23rd March 2021 saw the first anniversary of the first UK lockdown. I, like many of you, watched the PM’s announcement a year ago with a mixture of feelings but with an expectation that by the summer months we should be ‘back to normal’.
None of us were really prepared for the onslaught that followed, the loss of life, the uncertainty, the confusion of local lockdowns and tier systems but I think it’s fair to say that none of us truly envisaged that a year hence we would be in another lockdown.
In this article we look back over the past 12 months and examine the key events which have and continue to shape the world of work.
What is furlough?
We need to go back to 20th March 2020 for this one, as this was the day that the Chancellor announced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) or the ‘furlough scheme’ as it became more widely known.
The announcement caused a fair bit of head scratching amongst us Legal Advisers, cue lots of frantic Google searching and slight panic, wondering if (like me) you had managed to work in employment law for almost 15 years and never heard of furlough.
It turns out that no-one had heard of it. It was not a legal term used in this country; in fact, any internet searches took you through to USA websites where the term ‘furlough’ is used to describe a period of absence from work.
In this context furlough is a form of leave which enables employers to keep their staff employed whilst they remain away from the workplace during lockdown restrictions when trading is limited or not possible at all.
In the beginning the scheme was only intended to be in place until the end of October 2020. The Government was however faced with increased pressure in the run up to the deadline not to ‘pull the rug’ out from under the feet of employers whilst many were still faced with very limited trading and whilst various changes to Government contributions were made during the attempts to re-open the economy last summer, thankfully the scheme remains in place until the end of September 2021.
The table above shows the level of government contribution available in the coming months, the required employer contribution and the amount that the employee receives per month where the employee is furloughed 100% of the time.
As you can see, from July 2021 the government contributions begin to reduce. For more information on eligibility please see here.
The doomed Job Support Scheme
On 24th September 2020, the Chancellor announced the Job Support Scheme which would come into effect from 1st November 2020, replacing the CJRS.
The scheme was intended to focus on ‘viable’ jobs and was heavily criticised from the beginning for being introduced too late and for being complex in nature.
Not surprisingly the scheme was scrapped the day before it was due to commence (along with the Job Retention Bonus) and the furlough scheme was extended initially through to the end of November 2020, with a further announcement on 17th December 2020 that the scheme would be extended again until April 2021.
Stay at home?
Boris Johnson addressed the nation on 23rd March 2020 and told us all to stay at home unless we had to buy essential items such as food, seek medical treatment or care for a vulnerable person, only to exercise outside once per day and crucially to travel to and from work but only where absolutely necessary and when work cannot be done from home.
This was a real game changer for employers. Of course, many employers could not facilitate working from home. Businesses in the leisure, retail and hospitality industries were shut and those operating essential services, such as the care sector and essential retail, carried on but with adherence to very strict social distancing and COVID safety measures in their workplaces.
Many employers have adapted very well to running their businesses with their staff working remotely, though it has been fraught with issues, as our article on working from home and employee burnout examined (see here).
Looking forward, we are seeing a push to a return to the office with many key corporate figures speaking out against predictions that home working will become the new normal. In fact, Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon made clear that he considered home working ‘not a new normal’ and ‘an aberration that we are going to correct as quickly as possible (read more).
We don’t yet know how long the government’s work from home message is going to remain in place but we are starting to (optimistically) focus our attentions on planning our way out of lockdown in line with the government and the devolved administrations easing of lockdown restrictions (read more).
And finally…whilst times remain uncertain, we here at Avensure understand the pressures facing businesses and we can offer practical guidance and support on all HR/Employment Law matters. There is no such thing as a silly question, contact our experts today. Please quote your Client Account Number on all correspondence and telephone calls. 24-hour client advice line: 0800 151 2935.