Covid employer guidance updates | January 2021

Furlough and loan schemes extended

On 17 December 2020, the Government announced the extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (the "CJRS") until the end of April 2021, meaning it will continue to contribute 80% towards wages of furloughed workers until 1 May.

It was also announced that government-guaranteed Covid-19 business loan schemes would be extended until the end of March. Once these schemes end more support will be available beyond March through a successor loan scheme. More details of the scheme will be included in the Budget on 3 March. The Budget is also expected to set out whether the CJRS will be extended again past the end of April or if we will see a tapering of the scheme like last year and/or a new job support scheme.

Employees unable to work and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals

The Government has updated its guidance on the CJRS to state that employees can be furloughed if they are:

  • unable to work because they are clinically extremely vulnerable (or, as before, at the highest risk of severe illness from coronavirus) and following public health guidance; or
  • unable to work because they have caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus, including employees that need to look after children

The Government has also updated its guidance on shielding to state that clinically extremely vulnerable individuals are strongly advised to work from home and if they cannot work from home, then they should not attend work. The Government advises that employees may be able to take on an alternative role or change their working patterns temporarily to enable them to work from home where possible.

If alternative arrangements cannot be made, employers may be able to furlough employees under the CJRS. It is up to employers to decide whether to furlough employees who are clinically extremely vulnerable or at the highest risk. An employer does not need to be facing a wider reduction in demand or be closed to be eligible to claim for these employees. If employees are not eligible for furlough, they may be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay or Employment Support Allowance.

For more information on furloughing those with childcare responsibilities please see Charlie Maples' article.

Exemption for employer-reimbursed coronavirus antigen tests

On 15 December 2020, the Government published a policy paper outlining proposed changes in relation to employer-reimbursed Covid-19 antigen tests.

The measure will disregard payments that an employer makes to an employee to reimburse them for the cost of a relevant coronavirus antigen test from National Insurance contributions. As such, there will be no liability for National Insurance contributions for either the employee or employer.

The disregard will apply to any advance payments or reimbursements made to an employee for the cost of a relevant coronavirus antigen test made on or after 25 January 2021, until 5 April 2021.

Government publishes further Treasury Direction for extension of CJRS

Following on from the Government's announcement on 17 December 2020 that the CJRS would be extended, the Government has now published a further Treasury Direction for the period beginning on 1 February 2021, and ending on 30 April 2021.

This direction modifies the rules to calculate the reference salary and usual hours. It confirms that furlough pay in March/April 2021 should refer back to the corresponding month in March/April 2019, and not March/April 2020, when the CJRS started. This is to avoid employers potentially basing furlough pay on periods when the employee was previously in receipt of furlough pay. The same change applies to the usual hours calculation.

This direction also sets out the deadlines for claiming CJRS grants for February, March and April 2021. The deadline for amending an existing claim is now the end of the following month, rather than the 15th of the following month.

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