Companies around the UK have had to made significant last-minute changes to their workforce in the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown. The Home Office has issued new guidance to support employer during this temporary measure.
The Home Office recognises that the current situation is exceptional and will not take any compliance action against employees who are unable to attend their work due to the Coronavirus outbreak, or against Sponsors who authorise absences and continue to sponsor students or employees despite absences for this reason.
Work from Home arrangement
Many businesses are sensibly advising employees to work from home rather than attending the normal workplace, due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Tier 2 and Tier 5 Sponsors are normally required to notify the Home Office of such changes of circumstances. However, due to the current exceptional situation, sponsors are not required to do so if working from home is directly related to the pandemic. Other changes must still be reported as usual.
Waiver from some Absence reporting
- Tier 2 and Tier 5 Sponsors do not need to report student or employee absences related to Coronavirus which they have authorised. Some Tier 2/5 employees may be prevented from attending their studies or employment for medical reasons such as experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, serving a quarantine period or travel disruptions due to coronavirus.
- Tier 2 and Tier 5 Sponsors do not need to withdraw Sponsorship if they consider there are exceptional circumstances related to Coronavirus, resulting in an employee’s absence from work without pay for over 4 weeks.
Business decisions on whether to terminate an employment are for Sponsors to make, and any such actions will still have to be reported as normal via the Sponsorship Management System (SMS).
Online Right to Work checks
As of 30 March 2020, the following temporary alternatives are allowed:
- Right to Work checks can now be carried out over video calls
- Job applicants and existing employees can send scanned documents or a photo of documents for checks via email or a mobile app, rather than sending originals
- Employers should rely on the Employer Checking Service , if a prospective or existing employee cannot provide any of the accepted documents listed in right to work checks: an employer’s guide.
Due to COVID-19, some individuals may be unable to evidence their right to work. During this period, employers should take extra care to ensure nobody is discriminated against as a job applicant or employee because they are unable to present their documents. For more information, please see the code of practice for employers: avoiding unlawful discrimination while preventing illegal working.
It remains an offence to knowingly employ anyone who does not have the right to work in the UK, which may carry hefty fines.