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Coronavirus - Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between furlough, unpaid leave, leave of absence and redundancy?

It is important to understand the difference in terminology, especially in the current circumstances. 

  • ​​A furloughed worker is an employee who has been asked to stop working, but who is being kept on the pay roll.  Under the current Coronavirus pandemic circumstances, Government will subsidise wages for such workers.  It is usually a good way of protecting your employee’s jobs in the long term so they are there when your business needs them to help recover from these exceptional circumstances.
  • ​As an employer you can force an employee to take unpaid leave if there’s not enough work available for them—commonly known as laying an employee off.  This can usually only be done if there is a clause in the employment contract, or you may face claims of breach of contract, unlawful deductions and constructive unfair dismissal.  You may be able to reach an agreement with your employees or unions for a temporary lay-off if they see that it is better than redundancy.  Employees who are laid off for four or more consecutive weeks may be able to claim redundancy but there are other rules around this. A furlough is a better alternative to unpaid leave in the current climate. ​
  • ​A leave of absence is when an employee takes employer-authorised time off from work, separate from the time off granted by other work-leave benefits (such as sick leave or holiday).  It is instigated by the employee rather than you, the employer. ​
  • Redundancy is a form of dismissal from employment. It happens when you the employer needs to reduce your workforce.  Redundant workers have legal rights and advice will need to be sought from a solicitor. ​

 

If your apprentice is furloughed, can they continue with online learning?

Yes.  We will continue to support furloughed apprentices and ask you our employers to encourage your apprentice to continue with their learning.  Hopefully most will be keen to carry on and make use of this unproductive period.  However, please note the government guidance set out below.

Government guidance now states that   “…time spent training is treated as working time for the purposes of the minimum wage calculations”

It is important to recognise that as the apprentice is not working, then any time spent training becomes the equivalent of working hours for the purposes of understanding at what point the employer may have to top-up their furloughed pay in line with the National Minimum Wage (NMW) requirements.

What this now means in essence is the following:

  • As long as the furloughed apprentice spends less than 80% of their time undertaking training then the employer does not need to top-up their pay.
  • However it is important to recognise that this should not be taken to mean apprentices can simply undertake 4 out of 5 days in training a week. This is because apprentices may have different hours in their contract of employment (e.g. work 8 hours a week for 3 days a week and only work 6 hours for the others days in the working week). Therefore it is important to look at the actual contracted hours an apprentice works when making a judgement on the 80% point.

The rates are for the AMW, NMW and NLW are as follows. The rates change every April.

Year

25 and over

21 to 24

18 to 20

Under 18

Apprentice*

April 2020 (current rate)

£8.72

£8.20

£6.45

£4.55

£4.15

 

*Apprentices are entitled to the apprentice rate if they’re either:

Aged under 19 or aged 19 or over and in the first year of their apprenticeship

 

I am thinking about making my apprentice redundant.

We all want to make sure that as many apprentices are kept on by their employers as possible and you should know that there are a few different options you can take before deciding to make your apprentice redundant.  While it is not within our remit to offer employment law advice, you can refer to The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), announced by the Chancellor. This is, in effect, an 80% state subsidy for wages in the private sector.  There are still lots of unanswered questions on how it will work in practice but the basics of the CJRS are as follows:

  • ​​Employers wanting to access the CJRS will need to divide their employees into two groups:
    • The first group are those employees who will continue working, and whom the employer will need to carry on paying without any subsidy from the CJRS.
    • The second are so-called ‘furloughed’ employees, who will not be permitted to work. Instead, this ‘furloughed’ group will receive 80% of their previous pay via an HMRC grant, which their employer can choose to top up, or not.  They will usually return to their work afterward unless redundancies follow. 
  • Affected businesses will be entitled to backdate their claims to 1 March 2020, but the first of these grants will be payable – according to HMRC’s own estimates – only at the end of April 2020. 
  • Normal employment law rules will still apply. This means that affected employees must agree before the employer can designate them to HMRC as ‘furloughed’. 

There will be a lot more for each employer to consider according to their individual circumstances and further information can be obtained from the government website or the ECA website​. ​

 

My apprentice is scheduled to take the AM2/S shortly but the AM2 centres are shut.  What will happen?

Apprentices ready for their end point assessment who are unable to take it will be able to arrange for it to be rescheduled.  Apprentices whose gateway is delayed will be allowed a break in learning with an extension to the assessment timeline.  NET have advised the apprentices who have had their AM2/S cancelled should be given priority when the AM2 centre re-opens. ​

 

Will there be any grade card extensions during this time when it is not possible to take the ECS test?  

JIBECI state that, if an ECS Card is due to expire in March, April or May 2020, the original expiration date has now been automatically extended for a further three months.  As a result of venue closures, some cardholders are unable to book an assessment, or in some cases had their assessment postponed, and will not be able to renew their cards which has led to the three-month extension.

For those affected, a new physical ECS Card will not be issued.  However, the online system has now been updated so individuals will be able to view their new Card expiry date by logging into their My ECS account via the My ECS portal or the free smartphone app available for Apple and Android users. The correct expiry date will also be visible for the means of verification by clients and contractors in ECS Check.  This automatic extension only applies to cards which are due to expire in March, April or May 2020.  However, ECS will continue to monitor the situation regarding Coronavirus and the impact this may have on cards which are due to expire after this point. 

 The JIB-PMES has taken the decision to extend the final deadline for accepting white PRO card renewals from existing cardholders from 31 March 2020 to 4 May 2020. 

In addition, in response to the ongoing Coronavirus/Covid-19 pandemic, JIB-PMES have taken the decision to introduce a ‘grace period’ for all JIB-PMES CSCS registration cards with an expiry date after 29/02/2020. Cardholders falling into this category will, until further notice, have 3 months after the card expiry date to complete their card renewal. The JIB-PMES will continue to regard the card as valid during this period and will continue to review this grace period.

Given this, and the restrictions to HS&E testing that have resulted from the Coronavirus/Covid-19 pandemic, all work sites and site managers are urged to also accept this extended period of validity for all JIB-PMES CSCS registration cards.

What on-site supervision should I be giving my apprentices taking into consideration the government’s social distancing requirements?

We would only advise that you follow the Government guidance.   

The Construction Leadership Council has also published some useful Site Operating Procedures​ which you should find helpful.  This includes a section on Avoiding Close Working. 

Does Wales have different arrangements which have been put in place as a result of Coronavirus-COVID 19?

 Yes.  The rules in Wales are different and Welsh Government has introduced some different requirements for apprenticeships:

  • Contractual reviews will now take place every 31 days.  They will be done by your assessor/TO either remotely, by telephone, by Skype or in another remote way.
  • Written evidence of the review that has taken place must be obtained from both the learner and employer – text, email etc.
  • Your JTL Training Officer will create a Support Log for your apprentice/s showing every point of contact and detailing what support has been provided.

What will happen to those apprentices on the electrical QCF route who have to complete by 31 July 2020 in order to achieve a Gold Card?

It had previously been agreed by the JIB National Board that apprentices completing their apprenticeship to the 17th rather than the 18th Edition, would still be able to receive a JIB Gold Card if they completed before 31st July 2020.  JIB have recognised that, due to the current Covid-19 crisis, it would be difficult for many of the cohort of affected apprentices to complete final stages of the apprenticeship portfolio and the end point assessment before the 30th July this year.  As a result they have agreed that the dispensation for apprentices and trainees is to be extended to 31st December 2020 to allow this affected group additional time to complete their industry assessment programme. 

Many of my employees and apprentices share transport to/from site?  What should I do?

The Government has now given further information on returning to work: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19/construction-and-other-outdoor-work which includes step-by-step advice on a range of working circumstances.  It is similar to the CLC Covid-19 guidance based on the usual risk assessment process, including consulting employees, to ensure personal circumstances are taken into account (ie if staff are shielding, or have family members they live with who they are shielding or who are at higher risk due to health conditions, as this would influence whether these individuals should return to work or not).  For individuals who work closely together, they suggest these teams of workers continue to work together and aren’t moved around to other teams so there is limited exposure to risk and transmission to others staff.  For travel, if it isn’t possible to travel separately, they suggest the same individuals travelling together, reducing the number of people in the vehicle, improving ventilation and increased cleaning of vehicles.  Government is now also suggesting face covering in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible.  The ECA website is also a useful source of the latest information for the sector: https://www.eca.co.uk/business-industry-support/employee-relations/er-guides-(1)/coronavirus-guidance-for-eca-members

 

JTL has a responsibility to support the health, safety and well-being of our apprentices, but it is ultimately the employer who is responsible for them when they are working as they will know the circumstances and options available.  JTL has put in place extensive remote learning resources to support our apprentices to continue with their learning during these difficult times. 

Can you give any COVID-19 guidance about apprentices on working on site?

This will be a matter for each employer to consider, taking account of individual circumstances.  However BSE industry advice and guidance can be found at:

The Construction Leadership Council has published comprehensive guidance for employers with further useful Q&A’s please click here to view the document.

 


For any questions not answered above​, please email 
coronavirusupdate@jtltraining.com​. Please note that emails will not be individually responded to but answers to questions sent in will be answered in this Frequently Asked Questions section.

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