What are your legal rights if your job has been affected by COVID-19?

Ever since the coronavirus outbreak gathered speed, life in the UK has largely been put on hold. From staff being unable to work due to self-isolation, to workers needing to stay at home to care for their children after schools were ordered to close, the impact on many businesses and their employees has been monumental. 

At times of such uncertainty, understanding the numerous job-related risks and your rights at work is even more crucial than ever. Here are some of the key issues you need to be aware of. 

Your rights to getting paid if you need to self-isolate 

Employers have received guidance from the health secretary stating staff who have been asked to self-isolate are entitled to take the time as sick leave or special leave. However, this doesn’t guarantee you will get sick leave or special leave as a matter of course, unless you work for the NHS, the local government or some major contractors. 

If you are self- isolating but you are not sick, for example because someone else in your household has symptoms, you may be expected to work from home on full pay. You will, however, be able to get an isolation note to send to your employer as proof you need to stay off work, and you do not need to get a note from a GP.

Protection from your employer if you still need to go to work

The government made an announcement on 23rd March ordering that no one should travel to work unless absolutely necessary.  Therefore, unless your job is essential to the operation of a key service, such as the NHS, you should not attend your usual place of work unless you cannot do it from home.

If travelling to work is unavoidable for you, the government guidelines advise people to stay two metres apart from others, and your employer should put steps in place to ensure you are able to do this at work where possible, as well as making sure the workplace is regularly sanitised and you are provided with personal protective equipment as appropriate. 

What happens if you are affected by school closures or travel restrictions 

Following the recent requirement for all schools to close, if you need to stay at home to look after your children you should check the terms of your employment contract to find out specifically what your rights are, but generally speaking you should be legally entitled to unpaid dependant leave. 

If you are a key worker, your children can continue to attend school, and you must contact the school to inform them that you will need to continue sending your child/children to school. 

If public transport reductions and closures mean you’re unable to get to work as normal you must let your employer know. Your employer should practice some flexibility if you are unable to work from home and are relying on public transport to get to your usual workplace. You should find out if they can agree flexible working hours, access to free or subsidised parking or if they are willing to provide private transport, for example by paying for you to travel by taxi. 

What to do if you’re worried about redundancy or paying the bills 

Many sectors have already seen widespread redundancies and firms are warning that thousands more jobs could be wiped out before we reach the end of the pandemic. If your employer cannot afford to pay you due to COVID-19, they may be able to take advantage of the government’s recently announced support package which could help them continue paying part of your wage and to avoid redundancies. 

If your boss does intend to access this support, they should have a conversation with you about you becoming classified as a furloughed worker, which would mean you are still an employee and kept on the payroll, rather than being laid off. In order to qualify for this, you will not be allowed to undertake any work for your employer whilst you are furloughed, and your employer will then be able to claim a grant of up to 80% of your wage for all employment costs, up to £2,500 per month. You employer may choose to top up the difference between this amount and your usual salary, but this is at their own discretion. 

If your salary is reduced as a result of being furloughed, you should check your eligibility for support through the welfare system including Universal Credit. 

If you need to work from home 

If you are able to continue with your job as usual, but from home, your employer still has some duties to fulfil to ensure you are safe and well. They should make sure you have all the necessary equipment to do your job properly and should check in with you regularly to make sure communication is maintained, just as it would be in the regular workplace. They must make sure you are able to manage your workload and provide you with the support needed to avoid you being put under any unnecessary stress. 

We are experiencing unprecedented times and most of us are facing circumstances we never have before. The government is regularly updating employers to keep them informed about changes to legislation and their obligations when it comes to their employees. They should communicate this properly to their workforce to remove any ambiguity and put minds at ease. 

If in any doubt about your rights as an employee, seek external support from a qualified legal professional who will be able to advise you on whether your employer is being compliant and any actions you may need to take.

By Hiren Gandhi, a partner at Blaser Mills Law

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