Teesside’s commercial law firm, The Endeavour Partnership, has organised the events to give local businesses the opportunity to ask partner and head of employment law, Stephen Elliott, questions about the job retention scheme and furloughing employees.
Until recently, the scheme didn’t exist, yet most businesses are either considering it or are already implementing it. As a brand-new initiative, it isn’t unusual for there to be many questions and the team at The endeavour Partnership decided on-line sessions would be the best way to deliver the information.
Stephen Elliott said: “As a firm, we are doing our best to answer our clients’ queries as quickly and comprehensively as possible, using our extensive team and through discussions with colleagues. It is during these discussions that we had noticed similar questions being asked. Although they are similar, they are also unique to individual businesses, and we felt a generic question and answer sheet was too static a method for sharing information to larger groups, in these unusual circumstances.
“As more guidance is coming from HMRC we are able to better understand the workings of the scheme, the parameters of use and the risks that businesses are presented with. Our specialist teams have been keeping up to date with all the briefings and seeking to gain an informed and practical understanding of best practice.”
The first of these sessions took place on Tuesday 14 April and was attended by representatives from various organisations. Following an overview of the latest guidance, Stephen took questions which included how the scheme works for employees on maternity leave, how it applies to new starters and recent leavers, and the ability of furloughed employees to work elsewhere.
Questions were also asked as to how much engagement the business should have with furloughed employees, what would be deemed as keeping in touch and what would be perceived as work, therefore put any grant claim at risk.
Most attendees were using the scheme in their own way and various examples were shared. Some, for example, have decided to furlough for a longer period whilst others asked about the possibility of bringing staff back to work earlier than intended; some paying 80% of employee wages and others decided to top this up. It is clear to see every question differed and as a result The Endeavour Partnership have decided to run further events to share knowledge with the region’s businesses.
One attendee said of the first session: “There has been so much conflicting information shared on a topic that is impacting so many of us and having the opportunity to clarify our questions with an expert has been extremely helpful. As an organisation we are trying to ensure we have a healthy business for the future, and the scheme will certainly help, however it is essential we get it right so that there is a smooth transition back into the workplace for our employees whilst ensuring the business is protected for what is an uncertain future.”
Stephen added: “Generic advice can be useful to get an overview, but it is very rare that two businesses are the same, especially when dealing with people. Things are changing all the time and HMRC are updating the scheme as different situations arise.”
As well as the events hosted by the employment law team, other departments within the firm will be sharing their knowledge on legal issues organisations are facing in the current climate, including how to deliver on contractual commitments whilst complying with trade restrictions.
Nik Tunley, partner and head of corporate and commercial said: “Whilst businesses are reviewing their models and adapting to a changing landscape there is the potential for them to get caught out regarding contractual obligations. Contracts under English law requiring ongoing performance are, generally speaking, absolute, however there are some exceptions to this.
“We are encouraging businesses to review their contracts before making a decision. This is a difficult time however, if not considered now, these things have a habit of coming up in the future. We want to make sure businesses are well placed for future trading and as such are asking businesses to contact us to clarify their legal obligations.”
The Endeavour Partnership is fully operational and is sending out a clear message for business leaders to ensure they are well placed for the future. Details of all on-line events will be shared on their social media platforms along with updates as they are received.