Coronavirus Outbreak Q&A

We're getting lots of questions from employers about how they should handle HR and Health & Safety issues around Coronavirus. It's a fast-developing situation, and government guidance is updated daily, but here are our answers to the most common questions. 

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Chancellor announces further extension to the Job Retention Scheme

On 3rd March 2021, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that the furlough scheme (also known as the Job Retention Scheme) will be further extended until 30th September 2021. This scheme will operate as follows: 

  • Until 30 April 2021, employees on PAYE payroll on 30 October 2020 will qualify 
  • For periods starting on or after 1 May 2021, employees on PAYE payroll by 2 March 2021 will qualify
  • 80% of wages for unworked hours will be reimbursed (up to a £2,500 cap) until 30 June 2021. 
  • From July 2021, reimbursement will reduce to 70%, then 60% in August and September, although employees must continue be paid 80% of wages for non-worked hours
  • Flexible furlough is permitted

Businesses affected by the Coronavirus restrictions should use the furlough scheme.

Where can I find a risk assessment covering Coronavirus?

Example risk assessments can be found in our Covid-19 hub under “sustaining business operations”. You need to carry out a specific risk assessment for your operations. Once this has been completed, you are expected to share the results of the risk assessment with your workforce. In England, if possible, you should consider publishing the results on your website (it is expected that all employers with over 50 workers will do so). Additionally, you need to display the completed “Staying COVID-19 Secure” poster illustrating your premises are Covid-19 secure.

What do I need to do to ensure my employees can work safely?

You are required to conduct a Coronavirus (Covid-19) risk assessment(s) covering risks to the workforce and others who could be affected by Covid-19. The risk of Covid-19 must be adequately controlled and communicated to the workforce and others.  If you employ five or more people you have a legal duty to record the significant findings of your risk assessment. If your company has been closed or working at reduced capacity then you should assess the risks to your staff and other persons affected by your work before restarting your operations. Your assessment might include checking that the buildings are safe and that work equipment and services are safely switched back on and commissioned. You may also need to consider a return to work health questionnaire for your employees.

Your existing risk assessments should be reviewed in light of this new risk and suitable control measures implemented, dependent on your industry. We have sector specific checklists that will help with carrying out your risk assessment review and in meeting the UK Government sector guidance. For advice to businesses in other nations of the UK please see guidance set by the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government.

What are the rules about mandatory face coverings?

The law originally applied to transport and shops but now other premises are included. More details of how the law applies in England, Scotland and Wales and to specific business premises are contained in the relevant regulations and guidance. Further Government guidance is available by clicking the links below:


What should I do if an employee at work begins to show COVID-19 Symptoms?

If a worker develops symptoms, they should be sent home and request a free Covid-19 test through the relevant testing regime i.e.  test and trace (England); test and protect (Scotland) and test, trace, protect (Wales).

The employee should self-isolate until they receive further advice (i.e. confirmation of a negative or positive test result) from the test and trace regime. The employer should sanitise the workplace following government guidance.

You may have additional responsibilities to inform your local Public Health Protection Team. You should check with current advice provided by your local Public Health Protection Teams for EnglandScotland or Wales (as applicable) to decide when this is required and ensure that they are informed accordingly in order that potential outbreaks can be managed

What is the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme?

The scheme reimburses employers 80% of wages for employees they have to lay off temporarily due to business conditions caused by the Coronavirus. The maximum wages covered by the scheme are £2,500 per month. 

Please register for free access to MentorLive for further detail.

What is flexible furlough?

It means that employees can work any number of part-time hours for their employer and be put on furlough for the remainder of their normal working hours.

Employers must pay employees their normal rate of pay for the hours they work but can claim under the Job Retention Scheme for the hours the employee is on furlough.

Does the 80% grant cover commission and bonus payments? 

The claim can include non-discretionary overtime, fees and commission payments. 'Non-discretionary' is defined in government guidance as 'payments which you have a contractual obligation to pay and to which your employee had an enforceable right'. This means that if you are obliged to pay employees when they work overtime, for example, these payments can be included when calculating 80% of pay.

What if 80% of pay takes pay below the National Minimum Wage / National Living Wage?

The government has confirmed that the NMW / NLW does not apply to furloughed workers. There is an exception for work-related training so employers should ensure that the furlough payment to employees is enough to cover any training hours at NMW rates.

There is some work to do and I would like to rotate it among the workforce - can I do this?

Yes.  Workers can be rotated between work and furlough.

Is there a qualifying length of service to be eligible for the scheme?

No. But to be eligible for furlough from November 2020 to April 2021, the employee must have been on the payroll on 30 October 2020.  To be eligible for furlough from May 2021, the employee must have been on the payroll on 2 March 2021. If they were hired later, they are not eligible.  

Can an employee still take annual leave during a furlough period? 

Government guidance has confirmed that employees can take annual leave during furlough. If an employer wants to require employees to take annual leave during a furlough period, they can do so, provided that the employer gives the required notice. 

The employee should be paid normal salary for holidays taken during the furlough period. The furlough grant will only cover 80% of normal salary and employers will be obliged to fund the additional payment. 

What if employees have been unable to take their full annual leave entitlement by the end of the year?

On 27th March 2020 the Government amended the Working Time Regulation to allow carry forward of up to four weeks' accrued holiday. This will allow holidays to be taken sometime in the following two years but only if the holidays were not taken in the current holiday year as a result of the effects of coronavirus on the worker, the employer or the wider economy or society.

Can I make redundancies whilst employees are furloughed?

Yes.  Although the purpose of the scheme is to avoid redundancies, this might be unavoidable for some businesses and there is no rule to say an employer cannot carry out redundancies whilst employees are also furloughed. Furlough grants cannot be claimed for notice periods falling after 30 November 2020.  

Please note: If an employer is proposing to dismiss 20 or more employees within a 90 day period, collective redundancy consultation obligations will apply.  This includes having to consult for a minimum of 30 days (or 45 days if dismissing 100 or more employees) and to elect appropriate employee representatives or consult with any recognised trade union. 

Employers should take advice before seeking to carry out redundancies.

Do I need to keep any evidence that employees agreed to be furloughed?

Once the employee has agreed to be furloughed, employers should send a furlough confirmation letter to the employee (this can also be emailed).

This letter should confirm that agreement has been reached and outline the specific terms, for example:

  • date of the change to furlough status
  • how long the furlough period will last (or approximate period if unsure)
  • details of working hours if it is a flexible furlough arrangement
  • what the payment arrangements are

 A record of this communication must be kept for 5 years.

What should I do if the Job Retention Scheme ends but there is insufficient work available for employees?

Before the Job Retention Scheme comes to an end, employers should assess their circumstances and decide whether or not employees are able to return to their duties. If not, it may be necessary to consider making redundancies.   

Please seek legal advice if you find yourself in this situation.

Where can I find further information?

Further details of all the support available to businesses are here.

What evidence of sickness does an employee need to give?

An employee may self-certify as sick for the first seven days of sickness.

After seven days, for sickness due to coronavirus, employees may use a new, online service to obtain an electronic “coronavirus isolation note” which they can email to their employer. This acts like a “fit note”.

The “coronavirus isolation note” can also be used by an employee who has been advised to self-isolate due to a member of their household having coronavirus symptoms.

Should I pay a worker who self-isolates?

From 13th March 2020 SSP is payable from the first day an employee self-isolates, for the full period of time off, if the employee is advised to self-isolate by following government guidance.  This includes those advised to self-isolate because someone in their household has symptoms. But it does not include employees who are in a period of quarantine following return from abroad.

It may be possible for workers who are self-isolating as a precaution to work from home and receive their normal pay.

Do we need to report Covid-19 under RIDDOR?

The Health and Safety Executive gives guidance on RIDDOR reporting of COVID-19. In summary the guidance states:

“You should only make a report under RIDDOR when one of the following circumstances applies:

- an accident or incident at work has, or could have, led to the release or escape of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). This must be reported as a dangerous occurrence

- a person at work (a worker) has been diagnosed as having COVID-19 attributed to an occupational exposure to coronavirus. This must be reported as a case of disease

- a worker dies as a result of occupational exposure to coronavirus. This must be reported as a work-related death due to exposure to a biological agent.”

It is useful to understand non-reportable examples:-

  • When COVID-19 is suspected but not confirmed
  • When COVID-19 has been verified by a registered medical practitioner but it was not contracted via work-related exposure or there is no reasonable evidence that it was contracted at work.
  • A social care worker is providing treatment or care to a patient or service user who is not known to be COVID-19 positive, but the patient or service user subsequently tests positive.

As you can see deciding on whether an event is reportable or not can be complex, relying on reasonable evidence on whether this is an occupational exposure or not. We would always advise that you consult with the Mentor H&S service.

What measures can I take to ensure social/physical distancing in the workplace?

Some of the measures you can put in place to maintain social/physical distancing include:

  • Using floor tape or paint to mark work areas.
  • Providing signage to remind people to keep the appropriate distance.
  • Having people working side-by-side rather than face-to-face.
  • limiting movement of people:
  • rotating between jobs and equipment
  • using lifts and work vehicles
  • in high-traffic areas like corridors, turnstiles and walkways
  • allowing only essential trips within buildings and between sites

Be aware however that in the UK some rules about social distancing may be different in each of the devolved nations. You should check the devolved government guidance for the country you are in:


What should I do if a worker has had coronavirus but is now over it?

UK Government advice is that if the worker has been symptomatic i.e. showed symptoms of Covid-19 and has been off-work, then they may end their self-isolation after 10 days. The 10-day period starts after the day when they first became ill (or the day a positive test was taken if they do not have symptoms).

If they live with others, then all their household members who remain well may end their household-isolation after 10 days. For advice to businesses in other nations of the UK please see guidance set by the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government

Has there been any relaxation of fire safety law in the workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic?

No, fire safety law i.e. The Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 (Scotland) & The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (England and Wales) is still in force and there is currently no relaxation. It is the duty of the Responsible Person to ensure that during the COVID-19 pandemic, suitable fire control measures remain in place.

If our building has been closed and we're in the process of reopening it, what preparations should we make in relation to fire?

It is important to ensure that all the fire safety measures in the building are in place. Carry out a review of the fire risk assessment, ensuring that your COVID-19 measures do not compromise fire safety. For example do you have enough fire wardens if you have split your shifts? Is the fire alarm and detection system maintenance up-to-date? Has the means of escape been compromised, etc?


How Mentor could help

If you are an existing Mentor customer, you can visit MentorLive where we will host a range of tools, templates and guidance to help you identify key priorities and take specific actions to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on your people and your business. We will be regularly adding materials to MentorLive so please be sure to keep visiting.   

If you are not an existing Mentor customer and would like to talk about how we could help you and your business call us today on 0800 074 8151. Customers with hearing and speech impairments can contact us via Relay UK 18001 0800 970 9814.  Please note that Mentor's services incur a cost.