Contingency plans during COVID-19 crisis
Samantha Mann explores the key features of contingency planning to maintain essential services to ensure employees continue to be paid accurately and on time, during times the coronavirus pandemic.
We have heard many examples of how payroll professionals are maintaining their essential service delivery.
Contingency plans will have included provision for many catastrophes, some may even have had the foresight to include pandemics, and for those, let’s take a moment to consider the key features of the current measures being taken by some service providers.
Working from home
When it first became apparent that the spread of the virus needed more severe measures, one of the first announcements the government made was for those of us that could work at home, we should and that any unnecessary travel should be avoided, and social distancing obligations have been extended further.
Where the employee is providing payroll services in their home environment, compliance with GDPR requirements continues to be key and therefore maintaining the security and accuracy of personal data remains vital.
For many employers and payroll providers, including both inhouse and outsourced (payroll bureaux, accountants, bookkeepers), the transfer of vital pay information every pay period – be it weekly, fortnightly, four-weekly or monthly- still happens using traditional methods, by this I mean paper.
Secure communication using some form of technology should be used to replace more traditional methods of communication. However, in acknowledgement of the fact that not all clients will be ‘digitally enabled’, if data must be transferred by phone, it should be checked rigorously to ensure accurate communications.
It is also important for employees not to get into the habit of switching on their laptops/computers at evenings and weekends to work, or because of boredom. Whilst an amount of flexibility is inevitable when working from home, working hours are set not only to detail the amount of time that employees should spend “for the business”, but they are also set to protect the employee, who must be discouraged from working excessive hours.
When the working day is finished, remove yourself from your workspace or clear away work materials and equipment and relax. This helps to keep your working day and down time separate and keep your mind clear.
Communications and the maintenance of a good support network are important at any time, but at times such as this, where we are facing an extreme health and economic emergency, communications are more important than ever.
A range of resources can be used to keep in touch – voices are important but so are faces, if using Skype or Teams, utilise the video function to maintain the human presence and ‘contact’, but if these aren’t available, then use the telephone, rather than always communicating by text or email.
As the working day draws to a close, check in with colleagues and teams and summarise any key achievements to keep everyone positive and informed.
Maintaining lines of communication with clients is vital, not only to support the essential delivery of payroll services, but also to stay up to date with how these unprecedented measures are impacting them.
I can guarantee they will all be asking about two key announcements impacting payroll that have been announced in recent weeks:
Adaption to the payment and recovery of SSP (recovery will be available to employers with less than 250 employees at 28 February 2020) for eligible employees who need to be paid for self-isolation (either because they have contracted the virus or because they live with someone who has the virus).
The latest government guidance is key in ensuring that employers should pay SSP from day one for eligible employees.
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
The coronavirus job retention scheme is aimed at supporting all UK employers who would otherwise be making staff redundant. HMRC will reimburse 80% of employee wage costs up to a limit of £2,500 per month. Full details have not yet been published as HMRC work up the solution to enable this process.
These announcements have created hundreds of questions (literally) and all have been submitted to HMRC.
Cloud solutions and web solutions, it would appear, have been a godsend to the continuation of normal services, however the provision of hardware and set up to enable access to processes such as VPN’s (Virtual Private Network’s) has, in some instances, proved to be a challenge.
On a final note, Budget 2020 delivered the news of an increase to the allowance for employees working under a home working arrangement from £4 to £6.
As so many employees have been told to work from home during this crisis, the question has been asked whether this allowance could be extended to them, even though they wouldn’t ordinarily work from home.
Currently Booklet 480 states: “Where an employee works regularly at home, under agreed flexible working arrangements, an employer may now pay up to £4 per week, £18 per month (£216 per year) with effect from 6 April 2012 without supporting evidence of the cost.”
The inclusion of the word ‘regularly’ creates uncertainty as to whether the exemption can apply where the arrangement is temporary, as now due to COVID-19 emergency measures. This, together with many other questions, has been put forward to HMRC.