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Introduction

What support have governments offered for employers, employees and the self-employed? Our experts consider the initiatives in their countries.

Please do not hesitate to contact the authors or your usual Osborne Clarke contact if you have any questions or would like to discuss these initiatives further.


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The temporary closure of businesses or a drastic reduction in their activities has left many workers jobless or insufficiently employed as their employer, client or supplier fails to provide them with (sufficient) work. More than 1.5 million Belgians have been temporarily laid-off and the temporary unemployment regime due to force majeure has been extended until 30 June 2020.

All temporary unemployment due to COVID-19 (whether directly, for example, a shop closure; or indirectly, such as where suppliers or clients have closed) comes within the scheme.

There is no requirement for a company to stop its activities completely so some employees may be temporarily unemployed and others not.

For more, see our latest Insights on COVID-19.

 

Contacts:

Thierry Viérin, Partner, Belgium
T +32 2 515 9304
thierry.vierin@osborneclarke.com
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The extension to the scheme applies from 1 February 2020 to 30 June 2020.

Employees receive a temporary unemployment benefit equal to 70% of gross salary (capped at €2,754.76) at their normal wage plus €5.63 per day of unemployment, at the expense of the National Social Security Office.

Employers may pay, at their discretion, a supplement to the unemployment benefit that is exempted from social security contributions subject to conditions. It is, however, subject to tax withholdings.

The regions have also taken certain additional measures. For example, the Flemish region has introduced an automatic allowance of €202.68 for each employee on temporary unemployment, which is intended for the payment of water and energy bills.

A simplified procedure has been introduced. Employers, or the applicable payroll office, lodge a request on the portal of the social security website (form ASR-Scenario 5 via socialsecurity.be). Employees lodge their request for payment (on a mandatory form C3.2- Corona) with their union or, if they are not unionised, at the Public Institute for Social Security.

Due to the large number of applications for temporary unemployment linked to the coronavirus emergency, the government has decided to grant each worker entering the system an immediate lump sum of €1,450 per month to preserve their purchasing power as far as possible.

Payment of the unemployment benefit is made via the trade unions or direct from the Public Institute for Social Security to the employee.

Partial activity scheme

Employers can make use of the existing partial activity scheme to support the company where there is a decrease in activity. More than 10 million French workers have been or are currently taking advantage of such an arrangement.

This scheme is also available to employees who are needing to look after a child due to COVID-19.

There are two options available to employers:

  • The total suspension of work for all or part of the workforce.
  • A reduction of normal working time.

An employer will only be required to pay employees part of their salary during unworked hours and can obtain a partial refund from the French administration. Employees who are not subject to legal or contractual provisions relating to working hours may come within the scheme, as well as employees whose working time is calculated in days or hours over the year.

The government has also extended the scheme to employees of foreign companies that do not have an establishment in France, provided their employer contributes to the French social security and unemployment insurance schemes.

Other support

Other forms of financial support in place for employers include:

  • Enabling forced paid leave and RTT (Réduction du Temps de Travail) longer vacations use until 31 December 2020.
  • Deferring contributions and social taxes (in most cases this runs until 30 June 2020 but depends on the amount and the scheme).

For more, see our latest Insights on COVID-19.

Contacts:

Maxime Pigeon, Co-Managing Partner, France
T +33 1 84 82 45 34
maxime.pigeon@osborneclarke.com

Jérôme Scapoli, Partner, France
T + 33 1 84 82 46 40
jerome-scapoli@osborneclarke.com
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The maximum duration of the scheme is up to 12 months.

However, the French administration recommends that companies complete applications for partial activity to last for two to six months.

Employers must pay each relevant employee an indemnity corresponding to 70% of the former gross monthly salary (equivalent to approximately 84% of the net salary and equal to at least €8.03 per hour).

Employees with a salary equal to or less than 4.5 times the statutory minimum wage will benefit from 100% compensation.

No social contribution is payable on the indemnity.

Compensation must be paid within the usual pay periods.

The compensation also applies to any period spent training.

Specific provision is made for apprentices and those on professional contracts.

Employers must make a request online (within 30 days from the placement of an employee in partial activity) but must be approved by the French administration.

The request should set out clearly the reason to join the scheme, with details of the circumstances and economic situation that have given rise to the request (for example, the decline in activity and that there is no work for employees).

The administration will respond within 48 hours (instead of the usual 15 days).

A lack of response is considered as tacit authorisation.

Partial activity can be introduced by a unilateral decision.

The company’s social and economic committee (the former works council) must be consulted but its decision is not binding.

An employer must give notice of its decision to each employee but no agreement with the employee is needed.

The French state will pay the company an allowance to cover the indemnity paid to the employee. The hourly rate of the allowance is equal to 70% of the gross hourly remuneration (capped at 4.5x the legal minimum wage, so approximately €4,800 gross). For remuneration below this threshold, there is no remaining cost for the employer.

No social indemnity is paid by employer or employee.

Employers in Germany are able to reduce their workforce costs by reducing employees’ working hours, and therefore their pay: known as ‘short-time working’. Employees are eligible for an allowance to compensate for their loss of pay.

The requirements for implementing short-time work arrangements have been reduced since 1 March 2020. To place an employee on short-time work, there must be an agreement with the works council or an employee. It is not possible to unilaterally place an employee on short-time work.

The short-time working allowance will be available where:

  • there is a considerable temporary loss of working hours, with loss of pay, which is unavoidable. One third of the employees must be affected by a loss of earnings or more than 10% of their monthly gross salary;
  • operational requirements are met: a unit or department of a unit is concerned; and
  • personal requirements are met: for example, the employee has “not been dismissed, not excluded from social security.

The government has also put in place:

  • additional social protection packages, for example, un-bureaucratic access to basic social security systems or exceptions on working time regulations; and
  • deferral of social security payments.

For more, see our latest Insights on COVID-19.

 

Contacts:

Dr Anke Freckmann, Partner, Germany
T+49 30 7262 18101
anke.freckmann@osborneclarke.com
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The allowance is available for a maximum period of 12 months – although this can be extended up to 24 months by statutory order.

An allowance is granted for the employee’s loss of net salary (see below) but capped by thresholds for social security contributions:

At present: the short-time allowance amounts to 60% of the net pay difference (67% for parents).

From 1 May to 31 December 2020:

  • Starting in the 4th month, the allowance will be 70% of the net pay difference (77% for parents);
  • Starting in the 7th month, the allowance will be 80% of the net pay difference (87% for parents).

Short-time working must be agreed with the works council (if applicable) or the employee. The allowance must be applied for to the local employment agency who will apply a special formula: see here.

The allowance is granted by the local employment agency and refunded to the employee. The local employment agency reimburses the employer in full for the social security contributions due for the short-time allowances (including also for short-time allowances paid to temporary workers i.e. leased employees).

In “normal conditions”, three different wage funds exist in Italy to support employers, depending on the type of social contribution usually paid:

  • Cassa Integrazione guadagni ordinaria (CIGO) ordinary wage guarantee fund, which supports employers, enrolled with CIGO Fund, where there is a suspension of or reduction in working activities due to temporary events which cannot be ascribed to the company;
  • Cassa Integrazione Staordinaria (CIGS) extraordinary wage guarantee fund, which applies to employers, enrolled with CGIS Fund, with at least 15 employees (or 50 employees for commercial businesses) where there is a business crisis for a maximum of 12 months; and
  • Fondo di integrazione salariale (FIS), a supplementary wage integration fund for employers enrolled with the FIS fund that employ on average more than five employees.

On 17 March 2020, the Italian government enacted the Cura Italia Decree, which contains provisions aimed at supporting companies and workers in order to reduce the impact of the COVID-19 emergency on the Italian socio-economic system.

As a result, employers eligible for CIGO, who are forced to stop or reduce their business activities due to the COVID-19 emergency, are entitled to apply for the CIGO based on emergenza COVID-19.

 

Employers who already applied for CIGS during the epidemic may suspend this fund and apply for CIGO instead for a maximum period of nine weeks based on the same emergenza COVID-19.

Employers enrolled with FIS who are forced to stop or reduce their business activities due to the COVID-19 emergency are entitled to apply for FIS based on emergenza COVID-19.

In addition to the above, the Cura Italia Decree introduced the CIGD in order to support during the epidemic emergency all private sector employers who are not eligible for the wage funds previously outlined.

 

Contacts:

Stefan Lava, Partner, Italy
T +39 02 5413 1782
stefano.lava@osborneclarke.com
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Employers forced to stop or reduce their business due to COVID-19 emergency.

For the duration of the suspension of the business activity up to a maximum period of nine weeks (from 23 February 2020 up to the end of August 2020). The government has however announced in the next days and extension of this duration.

Allowance equal to 80% of the salary is paid by the public contribution up the following month limits:

  • maximum of €998.18 (net €939.89) for those employees whose monthly remuneration is equal or less than €2,159.58; and
  • maximum of €1,199.72 (net €1,129.66) for those employees whose monthly remuneration is higher than €2,159.48.

A simplified procedure has been put in place, which does not require a trade union agreement (only a simplified unions’ consultation is required). Applications must be submitted by the end of the fourth month following the suspension of or reduction of business activity.

Allowances will be paid directly by the National Social Security Institute up to the expenditure limit of €1,347.2 million for 2020 for the year 2020 (all applications submitted will be processed in chronological order).

The Dutch government has introduced the Temporary Emergency Bridging Measure for Sustained Employment (Noodfonds Overbrugging Werkgelegenheid) (NOW) which provides a subsidy of up to 90% of an employer’s wage bill for a period of three months in order to help avoid mass redundancies or pay cuts. The unemployment benefit during short-time working has been cancelled.

 

Contacts:

Jorgo Tsiris, Partner, The Netherlands
T +31 20 702 8618
jorgo.tsiris@osborneclarke.com
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To be eligible for the scheme, employers must expect to lose at least 20% turnover over a period of three calendar months (starting from 1 March, 1 April or 1 May 2020). For more details of how the NOW operates – including how the turnover drop is calculated and the two “best efforts” obligations that are linked to the NOW – see this Insight.

Foreign employers may be eligible for NOW.  NOW has been extended to cover other business units that do not suffer turnover losses or even make a profit in the ordinary course of events. More details on the key requirements to take advantage of this extension are here.

Applications can be made up to and including 31 May 2020 (but may be subject to extension).
Compensation can be claimed for three months with the possibility to extend it once for a further three months (extra conditions may apply to an extension application).

Employers are obliged to keep their wage bill at the same level as far as possible. This means employers have to pay their employees in full (100%).

Applications must be submitted to the Employee Insurance Agency (UWV). The works council must be informed.

Employers must keep verifiable records of all information of relevance. These must be kept available for five years from when compensation has been granted.

Employers must notify UWV of anything that happens that may affect a decision to change, repeal or determine the compensation.

The compensation for wages an employer can claim depends on the turnover loss. An employer can claim a maximum of 90% of the wages. For example:

  • If the turnover loss is 100%, the compensation government provide will amount to 90% of wages (and the company will need to pay 10%).
  • If the turnover loss is 50%, the compensation will amount to 45% of wages.
  • If the turnover loss is 25%, the compensation will amount to 22.5% of wages.

Wages are capped for these purposes (to almost €10,000 per employee per month)

Based on an application, the UWV will pay an employer an advance of 80% of the expected compensation. The actual turnover loss will be determined afterwards. When determining the definitive compensation, a correction can be made, if there has been a decrease in wages.

An employer can claim compensation for three months with the possibility to extend it once for a further three months (extra conditions may apply to an extension application). Employers will need to submit a statement from an accountant for claims that exceed a certain amount (the height of which is yet to be established).

Compensation under the NOW scheme must be used to pay wage costs. Employers must inform their employees or the works council if they have been granted this compensation. Employers cannot make any dismissals for economic business reasons while compensation is granted under the NOW scheme. If you receive a wage subsidy, you must notify the municipality that provides this that you have been granted NOW.

We have produced a calculation tool to determine the expected compensation for your company based on the NOW, which also contains information required for applying for the NOW. See more details on taking advantage of the funding under NOW here and here

Employees can be suspended from work without pay or have their working time reduced (by between 10% and 70%) through a collective temporary suspension process (ERTE) which requires an objective cause: force majeure; or economic, technical, organisation or productive (ETOP) grounds. Salary is reduced proportionally and employees are entitled to unemployment benefits to compensate, partially, the decrease of salary suffered.

An employer that takes advantage of ERTE for its employees must commit not to dismiss those employees within six months of resuming activities.

 

Contacts:

Eva Otaegui, Partner, Spain
T+34 93 419 18 18
eva.otaegui@osborneclarke.com
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The situations considered in law as force majeure circumstances in relation to COVID-19 are: closing down of activities or establishments by law; restrictions on public transport or citizens’ mobility; lack of supplies that seriously impedes continuity of production; and contagion of the workforce or adoption of preventative isolation measures.

It is for an employer to prove that the causes of force majeure satisfy the grounds relied on and the Labour Authorities will verify that this is the case.

Employees are entitled to unemployment benefits to compensate, partially, the decrease of salary suffered (even if they do not comply with the minimum period necessary to receive it). The period during which the contributory unemployment benefit is received is not computed for future unemployment benefits.

If an employer commits to maintain the employment for six months as from the restart of activity and if the company has less than 50 employees (on 29 February 2020), the employer is also entitled to an exemption of payment of the employer’s social security contribution during the period of suspension of contracts or reduction of working time. If the company has 50 or more employees (on 29 February 2020), the exemption from the obligation to pay such contributions will be as of 75% of the company’s contributions.

The procedure to suspend contracts or reduce working time based on force majeure starts at the request of the company to the labour authority (accompanied by a report proving that the loss of activity is linked to COVID-19 and the supporting documentation). The labour authority will decide whether the force majeure is proved within five days.

Unemployment benefits are paid by the labour authority.

An employer must prove economic, technical, production or organisational grounds exist, such as a decrease of work due to lack of demand, decrease of the net turnover or forecast losses due to COVID-19.

Employees are entitled to unemployment benefits to compensate partially the decrease of salary suffered (even if they do not comply with the minimum period necessary to receive it). The period during which the contributory unemployment benefit is received is not computed for future unemployment benefits.

Where the suspension or reduction is based on objective grounds, the employer has to continue paying the employers social security contribution during this suspension or reduction.

The process starts at the request of the company (accompanied by a report proving the existence of objective causes with the supporting documentation). There is then a mandatory consultation period of a maximum of seven days with the employees’ representatives. At the end of the consultation period, the employer must communicate to its employees, the employees’ representatives and the labour authorities the effects and measures decided.

Unemployment benefits are paid by the labour authority.

The government has introduced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme under which businesses can furlough staff and claim a grant from HMRC to cover up to 80% of the worker’s wage costs subject to a cap of £2,500 per month.

 

Contacts:

Anna Elliott, Partner, UK
T +44 117 917 4312
anna.elliott@osborneclarke.com

Julian Hemming, Partner, UK
T +44 117 917 3582
julian.hemming@osborneclarke.com
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The Job Retention Scheme is ”… designed to support employers whose operations have been severely affected by coronavirus” – but there is currently no statutory test yet as to how bad things need to be for you to qualify. HMRC’s business support website indicates that HMRC will have the right retrospectively to clawback fraudulent or erroneous claims.

To be furloughed, employees must be on your PAYE payroll (and notified as such to HMRC) on or before 19 March 2020. There are exceptions , including where an employee has been made redundant or stopped working and is rehired. In general, employees on statutory pay arrangements cannot be furloughed, but where enhanced pay arrangements are in place, these may be claimed under the scheme.

It is critical that an employee does not do any work while furloughed (except certain training or volunteer work), although from August 2020 some part-time working will be permitted (at the time of writing, we are awaiting further details). An employee must be furloughed for a minimum of three weeks but this period can be extended and an employee may be taken on and off furlough.

The scheme runs from 1 March 2020 and, following a recent government announcement, will continue to run until 31 October 2020. From August 2020 employers will be asked to pay a percentage towards the salaries of their furloughed staff and new flexibility will be introduced enabling employees to return to work part-time.

Employers can claim reimbursement in respect of “80% of usual monthly wage costs up to £2,500/month plus employer NI contributions and minimum automatic employer pension contribution of 3%”.

What constitutes wage costs is set out in government guidance.  An employer can continue to pay the additional 20% of salary an employee usually receives, as well as any discretionary payments on top – however, none of these payments can be reclaimed under the Scheme. From August 2020, employers will be asked to pay a percentage towards the salaries of their furloughed staff (we are waiting for further details).

When an employee undertakes training while furloughed, they must receive at least the statutory minimum pay rates (in some instances paying only 80% of pay will bring a low-paid employee below the statutory minimum pay rates).

An employee must agree to be furloughed and confirmation provided in writing. This must be retained for five years.

Employers should ensure they have a clear business reason for designating a particular individual for furlough and ensure that any decision is untainted by discrimination.

Claims are made by an employer through an online portal, which started running on 20 April 2020.

An employer is responsible for paying an employee’s wages but claims a grant from HMRC to pay these (or reimburse those already paid).