Lay-off occurs where an employer is temporarily unable to provide an employee with the work for which they were employed. Short-time occurs where an employee’s hours of work or pay are reduced to less than 50% of normal weekly working hours or normal weekly pay.

In both cases the employer must believe that the situation will not be permanent and must give employees notice to this effect. There is no stipulated minimum period of notice. Exceptional circumstances, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, are likely to justify a short notice period.

The employer’s belief regarding the temporary nature of the period of lay-off or short-time will be considered with the circumstances prevailing when the decision is made. In other words, the decision will be viewed based on the circumstances at the time of the decision.

A period of lay-off should not be confused with sick leave or a period of self-isolation in accordance with current HSE guidelines. Different guidelines apply and clients should contact us in these scenarios.

Employers should be careful when selecting employees for lay-off or short-time. They should apply objective selection criteria and be careful not to discriminate, directly or indirectly, against employees on any of the nine grounds prohibited by the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015.

Firstly please note that the guidance to employers on how to manage staff with with or exposed to COVID-10 in the UK is slightly different to that given here in Ireland.  The most notable difference is that in the UK, if you live with someone who has symptoms you are asked to stay at home, whereas here in Ireland we have not yet done this.

Please see the NHS website (link below) for full guidance relevant for the UK.  https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

Employees and Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

If you do have staff who are sick due to COVID-19 the UK has extended its existing Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) Scheme to be available from day 1 of the confirmed illness.  As with any system there are certain qualifications and rules that apply so each situation will have to be assessed individually. Notably, in the UK, those who follow advice to stay at home and who cannot work as a result will be eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP), even if they are not themselves sick.  If employees are not eligible for sick pay there is a Universal Credit available, again rules apply. Also note that in the UK there already is a system of self-certification with regard to the early days of illness and this has been extended to COVID-19, employees can self-certify their illness and if the employer wants or requests a certificate the employee can get this online through the NHS website.  https://www.gov.uk/statutory-sick-pay

Other family leave options that you as a business offer can also be considered such as Force Majeure to care for a dependent, commencing maternity leave early if it applies, parental leave etc.

Short-term working / temporary lay-offs

With regard to layoffs and short-time working – as always, the existing contract of employment will dictate the options open to you.  If you have a clause in the employee’s contract that allows for layoff without pay then that is an option however if you don’t then you can only lay-off staff with full pay. 

The UK are recommending where you believe the lay-off will be a temporary measure to avail of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme or ‘furlough’ the staff instead.  Where companies do furlough their employees, HMRC have stated that they will reimburse 80% of furloughed workers wage cost, up to a cap of 2.5k per month. The employee remains employed and retains the links to the employer and the employer has the option of ‘topping up’ the salary to full pay but does not have to do so.  However, a bit like our employers refund of the COVID-19 Unemployment Payment here in Ireland, HMRC have not yet worked out a system for this reimbursement but are working on it.

For employers, HRMC are also putting in place supports like deferring VAT etc – more details can be found by following the link below:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses

A very helpful guide for employees can be found by following this link which includes information about the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (an option to keep employees on payroll rather than laying them off).  https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-guidance-for-employees

Many of our clients have been left with no option but to place employees on lay-off due to the unprecedented circumstance arising out of the measures being taken to stem the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19).

These decisions are incredibly difficult and our hearts go out to the employees that are being laid-off.

Employers should note that as the employees are being laid off temporarily, without pay, due to a reduction in business activity, they can apply for a jobseeker’s payment using one of the following methods:

  1. Online at mywelfare.ie if they have a verified MyGovID account. Individuals must have a Public Services Card to register for a verified MyGov account
  2. Alternatively, employees can complete the COVID Pandemic Unemployment Benefit form. Employees should post the completed application form, along with the Form RP-9 which you as Employer should give to affected employees and which details the terms of the layoff for your records and any associated social welfare claim to your local Intreo office.

For further information or advise please see the Employers Information section on gov.ie

Your business is big enough now to need HR support but hiring an HR manager is absolutely the wrong decision.

A Familiar Scenario

Your business is growing fast and you have ambitious plans for the future. To facilitate this and effectively deal with the increasing pressures placed on you and your management team, you need to scale up various aspects of the business.

This potentially includes everything from the physical space you have available to your core business departments whether that is sales, service delivery, manufacturing, etc.

You also need to scale up your capacity in business support functions like accounting, marketing, and, yes, HR.

Does this sound familiar?

The problem with HR is its complexity.

The HR Specialists Your Business Needs

As a fast-growing and ambitious business, you need specialists in multiple HR areas. This includes:

  • Recruitment
  • Onboarding new staff, contracts, new employee support, etc
  • Performance management and performance issues
  • Handling grievances
  • Handling claims of harassment, bullying or discrimination
  • Disciplinary issues
  • Staff retention strategies
  • Employee wellbeing programmes
  • Benefits packages

These are all individual skills that need specific expertise. Plus, the list above isn’t even definitive.

The HR Reality

There is no single individual with all the necessary skills who is capable of delivering on all the requirements outlined above.

This is why large companies have HR departments staffed by multiple people. These teams are required to handle the HR workload of the business, but the individuals on those teams don’t all do the same thing. Instead, each will specialise in specific aspects of the HR function.

The requirements don’t stop there either. This is because the HR function in your business needs to deal with situations that exist today while also resolving issues that occurred in the past. It also needs to plan for the future to ensure your HR strategy aligns with the goals of your business.

Your HR function should support your managers. It should give them confidence so they can make better decisions and help deliver better business results.

You need the same solution in your business, i.e. specialists that can support your business in every aspect of HR. However, the size of your company can’t justify the expense of hiring the team you really need.

Many fast-growing businesses in the same position as yours often compromise when faced with this situation.

Don’t Compromise

In most cases, this is an unconscious compromise. Most business owners don’t realise that HR has so many elements and specialisms. Unlike, say, accountancy, where they know they need a bookkeeper and a financial controller. As they grow, they know they will need to appoint a financial director or CFO too.

Yep, it sounds counter-intuitive, but in the vast majority of growth-driven SMEs, hiring a HR manager is a compromise – a compromise you don’t need to make.

In terms of HR, business owners know they need help, and the default position is to hire a HR Manager.

However the business owner comes to this decision, the solution typically involves finding the best-darned HR professional they can and then paying them well to attract and hopefully retain them for the long-term.

However, this story often then follows a similar script.

This starts with the workload on the HR manager becoming too much. The array of HR challenges is too broad and many are outside the HR manager’s competence.  Also, the pace of progress is often not as fast as the owners of the business want.

A decision is then often made to recruit a support person for the HR manager, usually in a junior position. Or maybe to employ external consultants to resolve more serious issues.

As a result, the business owner now has a HR team and high HR costs but is still in a compromise situation in relation to the skills and capacity available to the business.

This is why not compromising is a better business decision. You need an alternative solution instead.

The Alternative to Hiring a HR Manager

The alternative is to hire your own HR department. One that is there when you need it, on demand, and with the specialists that are required. A department to take care of all the day-to-day HR activities your business needs in addition to the more challenging issues that crop up from time to time. 

Recording holidays, storing key information securely and in compliance with GDPR, keeping an eye on probation dates, issuing contracts to new employees, and everything else – just pass it to your HR department.

Hang on though – we’ve already mentioned above that the size of your business doesn’t justify hiring a HR team.

The answer is to hire a HR department as a service (hint: HR Duo can help here). 

With a HR as a service, you get all the specialists you need without having to directly appoint anyone, plus you can scale up and down according to the requirements of your business. It’s the holistic and effective HR solution your business needs.

Download your free guide to HR Operational Risk