… yes, unless your business is in a category listed here (further businesses and premises to close), the answer is a matter for your business judgement, conscience and reputation.
Notwithstanding the Prime Minister’s announcement on 23 March of further restrictions on retail businesses and social gatherings, unless not specifically listed for closure, businesses are not obliged to shut themselves down. They remain permitted to continue, subject to the need to exercise social distancing in the work place.
The distinction between isolation and social distancing remains important. Where working from home is not practicable, employees can still be required to attend the workplace. Whether to require them is a matter of judgement and conscience : if we close, will the business survive or will jobs be lost perhaps permanently? if we don’t, will be unnecessarily adding to the risks to health and safety?
Subject to whatever else is necessary to preserve the business needs, all employers need to be considering how to lay off as many workers as possible in order to Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Reduced hours, homeworking and other flexible working arrangements are the second best option. At the moment, it is not clear if employees put on short time working (i.e. reduced hours and pay) can be considered ‘furloughed workers’ to qualify government payments of up to 80% salary under the Scheme.
The immediate order of decision making for employers should be:
- Decide who is non-essential / not income-producing. Takes steps to lay off as soon as possible and record as ‘furloughed workers’.
- If temporary closure/suspension is practicable, do it now.
- Explain to those laid off what arrangements will be in place during suspension (pay, contact, sickness reporting etc.)
- For essential / income-producing employees who are not laid off, if they refuse to attend work they will not be entitled to pay. Urgent advice should be taken if agreement is not reached.
- Consider if a ‘rota’ of laying off may be a fair or practical system to share the burden of work and ‘benefit’ of furlough payments.
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