The Head of Employment Law at one of the region’s largest independent law firms has reported being approached several times in the past couple of weeks by workers seeking advice about bosses who appear to be using COVID-19 as an excuse to get rid of them.
Robert Williams, a partner with GHP Legal, said thanks to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which allows companies to furlough staff and get 80% of their wages paid up to £2,500, COVID-19 cannot be used as a reason to end employments.
“If employers are worried about putting families at risk by their workers taking the virus home, this is not a reason to sack them. This and similar situations are the cue for a responsible conversation about assessing risks on both sides and protecting the business for the future. The Job Retention Scheme is the obvious way to go as it means workers get 80% of their pay through the scheme without any long-term cost to the employer.
“If an employee is dismissed when the employer fails to use the scheme, then it may be viewed as rendering the dismissal unfair as all possible options were not properly considered.
“Whilst the furlough scheme might leave workers short by 20% in their pay packet, they will be making a saving on such as daily transport, by staying at home. The scheme means that employment relationships can be put on hold in the current climate. Furlough leave is available to those who were “on the books” on or before 19th March 2020.
“So, I would advise any workers or employers with difficult decisions to make to strongly consider using the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme rather than jump to any hasty decisions when there is another option. The scheme preserves jobs and the business and keeps workers safe for the future.
“Any employees who think they are being ‘let go’ unfairly should get in touch with a solicitor as soon as possible. Whilst law firms are not currently seeing clients face to face on their office premises, it is still very much ‘business as usual’; business is just being conducted in a different way, via email, phone and website enquiry forms.
“And my advice to struggling employers would be to check out the furlough leave scheme with their solicitors or ACAS if they haven’t already done so and if they want to avoid landing themselves in hot water by ending employments for a COVID-19 related reason.”