently published a list of over 741,000 businesses that have made furlough claims in December 2020. These include household names such as Primark, McDonalds’s, Wetherspoons and Cineworld as well as lots of SME's.

We’ve explained what information is and isn’t included.

Department for Education updates guidance on face to face training for apprentices

New guidance published by the DfE confirms that during national lockdowns, training and assessments have to be conducted remotely. Face to face training and assessments can only take place if the workplace is Covid secure and it’s essential for apprentices to attend their workplace rather than work from home.

The guidance also explains what to do if you want to pause an apprenticeship because of restrictions which compromise the quality of the training being provided.

Recent research indicates that the number of new apprenticeships fell by 45.5% during the first lockdown compared to the same period last year. Health and social care was the worst-hit industry, with 11,063 (46%) fewer starts. Other sectors badly affected by the pandemic included administration (9,873 fewer), business management (7,031), hospitality and catering (5,411) and child development and wellbeing (5,261).

New rules on travel to the UK

The government has suspended all travel corridors for people arriving in the UK (including UK citizens). From Monday 15 February, anyone arriving in England must quarantine for 10 days. If they have spent time in a country on the banned ‘red list’ they must quarantine in a government approved hotel. Otherwise, they must quarantine at home.

Travellers must also provide evidence that they have tested negative for Coronavirus up to three days before departure and get two tests after they arrive in England.

The rules that apply to Scotland are available here. Wales is not accepting passengers who have been in a red list and they have to arrive through one of the designated ports of entry to the UK in England and Scotland.

Government removes 30 job threshold from Kickstart scheme

In September, the government launched the Kickstart Scheme to encourage employers to apply for a grant to create new six month job placements for eligible young people. Originally, you needed to create at least 30 job placements before you could apply directly to the Department of Work and Pensions for a grant. If you created fewer than this, you had to go through an intermediary or ‘gateway’ to receive funding.

However, the government has removed the 30 job threshold in the hope that it will encourage more employers to start placements.

Tax – rates and thresholds 2021/22

HMRC has published new guidance detailing the rates and thresholds for employers operating a payroll or providing expenses and benefits to their employees. These rates and allowances apply from 6 April 2021 to 5 April 2022.

Government’s Covid response ‘skewed towards male dominated sector’ 

The Women and Equalities Committee has published a report on the economic impact of Covid on men and women. It concludes that the coronavirus pandemic is having a significant and disproportionate impact on women’s health, jobs and livelihoods and that the government’s priorities for recovery are heavily gendered and that investment plans are ‘skewed towards male-dominated sectors have the potential to create unequal outcomes for men and women, exacerbating existing inequalities’.

The report calls for the government to 'assess the equality impact of every policy' and sets out 20 recommendations to prevent women falling even further behind including:

  • amending the Flexible Working Regulations 2014, to remove the 26-weeks’ service threshold for employees to request flexible working arrangements
  • publishing the draft Employment Bill by the end of June 2021
  • conducting a study to examine the adequacy of, and eligibility for, Statutory Sick Pay
  • legislating to extend redundancy protection to pregnant women and new mothers
  • reinstating gender pay gap reporting and publishing proposals within the next six months for introducing ethnicity and disability pay gap reporting
  • amending the HR1 form to require information about the sex, race, and if possible other protected characteristics of staff

A number of organisations, including the TUC, Amnesty International, Save the Children and the Fawcett Society have signed a letter that claims the government has failed in its duty to consider the impact that its policies have on groups protected under the Equality Act.

EU seeks new law allowing employees to disconnect from work

The European Parliament has called on the EU Commission to come up with a new EU law allowing employees to disconnect from work-related tasks, activities and electronic communication during non-work hours without consequences, and to establish minimum standards for remote work. The EU’s Eurofound agency recently found that a third of remote workers use their free time to complete work tasks and are more likely to exceed the EU’s Working Time Directive than workers in offices.

Some European countries have already taken steps to address this. For example, in France companies with more than 50 employees must set out times when staff should not be sending or answering emails.

This legislation won’t apply to the UK because of Brexit. However, it’s possible that the ‘right to disconnect’ may be used by political groups in the UK to argue that we need similar restrictions in place here.