Coronavirus update – Face masks and furlough

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HMRC are now writing to organisations regarding potential furlough calculation discrepancies, whilst in France face masks are now compulsory in the workplace.

HMRC reminds organisations to check for furlough mistakes.

As the furlough scheme starts to wind down, organisations that have made use of it may have a new concern; what if any of their claims were mistaken? Whilst there have been examples of furlough fraud, the worry is that organisations may have potentially submitted claims that are incorrectly calculated, without even realising they have done so. HMRC is adamant that those who have tried to deliberately defraud the system will face penalties, but it ‘will not seek out innocent errors and small mistakes for compliance action’.

To assist in this, they are writing to 3,000 ‘select organisations’ per week in order to remind them to check their historical claims are accurate and, if not, take steps to correct the situation. If they notify the HMRC of this mistake in time, they will not face any penalties. 

Deadlines to notify the HMRC are as follows:

  • within 90 days of receiving money they are not entitled to
  • within 90 days of their circumstances changing so they were no longer entitled to claim under the scheme
  • by 20 October if they received money they were not entitled to, or their circumstances changed, on or before 22 July.

Face masks in France

France have announced that facemasks are to be made compulsory in workplaces in order to further combat the spread of the coronavirus. With this in mind, questions have been raised as to whether this will also be introduced in the UK. After all, calls for their more wider introduction are growing, with it already compulsory for them to be worn in retail environments.

It should be noted that there is currently no sign such a requirement will become mandatory in UK workplaces such as offices. For now, unless the place of work does require forms of personal protective equipment (PPE), there is no legal requirement for staff to be asked to wear a mask in the office.  It is therefore up to the organisation if they wish to enforce this.

In deciding if masks should be mandatory, it is advisable that organisations first address government guidance. They should carefully consider if masks are necessary, especially if the workplace is already following all other rules surrounding social distancing. Masks may make conversing with clients or customers difficult, especially if the office is predominantly based around talking on the phone or face-to-face.

If an organisation does ask their staff to wear a mask ahead of any new law introduced, and some of their employees refuse to do so, it will be down to the organisation how they respond. This is likely to be considered a reasonable request, meaning unreasonable refusal could potentially be considered a disciplinary issue. However, organisations should still proceed with care. There may be underlying reasons why employees do not wish to wear masks, and they should aim to discover what these reasons are.

German furlough scheme extension

Germany has announced that it plans to extend its own furlough scheme by 24 months, in order to combat the growing economic issues in that country. It should be noted that the scheme in Germany is different to the UK, and that, currently, there are no plans to adopt the same extension in this country.