The Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is changing life for every business. New policies, orders and schemes are being announced daily by the government and others. With things moving as fast as they are it’s important to stay up to date with how new developments affect your legal obligations as a business owner.
Every business has legal requirements in terms of its employees, insurance, accounts and its contracts with suppliers and customers. The government announcements on support for businesses, employees, Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) entitlement for workers isolating, and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme are major changes to how businesses treat their staff. It is vital for your business and your employees that you understand your legal obligations and your employees’ rights under these new arrangements.
We have rounded up the best resources, guides and most up to date information on this topic. Together, these should help you understand your current legal obligations, what has changed and what has not, so that you can best protect your business and employees.
The government continues to announce measures to support businesses during the outbreak, so it’s worth checking its dedicated webpage regularly as well.
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5 things you can do today to make sure your business complies with its legal obligations
(1) Stay up to date with your responsibilities as an employer
As the business environment is changing so quickly many businesses are having to cope with challenges around workforces. As an employer, you always have a responsibility to take steps to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all your employees. This is much harder when travelling to work and being at work can expose employees to the risk of infection.
Some businesses can operate with employees working from home but many others can only be done with people in the workplace. Check the government guidance on what you can ask and what you cannot ask of your employees.
(2) If your employees cannot work due to the coronavirus outbreak understand the different options for paying them
Your employees may not be able to work due to self-isolation or caring for a vulnerable family member. It may not be feasible for them to do their work from home or you may have shut down some or all of your business and there may be no work for them to do. The regulations and eligibility for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) have changed, and small businesses are now able to reclaim the first 14 days’ payments from the government.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will allow employers to “furlough” employees they would otherwise have laid off and will cover up to 80 per cent of the employment costs up to £2,500 a month. You should check all the latest guidance to make sure that you are meeting your obligations to your employees and getting all the support you are eligible for from the government.
(3) Know what you can and can’t ask your employees to do during the outbreak
It’s important that any business doesn’t ask employees to work in ways that are counter to the public health guidelines and the new schemes that have been brought in to support business and employees. For example, if you furlough workers under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, even though they are receiving up to 80 per cent of their salary you cannot ask them to work. You should check on the government website what you can ask of employees in terms of working from home and when they are in self-isolation.
(4) Understand if you can change your business to adapt to the coronavirus outbreak
Many businesses are adapting quickly to keep trading during the outbreak. Restaurants and bars are pivoting to become takeaways or delivery services. The government has relaxed the planning regulations to allow this change of use without applying for planning permission. However, other legal requirements such as alcohol licensing haven’t changed. You need to check that your new way of doing business, product or service doesn’t need any additional licence or insurance.
(5) Check your contracts with suppliers and customers to make sure you know your position in terms of payment terms and exceptional circumstances
Your business may be struggling to meet orders to customers and your suppliers may well be having similar problems. This can cause challenges with cash flow, as well as customer and supplier relations, and cancelled orders. The first step is to understand your contracts with both suppliers and customers. Know the legal obligations before you talk to them to find a way forward that works for all of you.
Don’t miss out on our dedicated coronavirus business support page
Understanding your legal position: where to look for support
Supporting small and medium-sized businesses is a national priority during the coronavirus outbreak. There are a lot of guides and updates being published by government and other organisations to help you understand your legal position as part of keeping business going. We have rounded-up the most useful sources for immediate help and longer-term advice.
Get the most up to date information on how the Government is supporting small businesses
A number of major announcements have been made over the last few weeks on business support. The announcements often change or bring in new obligations for employers. These are likely to continue to change so you may want to bookmark the government’s dedicated webpage and check it regularly. If your business is in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales, check the relevant announcement pages on these websites as well.
Want to understand how the announcements effect just small business?
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) page on coronavirus has an excellent section on the legal requirements of the new schemes and on what you can ask of your employees.
Get advice on HR requirements in the current crisis
The obligations and requirements of how you treat employees whether they are working from home, self-isolating or if they have caring or childcare responsibilities are complicated. The Statutory Sick Pay rules have changed significantly over the last two weeks. Pinsent Masons has produced a handy guide, regularly updated as a law firm that specialises in employment law.
Get advice for you as an employer and for your employees
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) has put together a useful guide for both employers and your employees on what the new regulations and health advice mean. Making sure that you provide accurate, clear advice for your employees will make it easier for them to understand any changes to working practice or status that you ask for them for.
Check that you understand all the legal business requirements, not just the new ones
Every business has a number of legal requirements to operate. There have been some rapid changes announced recently, but most of them have not changed. CitrusHR has put together a quick refresher and a check-list to make sure that you have got everything you should have for your business.
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