We ended the last working week with some fantastic news from the Chancellor who announced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Yesterday the announcement was for the benefit of the self-employed and I'll leave that one firmly with the accountants to dissect. However, we did hear that the detail relating to the Job Retention Scheme would be released last night and I'm pleased to bring that to you now.
You need to designate your employee's as 'furloughed workers' - effectively laying them off. This means that they do no work. Please be cautious around this. I've had conversations with many employers with the question 'how will they know?'. The truth is they probably won't, but don't ever rely on an employee not to hold this over you should your relationship with them turn sour. If there is work for them to do, albeit reduced, you should consider reducing their hours (and wage) accordingly in line with your contract of employment.
You must write to the employees advising that they have been furloughed. If you have furloughed your staff and haven't yet done this, I can provide you with an appropriate letter - just get in touch.
You can only furlough for a minimum of 3 weeks. If you need employees back at work in a shorter period of time, you must look at other methods - such as unpaid leave, lay-off outside of the furlough scheme, or paid holiday.
Many employers have also asked whether their employees can take up another job during the period of furlough. The new guidance is silent on this issue so it is still an unknown, however existing second jobs are permitted and an employee can be furloughed in each job and access the scheme. The point to consider here maybe a contractual one - would you permit your employee to take up a second job while they are working for you? If yes, and it doesn't compete or impact on your business you may wish to allow this. For some, it may be making a vital difference to their income where the 80% just isn't enough.
Employees must have been on your payroll on 28th February 2020. This will mean that anyone that started employment with you in March 2020 is not going to be eligible to be furloughed. This is a problem for many employers I've spoken to this week. In these circumstances, you can lay them off (in line with your contract), give them some paid holiday if your cashflow will allow, or let them go. Remember they can apply for universal credit to help them through.
Zero-hours workers are eligible for the scheme. You will need to assess their earnings using an average of their earnings. I have been advising clients who have needed to process payroll this week to use a 52 week period to average over and the guidance agrees that we use either the same month's earnings from the previous year or the average monthly earnings from the 2019/20 tax year. If they have been with you for less than a year, use the average over the months that are available to you.
Employees who are self-isolating and therefore on SSP can not be furloughed while on sick leave, but can be afterwards.
You are not obligated to top up the wages to 100%. You can if you wish, but you are absolutely not obligated to.
To claim you will need to provide: your ePAYE reference number, the number of employees furloughed, the claim period (start and end dates), the amount to claim in that period, your bank details, and your name and contact details.
You can only claim once every three weeks but if you run a monthly payroll you may wish to do it in line with that. You can put a claim in in advance of an imminent payroll.
You can back date claims to 1st March 2020 but this does not mean that the scheme is going to pay 80% of your total March wages if people weren't furloughed. Some industries have been feeling the impact of Coronavirus for some weeks and had already laid off staff or made redundancies. The backdating applies to them and allows them to move people who had been laid-off on to the scheme and to revoke notice of termination from people who had been made redundant.
The wages you pay under the scheme are still subject to Tax and National Insurance along with auto-enrolment contributions.
You must include the payments made to you under the scheme as income in your accounts, however employment costs are still deductable as normal.
I hope this helps to answer some of the questions you've had this week but please do keep them coming if there are things you're unsure of. This guidance may continue to get updated as employers continue to seek clarification on aspects of the scheme and therefore as news comes out, I'll update on anything relevant. I will shortly be posting an FAQ's on the website and will let you know when this is available. For now, please do keep emailing me your questions.