COVID-19 - Your Questions Answered

From questions around furloughing to financial assistance and HR issues, what do businesses need to know right now?

Through our weekly webinars, we have been gathering and aiming to answer the most common questions being asked by SME (Small/Medium Enterprise) manufacturers:

Q: Is there any financial support for a Director who can't be furloughed as they still need to carry out admin work etc?
A: Directors can be furloughed and would be able to undertake only their statutory duties. There are seven statutory duties of a director under the Companies Act one of which is to “Promote the success of the company“. Another is that the director must ensure annual accounts are filed at Companies House.

Q: If employees are self-isolating are grants still available? 
A: The guidance is clear that those who are shielding in line with guidance from Public Health England can be furloughed. Those who are self-isolating or on sick leave get statutory sick pay (SSP) but can be furloughed after that. 

Q: Can you Furlough someone who has already self-isolated due to underlying health conditions?
A: Yes, you can.

Q: If payments are made to support employees over and above that statutory requirement, can these be taken into account should redundancy be necessary?
A : Whilst no specific guidance exists at this time any additional ‘top-up’ payments made by the employer are unlikely to count towards redundancy payments – further legal guidance is advised and as time passes more information will no doubt be published.

Q: Can we furlough an elderly high-risk worker (Mid 70's) and replace them with an agency worker? 
A : The Furlough scheme is primarily aimed at providing income to staff who are unable to work due to the coronavirus crisis and retain employees rather than make them redundant. Whilst no specific guidance exists, the fact that work remains for an agency worker would be in contradiction to the purpose of the scheme and therefore not possible. Further legal guidance is advised.

Q: Could you clarify training for furloughed workers? I understand furloughed staff can't work for us/do anything that generates an income. But could they, for example, do forklift training, which would come into use when they return to work after furlough?
A: Yes, furloughed workers can undertake training during their Furlough period, but please note the following government guidance:

Q: I know an apprentice who has been furloughed but is expected to continue studying in the meantime. Would that be counted as training? 
A: If furloughed for less than 4 weeks: neither the employer nor the training provider needs to report the interruption, the end-date for the apprenticeship remains the same, and there is no change to the payment of funding.
     If furloughed for more than 4 weeks: employers and/or training providers must report a formal break in learning. Where a break in learning is reported, the payment of funding to the training provider will be suspended for the duration of the learning break - CLICK HERE FOR INFORMATION IN FULL

Q: Is anyone with staff designated as ‘furloughed’ workers contemplating NOT paying the funds to employees until government funds are received?
A: This is very much based on each company’s cash flow position and whether they can afford to pay prior to the reclaim, as for some it may not be a choice. We hope that, wherever possible, business leaders ensure that employees are not adversely disadvantaged in order to minimise any added negative impact through this crisis. How individual business leaders handle the furlough situation will undoubtedly have a long-term impact on their employee engagement and support after the crisis.

Q: An employee resigned at the beginning of March, but the start date for his new position has been postponed. He has requested to continue his employment with us in order to be furloughed. Is this feasible under the Job Retention Scheme (JRS)? He would still be employed and accruing employment benefits, and therefore would be a cost to the company.
A: The Government have now clarified that it is possible to rehire and furlough someone who previously resigned if their new job is not currently available due to COVID-19. The decision to do so is down to the employer – CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO.

Q: Furloughing looks to be operating until 31st May. Does this mean furlough leave needs to be completed by this date, or, for example, can leave start for 3 weeks on 30th May?
A: No specific guidance as yet so it’s likely the 3 week-period will be key to the situation when an end date is announced – READ MORE ON THE GOV.UK WEBPAGES HERE.

Q: We close our factory on bank holidays. For staff who are furloughed over Easter, do we need to increase their 3-week furlough period by 2 days to compensate for our bank holiday closure?
A: The assumption is that they would be included in the 3 week period but there has been no specific guidance as yet - READ ABOUT BANK HOLIDAY/ANNUAL LEAVE ENTITLEMENT HERE.

Q: Can you turn furlough on, off and on again for staff? Can I furlough someone for three weeks, bring them back for a week, then furlough them again?  Also, can I rotate who I furlough in three-week stints to share furloughing across a team?
A: Yes, furlough can be turned on then off then on again, as long as the minimum 3 week furlough period is achieved each time Different staff can be furloughed on a rota system as long as your reasoning of how you chose is fair and open. If your employer chooses to place you on furlough, you will need to remain on furlough for a minimum of 3 weeks. However, your employer can place you on furlough more than once, and one period can follow straight after an existing furlough period, while the scheme is open. The scheme will be open for at least 3 months. For further information PLEASE CLICK HERE.

Q: If you can't be sure to apply the 2m rule social distancing rule, and don't think you are "essential manufacturing" can you stay open if you take all other safety steps?
A: To reduce social contact, the Government has ordered certain businesses and venues to close. More detailed information and exemptions can be found here

Q: Many staff feel we should be closing but we are busy and need to stay open as we are working on COVID critical projects Does SWMAS have any statement that we can distribute regarding 'staying open' to bolster the customer statements we have had?
A: We don’t have a specific statement at the moment but can signpost you to other clients in a similar position to see what they have used – contact your local Manufacturing Specialist to discuss this further.

Q: what's the advice for staff who live with a vulnerable person and don't want to put them at risk by continuing to travel to work, but are unable to work from home?
Although everyone is advised to practice social distancing, it’s particularly important for those in a vulnerable group. Employers must be especially careful and take extra steps for anyone in their workforce who is in a vulnerable group.
They include, but are not limited to, those who:
• have a long-term health condition, for example, asthma, diabetes or heart disease, or a weakened immune system as the result of medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
• are pregnant
• are aged 70 or over
• care for someone with a health condition that might put them at a greater risk
For more about social distancing and vulnerable people CLICK HERE

Q: We are still working. Some employees with no symptoms are seeking to stay at home as they do not want to take the risk of coming in. My understanding is that they would not be eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP) - is this correct?
A: Those who are self-isolating or on sick leave get SSP but can be furloughed after that. The guidance makes clear that those who are shielding in line with guidance from Public Health England can be furloughed. 

Q: Regarding Business Loans, although there is a choice of other banks in addition to your regular bank, is it easier to go through your current bank so you aren’t subjected to Proof of Identity requirements?
A: We recommend that you check this with your current provider. For a full list of providers please CLICK HERE.

Q: We manufacture polycotton workwear and would be able to make anything for the NHS. Who could we contact for this?    
A: The government have set up a service for businesses to tell them how they may be able to help with the response to coronavirus – CLICK HERE TO REGISTER 

Q: We have the capacity to machine any precision parts that are required to help assemble the ventilators. We have registered with the BEIS, but are there any other networks we can register with to offer our services? 
A: We have set up a webpage listing the products urgently required by the NHS which includes a short survey where businesses can register if they think they may be able to help. We will then forward these details to the appropriate Regional Task Force - CLICK HERE TO VIEW.

Q: Is the SWMAS business support over and above any we have had over the last 12 months?
A: If you have had grant support this is non-repeatable, but 1-1 support from an advisor can be additional - speak to your local manufacturing specialist to discuss further.

Q: I’m looking for specific CPD Training for some members for the team (HR and H&S) - is there funding available for anything this specific?
A: Quite probably, but it depends on amounts - get in touch to find out more.

Q: If staff have been furloughed and are at home are they able to receive training via yourselves?
A: yes, furloughed staff can undertake training and we'd be delighted to arrange something for you - please get in touch if you would like further details.