Inside track: Actions reward and benefits professionals are taking in the face of coronavirus

Employer actions in the face of the global coronavirus pandemic are changing rapidly. In order to share action, ideas and strategies REBA will run an ongoing blog which will be updated regularly. If you’d like to add valuable information, relevant ideas and practical advice for other reward and benefits professionals, please do this in one of two ways:

1. REBA Professional Members can share and ask for advice via our vendor-free online networking tool rebaLINK.

2. Email the REBA team. Please state if you’d prefer to remain off-the-record in any information we publish.

Update 11:34 27 March 2020 – Webinar: Control costs, support people, recover fast

The first in a series of webinars on Coronavirus hosted by REBA will begin shortly. This week’s topic will reflect on the need for employers in the reward and benefits community to examine cost cutting initiatives balanced with ideas to support staff and protect culture during these unprecedented times. Register for the webinar.

Update 08:20 27 March 2020 – HMRC releases guidance about the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

HMRC has released details about how the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which will enable employers to claim 80% of furloughed employees’ wages up to £2,500 a month, will operate.

The scheme will start from 1 March 2020. However, it will not be up and running until the end of April.

The guidance confirms that employers will be able to claim for 80% of wages, plus associated employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions on that wage.

Update 13:30 26 March 2020 – employee benefits and furloughed employees

Many employers are now moving to furlough their employees in line with the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme requirements, until business as usual resumes. However, this in itself is raising questions. One of our Professional Members raised the below question on rebaLINK.

Does anybody have any guidance on the continuation of employee benefits during periods of furlough? And would the guidance be the same for both employee funded benefits and company funded benefits?

At the moment official guidance around the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which requires employers to furlough employees in order to be reimbursed 80% of their wages up to £2,500 a month, is limited. More details from HMRC are expected shortly.

However, our three of our Members had this insight to offer.

I don't actually know but would like to! Also how does this work with salary sacrifice and pensions? My guess is that the individual is an employee, furlough means the organisation gets a grant from govt to cover 80% of cost of wages up to £2,500 cap. I am therefore assuming that all benefits, pension and salary sacrifice arrangements stay in place? (Subject to T+Cs of those arrangements regardless of furlough?) I suspect no one has really figured this out yet?

I am interested to see too as we are working our scenario's as we speak.

Would also be interested to know what others are doing or more guidance, although currently we have said that nothing changes as long as we are committed to paying employees in full. We have provided guidance and sources of help should employees need it, but this is more around things like season ticket loans, private medical and gym memberships rather than salary sacrifice benefits, which remain in place as normal. I suspect as more cases of financial hardship arise where an employee's partners / families are losing jobs etc. we will have to review and perhaps deal with on a case by case basis. We are also working through the scenarios now.

Update 15:28 25 March 2020 – coronavirus articles

REBA’s Associate Members have been very busy writing lots of brilliant content for us on how to address the coronavirus in your workplace.

We’ve created a new topic category in our content section, so you can quickly find coronavirus related content. Articles cover a range of issues, such as mental health, financial wellbeing, communicating with staff and the wider impacts of coronavirus on pensions and benefits.

Update 13:50 25 March 2020 – increasing pay in the online retail sector

One of our members has asked the below question relating to pay in the retail sector. It echoes another question we had last week about whether employers are offering hazard pay to staff.

If anyone has any insight on this please get in touch either by responding to this query on rebaLINK or by emailing the REBA team.

Are you planning to increase your hourly rates for those workers who are required still to attend and pick orders and, if so, by what percentage figure? Are there any risk allowance that you are paying in these situations? What transport arrangements are you putting in place for those required to attend work or are you paying additional travel allowances? If you are willing to share any specific pay rates or percentages please feel free to private message me the info.

Private messaging is a feature of rebaLINK allowing individuals to keep their responses private, rather than publish them on the forum.

Update 11:20 25 March 2020 – Annual leave and COVID-19

A popular question to come up on rebaLINK this morning evolves around annual leave. One employer asked what approach employers are taking to managing annual leave during this period. The question posed states:

There have been discussions around annual leave during the COVID-19 pandemic and how employers are managing this. Some employers are asking employees to use some of their annual leave allowance over the coming weeks/months, or looking at options such as flexibility with holiday carry forward, etc. Interested to hear what others are doing?

So far we have had six responses from our Professional Members outlining their various approaches.

We're being flexible and offering the ability to be paid for holidays and still work (by mutual agreement) along with carry forward of up to five days. Our holiday year ends 31/3/20. For the 20/21 year we're encouraging colleagues to still take leave to get a break.

Our annual leave year runs from Jan to Dec and one concern for us is people 'stockpiling' annual leave and all going on leave at the same time when restrictions are lifted. We are unlikely to offer any exception to the maximum one week carry over of holidays, so quite a dilemma.

We are not allowing cancellation of holiday unless agreed during this period to ensure holidays are not built up for the end of the year.

Our 2019 carry over expires on 30 June and I'm communicating today that we will not extend this expiry as it's important for people to have downtime, even when they can't travel anywhere – we don't think it's unreasonable for them to have had to take a week off by the middle of the year. We usually allow a five day carry over but I am proposing we extend this to up to 10 days for anyone who has taken at least 20 days holiday by December 31.

No extension of standard carry over (period ends 31 March). Employees will need a break at certain times over the next period of time, so communicating the importance of holidays. Avoiding accrual build-ups.

We are not allowing the cancellation of booked holidays (unless for a business requirement). We need to ensure employees still take time out, rest and recharge, particularly during this difficult time; but also to avoid stockpiling of leave and all taking leave at the same time when travel restrictions are lifted. We will allow employees to carry a max of five days over into the new holiday year, which must then be used by end of Q1.

Update 15:15 24 March 2020 – Employers do not have to report gender pay gaps

Enforcement of the gender pay gap reporting deadlines has been suspended for this year. As such, employers will not be penalised if they fail to report their gender pay gap this year.

Employers can still submit their reports if they wish, but they do not have to. More information on this change can be found here.

Update 12:00 24 March 2020 – Season ticket loan arrangements

rebaLINK is proving to be a fantastic resource for our Professional Members. There are so many things that are affected by the current state of affairs, here’s one that we hadn’t even thought of.

I just wondered if anyone can provide their approach to season ticket loans due to Covid-19? I understand that providers are offering refunds but not clear on where the refund money will go – to the company or employee? Also is anyone stopping deductions if the refund has been repaid to employee?

In response, our Members said:

Season tickets are usually purchased by the employee with the cash from the loan the employer makes. We know that train operators are offering a refund on season tickets and so we are offering a couple of options:

1) Employee obtains the refund and settles the balance of the loan with us in a one-off payment

2) Employee obtains the refund, keeps the payment and continues to have payments deducted from pay as normal.

Employees working for us can only have one season ticket loan in place and so, whilst giving them the choice, we are highlighting that with the second option they wouldn't be able to get a new loan until the old one is paid off. The vast majority of our employees continue to be paid as we are key workers. If a colleague was in financial hardship we might consider suspending season ticket loan repayments to support them.

Another Member added:

Remember this is a loan to employees for their travel card/ train fare. I don't see any issues upon cancelling and obtaining a refund that an employee can repay their loan in full. This can be done by either a final payroll deduction or one off payment (depending on the loan size).

Update 14:20 23 March 2020 – REBA’s COVID-19 snapshot survey results

We had a fantastic response to our snapshot survey on employers’ COVID-19 response. Headline figures include 33% of employers plan to make contractual changes as a result of COVID-19, with top measures including deferred/reduced pay rises, cancelled pay rises and reduced working hours.

Furthermore, 83% of employers had offered staff tips on how to protect themselves if they cannot work from home, 73% have issued mental health advice for home workers, and 71% have provided guidance on social wellbeing and the importance of keeping in touch with co-workers.

Download the full report on our findings.

Update 12:48 23 March 2020 – employee wellbeing ideas to support those working from home

Two of REBA’s Professional Members have told us on rebaLINK about what they’re doing to support employees who are now home-based. Here are their tips:

We are setting up Organisational Wellness Champions to be available for check ins, virtual tag ups and to share resources. We've put more focus on resources available on working from home, mental health and making sure we speak to colleagues more often.

RE metal health, Mind have a good site We are also communicating various things such as ways to keep fit in the home (Les Mills and such are offering one month free trials), plus healthy snacking ideas and good working from home practices. We have used a lot of our provider resources for these, always best to speak to providers first as they often have a lot of info in this space.

Update 10:18 23 March 2020 - Inside Track podcast: REBA's COVID-19 reactions

In this Inside Track podcast REBA’s editorial team: Debi O’Donovan, Dawn Lewis and Maggie Williams, explore some of the key issues emerging from the reward and employee benefit industry and within the REBA community.

They share practical insights and tips on how reward and benefits professionals are responding and supporting their staff.

Update 09:50 23 March 2020 - Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

The government has released further details about how its Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which will pay 80% of employees’ salaries up to £2,500 a month, will work.

Details can be found on its COVID-19: support for businesses page.

Update 16:33 20 March 2020 – hardship funds

Can anyone help with the below query from one of our Professional Members or have any experience running hardship funds?

Has anybody got experience of running a hardship fund? We have many low paid colleagues who may experience unexpected and unplanned difficulties in the coming weeks. We would like to set up a fund to provide immediate financial support and I'd welcome any experiences/insights.

It’s fantastic to see employers taking a proactive approach to their employees’ financial wellbeing. One of our members responded on rebaLINK with a link on how to set up a hardship fund.

Update 11.16 20 March 2020 – government updates guidance for employers

The government has this morning updated its guidance for employers on coronavirus. Please read it for the latest information on how to deal with someone who has symptoms of COVID-19, including certifying absence from work, sick pay and how to limit the spread of the virus.

Update 17:30 19 March 2020 – annual merit reviews

The topic of annual pay reviews and whether employers are going ahead with them has come to light in recent days and is one of the questions we asked in our snapshot survey. REBA’s initial findings suggest that a significant number of employers have either deferred or reduced upcoming pay rises, while others have cancelled them completely. Bonuses have also been affected, but to a lesser extent.

One of our Professional Members asked the following question on rebaLINK, our vendor-free online networking tool, about annual merit reviews:

With the current Covid-19 pandemic going on, what are organisations doing with regard to pay reviews for this year – are you still planning on implementing a merit review? I have heard of some companies not having any pay reviews this year in order to save jobs and money. We are still reviewing this position as our reviews are due for July, but wondered what the industry trend it.

In response, other Members gave their experience:

So far down the line there has been no direction budgets would change so are proceeding as normal for an effective date of increase 1st April. Annual bonuses were already paid.

Great question. We have three different merit population. The first two have already happened, but the third is happening right now. There are early rumblings in the business that there is simply too much to do with Covid-19 to cope with this too, so maybe postpone it for a while. So at the moment this is about bandwidth rather than cash savings. Candidly, I suspect businesses needing to save cash and protect jobs might need to go further and look at bigger (temporary) % reductions in base pay.

Our annual pay reviews are awarded in April. Working in the healthcare sector we definitely plan to proceed as cannot risk having a negative effect on morale at this moment in time and wish to ensure everyone is rewarded especially at such a critical time.

Internally the view is that delivering a review is more important than ever to retain engagement, particularly when we get to a recovery phase and will be asking a lot of staff. But clearly it will be different for every company depending upon cashflow and operating model. Tricky times - with a whole host of new challenges coming through it seems for the Reward profession.....

Update 11.55 19 March 2020 – helping employees to maximise their net pay

Thank you to one of our Professional Members who offered their insight into what they’re doing to help support the financial wellbeing of their employees.

I'm in an industry that has been hit hard by Coronavirus. In terms of employee benefits I'm focusing on helping employees to maximise their net pay, while not incurring extra costs on the company. We are looking at options to allow employees to temporarily opt out of taxable benefits. We will be promoting the discount schemes to help employees make their money go as far as possible. We are also promoting the EAP scheme and signposting to financial wellbeing and advice sites.

Update: 15:20 18 March 2020 – IR35 implementation delayed until April 2021

IR35 tax reform in the private sector will be delayed to 6 April 2021. The move is part of the Government action plan to support businesses and individuals through the economic impacts of Covid-19.

Nigel Morris, employment tax partner at MHA MacIntyre Hudson, commented: “This is very good news for potentially affected businesses, who have more than enough to focus on managing the impact of coronavirus.”

Update 13:40 18 March 2020 – paying employees

We’ve had another question from one of our Professional Members – if you have any insight into the below question please do get in touch with the REBA team.

Can anyone share what their plans are for paying employees who are unable to work from home?

Update 09:50 18 March 2020 – Snapshot survey on COVID-19
The poll will only be open for responses until Monday 23rd March at 12pm.

At REBA we want to know how the reward and benefits community is responding to COVID-19, so that we can better understand the challenges you are facing and to enable us to best support our community.  

We’ll be running a series of short ‘snapshot’ surveys over the coming weeks about your challenges and responses to the current situation, and how you’ve been using reward and benefits to support your staff.

We’ve launched the first of these surveys and would love to include your response in our analysis. The findings will be used to inform REBA members about general industry response trends and to help us structure our content in the coming weeks.

The poll will only be open for responses until Monday 23rd March at 12pm. Look out for a summary of the findings on the REBA website during that week.

COVID-19 blog

Update 11.33 17 March 2020 – mental health resources

One of our Professional Members has requested information to help staff adapt to their new isolated working environments.

We would like to provide employees with information and resources on mental health – working remotely – isolation. If anyone has such info or tips I would be thankful if you could share.

Please fine below links to recent articles we have run that relate to isolation and home working. We have also included links to a couple of mental health charities and other reliable sources who have produced information to help support mental health during the Coronavirus outbreak.

Video tutorial: Dr Ben Kelly of Nuffield Health on remote working, stress, wellbeing & productivity

How to combat wellbeing risks to remote workers

How to include remote and homeworkers in a social wellbeing strategy

Do remote and home workers have different requirements when it comes to mental health support?

World Health Organization - Mental Health Considerations during COVID-19 Outbreak

Mind – Coronavirus and your wellbeing

Mental health at Work – resources

Update 10.55 17 March 2020 – rebaLINK questions

Two new questions have cropped up on rebaLINK on two very different topics.

Is anyone providing hazard pay for employees who can't work remotely?

This isn’t something we’ve come across as yet. If you have any experience with this issue, or any guidance to offer please follow the thread on rebaLINK or email the REBA editorial team.

We're looking at providing employees with loans so they can purchase laptops so they can work from home. Am I right that there is no tax efficient way to achieve this in the UK anymore?

A few years ago the obvious answer would have been salary sacrifice. However, this option is no longer available for items such as laptops. As such, we believe that this would have to be treated like any other loan:

Update: 07:45 17 March 2020 – article on COVID-19: sick pay, absence management and employment law

Paul McFarlane, legal director at Capsticks, outlines the changes to Statutory Sick Pay and how employers can manage absence from an employment law perspective during this pandemic.

Update: 16:00 16 March 2020

Protecting your wellbeing during the COVID-19 outbreak
© LifeWorks 2020. This infographic is an example of the resources offered through LifeWorks by Morneau Shepell, the unified total well-being solution. LifeWorks is making this infographic available as a public service.

Update: 12:40 16 March 2020 – employers move to remind staff of key benefits

REBA’s Professional Members have been telling us about their approach to supporting employees through the pandemic. Top of the list is communicating with staff about existing benefits that can support employees’ physical and mental health, be it digital GP apps and services or employee assistance programmes that can provide support in a number of ways.

Writing on rebaLINK, another Professional Member shared the following: “I am checking whether there are any exclusions on our medical and life assurance policies relating to pandemic. We have also considered whether to communicate anything about pension funds and investment return but decided not to. Also thinking about all the new types of leave policies we may need, such as in Dubai where schools and nurseries have closed for a month.

Re: business travel insurance and leisure travel policies. We have seen a situation where our internal policy was a little tighter than government policies and we suggested that someone doesn't travel on holiday to a specific location but the leisure travel policy would not cover the reimbursement as it was (at the time) permitted travel.”

Update: 13 March 2020 – Significant increase in employers rolling out EAPs globally in face of coronavirus

News has reached the REBA offices of several large global employers rapidly implementing EAPs for employees across the globe due to coronavirus. No one has been prepared to go on the record, but the common theme is that wellbeing budgets are getting approval more quickly as employers play catch up to ensure that staff get support at this stressful time.

Update: 12 March 2020 - have employers put in place communications to check on the mental wellbeing of workers unexpectedly based from home?

This time last week we ran the REBA Employee Wellbeing Awards. Just six people were not able to attend due to their three organisations banning staff from attending events. A week on, and the picture is very different. Thousands of employees have been asked to work at home. Phone calls with employers over the past 24 hours showed three key reasons:

  1. They are testing the capacity of their organisation to run if staff work at home. These tests are for a few days.
  2. They are implementing new working practices such as spaced out desks with only critical staff coming in or new ‘shift-like’ patterns such as ‘two weeks in, two weeks at home’ to reduce the number of staff in the office as any one time.
  3. Someone in the office has tested positive for the virus.

This leads us to ask: have employers put in place communications to check on the mental wellbeing of workers unexpectedly based from home?

While the practical elements of firewalls, broadband speeds and lack of a desk might be top of mind, what about those whose home circumstances are not conducive to working from home?

  1. Those who live on their own, especially the recently bereaved, divorced or estranged?
  2. Those in domestic abuse situations?
  3. Those who are carers, be it for children or adults?

There are no doubt other groups too. But all will need extra communication and outreach from team members, managers and friends from work. Social wellbeing practices are going to be crucial.

Update: 11 March 2020 – Statutory sick pay extended in face of coronavirus

Statutory sick pay (SSP), which works out at £94.25 per week, will be extended to all those employees asked to self-isolate, and will be available from day one of quarantine, it was announced by the Chancellor in today’s Budget speech.

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