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HR and employment news in brief - March 2021

Here's this month's round up of HR and employment news in easy to read, bite sized chunks.

National Minimum Wage and sleep in shifts

On Friday 19 March, the Supreme Court is due to hand down it’s long-awaited decision in Royal Mencap Society v Tomlinson-Blake, and Shannon v Rampersad.  It will decide whether home workers who are required to remain at home on their shift and/or residential care workers who ‘sleep in’ are entitled to the national minimum wage for time they don’t spent actually performing some specific activity.

If this decision is important to you, please sign up to receive our review of the judgment. 

DHSC announces free COVID-19 tests for all businesses in England 

The Department of Health and Social Care has announced that every business in England is now able to sign up for a free workplace coronavirus testing programme, even if they have fewer than 50 employees. Any business wishing to do so must register by Wednesday 31 March 2021.

Passengers travelling abroad must carry new COVID-19 form

The Department for Transport and Home Office has announced that passengers travelling internationally from England must carry a form stating that their trip is permitted under lockdown rules. Passengers must complete the form before they travel, and either carry a copy or download it to their mobile device.

Anyone who doesn’t have a completed form can be fined between £200 and £6,400 for breaking the stay at home rules.

Coronavirus: Tax and NICs on home office equipment expenses

The government has extended the temporary tax and national insurance rules in respect of homeworking expenses for a further year from Tuesday 6 April 2021.

This means that employees can continue to purchase office equipment they need to work from home without worrying about the income tax and NIC consequences. Employers don’t have to report that they have reimbursed home office expenses (which would normally be liable to income tax and NICs).

Read more information here.

Government waives IR35 penalties for 12 months

From Tuesday 6 April 2021, organisations in the private sector that engage 'off-payroll' workers will become responsible for determining their employment status and paying Income Tax and NICs for those who are deemed to be employees.

The government has published new guidance to help organisations comply with the new rules. This makes it clear that employers must assess a contractor’s employment status for tax purposes and pay any tax due. Those that don't may have to pay financial penalties which in serious cases can be up to 100% of the tax due.

However, HMRC has said it will operate a 'grace period' until April 2022 and won't impose penalties for businesses who make genuine mistakes: 'You will not have to pay penalties for inaccuracies relating to the off-payroll working rules in the first 12 months of the operation of the new rules, unless there’s evidence of deliberate non-compliance.'

Find out more.

Gender pay gap deadline delayed

Last year, the government suspended gender pay gap reporting for the 2019/20 year because of the impact of the pandemic. Gender pay gap reporting will go ahead this year, but qualifying organisations will have an extra six months to publish their reports. The final deadline for submitting the information is 5 October 2021.

The government has confirmed that it won’t take any enforceable action until after that deadline in new gender pay gap reporting guidance.

Employers don’t have to report their gender pay gap information for the 2019/20 year.

Have your say: should the government's Enterprise and Management Incentive scheme be more flexible?

During his March 2020 budget speech, the chancellor announced that the government intended to review its existing Enterprise and Management Scheme (EMI) to ensure it provides support for high-growth companies to recruit and retain the best talent so they can 'scale-up' effectively.

The EMI scheme is a tax-advantaged share option scheme designed for businesses with company assets of £30 million or less and enables them to reward staff with equity participation.

The government has now published a call for evidence and is asking organisations for their views on whether:

  • The current scheme is fulfilling its policy objectives of helping SMEs recruit and retain employees
  • Companies that are ineligible for the EMI scheme because they’ve grown beyond the current qualification limits are experiencing structural difficulties (i.e. in the labour market) when recruiting and retaining employees
  • The government should expand the EMI scheme to support high-growth companies
  • Other forms of remunerations could provide similar benefits for retention and recruitment.

You can read the policy paper, and have until Wednesday 26 May 2021 to respond.

Government response to BAME Coronavirus impact report published

The Women and Equalities Committee has published the government’s response to its report on the impact COVID-19 has had on ethnic minority groups. The government has agreed to take action on some of the recommendations to reduce the health and social inequalities that the pandemic has amplified.

Acas updates guidance on getting vaccine for work

Acas has updated its guidance on getting the COVID-19 vaccine for work. It’s added a new section on how to offer support to staff that are getting the vaccine, and the section on what employers should do if they feel it’s important for staff to receive the vaccine has been updated. It’s replaced the sections on disciplinary action and the options available to staff if they believe their employer is being unreasonable about the vaccine with a general section on how to resolve any workplace issues about getting the vaccine.