17 April 2020

The coronavirus pandemic shows no sign of easing, which is putting pressure on firms and their employees. In the face of this unprecedented challenge, the government has announced an extensive set of measures designed to protect people both economically and physically. At this time, it is important for companies and the self-employed to understand what they are entitled to and how they can best protect themselves and their workers. In this blog, we will recap what has been announced and detail some of the key information you need to know.

Since the 23rd March, the UK has been in a state of lockdown, meaning all citizens must stay at home unless they need to leave to exercise, for health reasons, to buy food or to complete work that cannot be completed from home. The impacts of this policy are wide-ranging and will mean some firms find themselves unable to operate as normal. Within construction, work is allowed to continue but only in situations where social distancing measures can be ensured, that is to say, where individuals can be at least two metres apart from each other at all times.

For installers, this policy necessitates new working practices. For one, it is vital that all employees understand the new rules around self-isolation and each feel confident identifying the symptoms of coronavirus. Any individual with a high temperature or a new, continuous cough must self-isolate for at least seven days. Furthermore, if a member of an employee’s household begins to display symptoms the entire household must self-isolate for 14 days. If an employee displays symptoms at work, they should be sent home immediately and advised to follow the advice.

Those employees who follow the advice to stay at home will be eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP) from the first day of their absence from work. At this pivotal time, it is important the NHS is able to operate as efficiently as possible and prioritise the most serious cases. As such, firms should use their discretion concerning the need for medical evidence regarding coronavirus related absences. What is more, any employee classified as ‘high-risk’ to the virus on account of age, or underlying medical conditions should be advised to stay at home indefinitely, regardless of whether they do or do not have symptoms.

Similarly, while work is allowed to continue, it is important for firms who conduct repair and maintenance jobs to check ahead to see if customers are displaying symptoms, or considered high-risk. If so, work should be postponed to a later date. At Alpha Heating Innovation, we have asked our engineers to carry out an over the phone risk assessment before every job to ensure the correct health and safety protocols can be followed. Similarly, we have issued all our engineers with additional personal protective equipment (PPE) and guidelines on how to stay safe when attending a repair.

As long as the assessment is passed and the guidelines are followed, boiler maintenance and repair jobs can continue as normal. In special circumstances, such as emergency repairs, work can continue at properties where a risk assessment has failed. However, this can only happen with the engineer’s consent. In such situations, we would recommend speaking directly to Public Health England for specific advice. If possible, it’s important to keep business going, especially for firms who offer services that customers will inevitably need.

However, the current crisis will inevitably mean that some firms face a downturn in activity, at least in the short-term. Fortunately, the government has introduced a set of economic measures, which lessen the immediate impact. Where employers are struggling to maintain staff, the government has announced that it will contribute 80% of workers’ monthly salaries, up to £2,500, for an initial period of three months. Through the scheme, firms are able to furlough employees they may have otherwise had to lay off. Similarly, for the same initial period, self-employed individuals can claim 80% of their earnings as based off their last three years’ tax returns.

Additionally, the government has announced a significant allocation of new loans for firms affected by the pandemic. The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) is available for SMEs through more than 40 accredited lenders across the UK. The government has also provided funding to local authorities to support small businesses that pay little or no business rates because of small business rate relief (SBRR), rural rate relief (RRR) and tapered relief. The scheme will provide a one-off grant of £10,000 to help eligible firms meet ongoing costs. Firms who qualify for the grant will be automatically contacted.

The coronavirus pandemic is one of the most challenging issues the nation has faced in decades. However, with the right guidance and support the majority of firms should come through the pandemic relatively unscathed. Hopefully, by following the advice in this blog, firms will feel confident about how to protect their workers economically and physically. Over the next few months, it will be important to pay close attention to any additional advice from government, as well as any new policies that are announced. We will keep you up-to date with all the important developments here on our website.

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