Tier 2 lockdown: What it means for business owners and employees

13 October 2020, 10:56 | Updated: 13 October 2020, 14:33

What it means for business owners and employees
What it means for business owners and employees. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

With the news some areas of the country are entering Tier 2 lockdown many people have been left asking what it means for businesses and employees?

People living in Nottinghamshire will no longer be able to mix with other households indoors – after the county was placed into a localised lockdown following a steep rise in coronavirus cases over recent weeks.

On Monday, 12 October, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a new three-tier system of coronavirus restrictions, which will see England will be divided into three local COVID alert levels – medium, high and very high – depending on local infection rates.

Nottingham’s infection rate has now topped 750 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people, data released on Friday (9 October) shows.

From Wednesday, 14 October, Nottinghamshire will be moved into tier 2 “high” restrictions, meaning residents will be prevented from socialising with other households indoors, although support bubbles will still be permitted. Two households can meet in a private garden, with the rule of six and social distancing rules continuing to apply.

Anyone aged over 18 who is found to be contravening these rules will be fined £200 for the first offence, which will then double for any further offences up to a maximum of £6,400.

However, it’s not just people’s personal lives that will be impacted. Laura Kearsley, partner and solicitor in Nelsons’ employment law team, told LBC how the latest wave of restrictions will affect the county’s businesses and employees.

Should people still be going into the workplace?

Laura said when Boris Johnson announced the new three-tier system, he said a full second national lockdown, whereby schools and businesses closed and people were told to stay at home, would not be ‘the right course’ of action.

“This means people living inside and outside Nottinghamshire can continue to travel for work if they cannot work from home. However, businesses with employees who can work effectively from home should continue to do so over the winter months," the employment law expert told LBC.

“Fundamentally, this means businesses who have recently had employees return to the workplace will have to revert back to their staff members working from home if they can. Employers should ensure their teams are able to work from home effectively as it’s likely people will be encouraged to work remotely until Spring even if lockdown measures are lifted.”

Should employees who have to self-isolate receive statutory sick pay (SSP)?

Laura said: “With the infection rate increasing on a daily basis, it’s likely that more and more businesses will have to deal with members of their teams having to self-isolate over the coming months

“If an employee is able to work as from home as normal while they’re self-isolating then they should receive normal pay."

However, the employment law expert told LBC if this is not the case and they’re unable to work from home, they may be entitled to SSP, provided they meet one of the following conditions:

-The employee, someone they live with, or someone in their support bubble has Covid-19 symptoms or has tested positive;

-They’ve been notified via the NHS Test and Trace system they’ve been in contact with someone with coronavirus;

-They’ve been told by a medical professional to self-isolate before going into hospital for a surgical procedure; or

-They’ve been advised to take extra precautions as they are deemed at high risk i.e., they’re shielding.

Under the new arrangements:

- The medium alert level will cover most of England and will consist of the current national measures, including the rule of six and the 10pm curfew.

- The high alert level reflects interventions in many areas subject to local restrictions, preventing mixing between different households indoors.

- The very high alert level will mean, at a minimum, the closure of pubs and bars and a ban on social mixing indoors and in private gardens.

Laura added: “If an employee can’t work from home but feels well enough to work, they may prefer to use their paid annual leave entitlement instead of claiming SSP. However, this must be agreed by both the employer and employee.”

What about employees who were due to come back from furlough leave?

Laura explained: “Understandably, this might affect employers who were planning on bringing staff back from furlough leave when the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) ends on 31 October. Therefore, it’s imperative that business owners familiarise themselves with the new Job Support Scheme that was introduced by Rishi Sunak last month.

She told LBC the new scheme will be in place for six months from 1 November and aims to protect viable jobs in companies that are facing reduced demand due to the impact of Covid-19 over the winter months.

The Job Support Scheme will work on the following basis:

-Employees work a minimum of 33% of their normal working hours.

-For the remaining hours not worked, employers and the government will each pay one third (22%) of the employees’ equivalent salary.

-The employee will therefore receive at least 77% of their normal working pay.

Laura told LBC that the level of wages paid will be calculated based on the employee’s usual salary, with the government’s contribution capped at £697.92 per month. It is believed businesses will not be able to top up their employees’ pay at their own expense above the two-thirds contribution to hours not worked.

However the grant payments businesses will receive via the scheme will not cover Class 1 employer National Insurance (NI) or pension contributions – these will still have to be paid by the employer.

Employers and employees have to both agree to the new short-term working arrangements, and businesses will need to notify employees in writing of the arrangements and make any changes as appropriate to their employment contracts.

Laura said: “These are extremely difficult times for employers in Nottinghamshire and the financial impact of these further lockdown measures is likely to be significant. Employers should take steps now to communicate with their teams, while monitoring reliable news sources for updates and further detail.”

Can businesses claim under the extension to the Job Support Scheme?

Last week, the government announced an extension to the Job Support Scheme whereby employees of UK businesses that are forced to close due to coronavirus restrictions will receive two-thirds of their pay.

The scheme is due to come into force on 1 November and will be available for six months.

But, Laura warned: “This will not be available to Nottinghamshire businesses at this stage as it only applies to companies in the third-tier of restrictions.

She said: “If Nottinghamshire does eventually move into the third-tier restrictions, the government would pay two-thirds of employees’ salaries, up to a maximum of £2,100 per month per worker. Employers would not have to contribute to the employees’ pay in any way other than National Insurance and pension contributions."

However, businesses that have to close will only be able to claim the grant in respect of their employees while they are subject to the national or local restrictions, and their workers have to be off work for at least seven consecutive days.