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Back to Life: Issues for UK employers as employees return to the workplace

At the time of writing, the Government has published its provisional roadmap out of lockdown and employers are beginning to consider when and how employees may return to the workplace. This article considers some potential options and possible risks relating to a return to work.

Can employers force employees to return to work after lockdown?

It is a general principle of English employment law that employees must comply with reasonable management instructions from their employer. This would include an instruction to attend work.

Whilst health and safety considerations have obviously called this into question during the pandemic, a requirement to return to work may still amount to a reasonable management instruction, depending on the type of workplace, the employee concerned and how easily the employee’s work can be carried out from home. To avoid potential disputes it would be sensible for employers to consult with staff as early as possible to discuss matters and try to seek agreement. This is particularly important if a return to work requires a change to any terms and conditions of employment, as that will require consultation. Employers should take care to consider each individual circumstance on its own merits and be as flexible as

Coronavirus (UK): Managing the rise of DSARs and redundancies during the Coronavirus pandemic

Introduction

During the Coronavirus pandemic, there has been a rise in the number of both redundancies and data subject access requests (“DSARs”). This rise has placed increased pressure on HR teams and Data Protection Officers (“DPOs’”), who are having to grapple with this burden alongside the other day to day challenges posed by the pandemic. This article provides a snapshot of the recent trends and some practical tips from our employment team for dealing with them effectively and/or minimising legal risk.

Redundancies

The Office for National Statistics (“ONS”) recently reported that there were 726,000 fewer people in payrolled employment in January 2021 compared to February 2020. More broadly, it has noted that the UK unemployment rate in the last quarter of 2020 was 1.3% higher than in the same period of 2019. In light of such figures, the ONS has commented that “the increase in UK redundancy rates during the Coronavirus pandemic is faster than during the 2008-2009 economic downturn”.

The Chancellor Rishi Sunak stated in his March 2021 Budget that, whilst Government interventions to support jobs have worked, and the Office for Budget Responsibility’s expected peak unemployment rate has lowered from 11.9% to 6.5%, job loss is very much

Key Amendments To FFCRA & California’s New COVID-19 Sick Leave Requirements

March 2021 brought a variety of legislative changes impacting California employers.  On March 11, 2021 President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (the Act).  Among other things, including the widely publicized $1,400 stimulus payments, the Act extends the $300.00 federal unemployment benefit and the availability of the payroll tax credits to employers through September 30, 2021.  Additionally, for those employers who opt to continue to provide Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)-type leave, the Act makes several significant changes to how the FFCRA is to be implemented with regard to both Paid Sick Leave and Emergency Family and Medical Leave (EFML).

Then, on March 19, 2021, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 95 (SB 95), providing a new form of COVID-19 related paid sick leave for many California workers.  The new law, among other things, extends protections to employees who are teleworking and expands the qualifying reasons for COVID-19 sick leave.

We provide below a summary of the key amendments to FFCRA and highlight the requirements under the newly promulgated California COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave.

Key Amendments Under The American Rescue Plan Act Of 2021

By way of review, employer obligations to provide paid

US COVID-19: Under the American Rescue Plan, Providing FFCRA Leave Remains Voluntary

The American Rescue Plan (“ARP”), signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021, does not place any new paid leave requirements on private employers who were previously covered by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”).  However, as they have been able to do through the first quarter of 2021, such employers may voluntarily continue to provide Paid Sick Leave (“PSL”) and Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act (“EFMLA”) leave as set forth in the FFCRA and receive certain payroll tax credits for such wages.

In addition, the ARP expands various aspects of the FFCRA:

Expansion of PSL:

  • Employees can be given a new 10-day allotment of PSL for use from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021, even if they exhausted their PSL days during 2020 or used PSL with the employer’s permission during the period January 1 – March 31, 2021.
  • PSL can be used for additional reasons (subject to the FFCRA requirement that the employee be unable to work due to the qualifying reason), specifically:
    • for leave needed when the employee is seeking or awaiting the results of a diagnostic test for, or a medical diagnosis of, COVID 19, where such employee has

US COVID-19: Employees Are Getting Vaccinated… Is It Time To Update COVID-19 Workplace Prevention Protocols?

March 12, 2021

Categories

As more employees across the country have received the COVID-19 vaccination, employers are naturally asking questions.  Should we continue to maintain preventive measures (masking, distancing, gathering restrictions)?  Can we relax the COVID-protocols, at least with respect to vaccinated employees?  Recent guidance from government authorities would suggest that employers continue most preventive measures.

On January 29, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued guidance to employers.  In Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace, [https://www.osha.gov/coronavirus/safework] OSHA specifically noted that, for now, employers should not distinguish between workers who are vaccinated and those who are not.  OSHA stated:

Workers who are vaccinated must continue to follow protective measures, such as wearing a face covering and remaining physically distant, because at this time, there is not evidence that COVID-19 vaccines prevent transmission of the virus from person-to-person. The CDC explains that experts need to understand more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide before deciding to change recommendations on steps everyone should take to slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

On March 8, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued guidance for the non-healthcare setting regarding individuals who have

US COVID-19: COVID-Related Leave – When Does The FMLA Apply?

COVID-19 has led to significant employee absences from the workplace.  While the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may well apply to certain such absences, employers must avoid the temptation to count all COVID-related leave against employees’ FMLA entitlement without considering the specific circumstances.  Over-designating absences as FMLA leave when the FMLA does not actually apply can create just as many legal issues as failing to designate covered absences under the FMLA.

For example, an FMLA interference claim may result if an employee is denied additional FMLA leave after the employee’s FMLA entitlement is exhausted due to absences that did not truly count as FMLA leave.  Conversely, by offering FMLA protections when the FMLA does not apply, employers may be establishing a right to reinstatement or other benefits when no such right should exist.  At a minimum, improperly designating absences as FMLA leave can create confusion and administrative nightmares.

Accordingly, COVID-related absences must be evaluated carefully and designated as FMLA leave only in appropriate circumstances.  As a general overview – but with the caveat that this post is not intended to provide legal advice concerning specific situations – below are examples of COVID-related situations in which the FMLA typically

Coronavirus (UK): Is ‘long-covid’ likely to be classed as a disability under the Equality Act?

This post considers whether ‘long-covid’ is likely to be classed as a disability under the Equality Act 2010, and provides practical guidance for employers.

At the time of writing, it is estimated that approximately 100 million people have now contracted Coronavirus. Whilst the majority of those infected go on to make a full recovery, some suffer continuing symptoms once the initial infection has gone. These symptoms are commonly referred to as “long-covid”. According to the NHS, some of the most commonly encountered symptoms of long-covid include; (i) extreme tiredness; (ii) shortness of breath; and (iii) problems with memory and concentration. A recent study estimated that there are currently 60,000 people in the United Kingdom alone suffering from long-covid.

Ultimately, some of those suffering from long-term health conditions may be classed as disabled under the Equality Act 2010 (“EQA”). This article considers the circumstances in which long-covid would classified as a disability under the EQA.

Definition of a disability under the EQA

The EQA prohibits discrimination in respect of numerous protected characteristics, including disability. Section 6 and Schedule 1 of the EQA define a “disability”. It is important to note that the legal definition of disability does not always reflect what

U.S. COVID-19: OSHA Issues Guidance Addressing Mitigation and Prevention of COVID-19 in the Workplace

Partner and Practice Group Leader, Energy, Environment and Infrastructure, Bryan Keyt; Partner Brandon Neuschafer; and Associate David Brankin wrote an article on OSHA’s new guidance to help employers better identify risks of being exposed to and/or contracting COVID-19 and to ascertain appropriate control measures employers can implement to address those risks.

Click here to read the full article.

Coronavirus (US): Key vaccination issues for employers – Part 3

As COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available and efforts are underway to increase dissemination, employers are considering whether to require employees to be vaccinated in order to be present on Company property.  This Q&A addresses key issues regarding a mandatory workplace vaccine program or policy. In Part 3 of the three-part article, we address more of the most commonly asked questions.

As a prefatory note to the questions and answers below, we strongly recommend employers consult with legal counsel when contemplating a workplace vaccine program.  While mandatory vaccination programs may generally be permitted, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has long taken the position in its pandemic guidance that employee vaccination should be encouraged rather than required.  As such, before implementing a mandatory program, employers should consider whether an alternative approach may be preferable for their workforce.  Examples of such alternatives include:  encouragement programs, voluntary incentive programs (which have their own set of risks), teleworking arrangements, mandatory diagnostic testing programs, and implementation of additional social distancing and protective measures.

(Click here to see Part 1, questions 1-6 and Part 2, questions 7-12)

(13) Should employers have a written policy or program? What about training?

Yes and yes

Coronavirus (US): Key vaccination issues for employers – Part 2

As COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available and efforts are underway to increase dissemination, employers are considering whether to require employees to be vaccinated in order to be present on Company property.  This Q&A addresses key issues regarding a mandatory workplace vaccine program or policy. In Part 2 of the three-part article, we address more of the most commonly asked questions.

As a prefatory note to the questions and answers below, we strongly recommend employers consult with legal counsel when contemplating a workplace vaccine program.  While mandatory vaccination programs may generally be permitted, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has long taken the position in its pandemic guidance that employee vaccination should be encouraged rather than required.  As such, before implementing a mandatory program, employers should consider whether an alternative approach may be preferable for their workforce.  Examples of such alternatives include:  encouragement programs, voluntary incentive programs (which have their own set of risks), teleworking arrangements, mandatory diagnostic testing programs, and implementation of additional social distancing and protective measures.

(Click here to see Part 1, questions 1-6.)

(7) What must an employer do if an employee refuses vaccination for a reason that requires a reasonable accommodation analysis (e.g.

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