Some important COVID-19 related updates…
There have been several important COVID-19 (or related) stories for employers to absorb this week.
So below is a short summary of these issues together with some useful links:
1. Job Retention Scheme Extended
Perhaps the most immediately important update was yet another extension to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS). The scheme has now been extended by a further month, and is currently intended to finish at the end of April 2021.
The announcement also included two ancillary – but important – points for employers to note:
i) The proposed January review of the CJRS – and in particular the employer contribution required – has been undertaken already to allow businesses to plan ahead for the remainder of the winter.
“The government will continue to pay 80% of the salary of employees for hours not worked until the end of April. Employers will only be required to pay wages, National Insurance Contributions (NICS) and pensions for hours worked; and NICS and pensions for hours not worked.”
ii) The date of the 2021 Budget has now also been set for 3rd March 2021. This detail is actually rather important for employers using the CJRS, as any announced Budget changes to the scheme will be known well in advance of the end of the current scheme. This approach;
“gives businesses certainty well ahead of the 45 day redundancy notice period, with Budget setting out the next phase of support more than 45 days before the new end date of the scheme”
The above clarifications will help resolve some of the planning uncertainty around utilisation of the CJRS in the months immediately ahead.
2. Long Covid Checks
New guidance from The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) issued this week has recommended that anyone discharged from hospital after treatment for COVID-19 should be offered a video or phone call six weeks later to check for new or ongoing symptoms. Those with severe breathlessness or other respiratory problems should be offered a chest X-ray.
And those who do not need hospital treatment but are still concerned about their health eight weeks after infection should also be offered a consultation and referred to rehabilitation or specialist services if needed.
This adds to the growing weight of evidence around Long Covid – also known as Ongoing Covid – and this condition may well become another driver behind medium and long-term workplace absence in the future.
3. Other health conditions
It is now widely accepted that the nation’s battle against COVID-19 has resulted in many other health conditions not being diagnosed and/or treated during 2020. A particular concern is around cancer screening, and this story from the BBC News website highlights that 4.4 million fewer scans took place between April and September this year compared to the same period in 2019.
The possible result of such delays will be that many people will only start treatment when their condition has already worsened. Likewise diagnosis and treatments of other conditions will have also been delayed during the pandemic too.
Both (2) and (3) above suggest that employers need to ensure that they have robust health and wellbeing policies in place to support workers in the months and years ahead. In particular we would encourage employers to consider widening or improving healthcare provision, and perhaps revisiting sick pay policies to include financial support for short, medium, and long-term periods of absence, as well as to support employees with a faster return to work where possible.
For more information on any of the above topics, please speak to your usual Howden Consultant in the first instance, or visit our website for other contact options. For the latest details on COVID-19 & Employee Benefits provision please visit our coronavirus hub.
Steve is Head of Benefits Strategy, Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing, and is an award-winning thought leader on Pensions, Employee Benefits, and Human Resources issues. He is occasionally accused of making Employee Benefits interesting.
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