Coronavirus: know your rights in the workplace

Over the past few weeks the coronavirus has been spreading quickly around the world and now looks likely to pose a threat to the UK. As the effect of the virus intensifies it is more than likely that it will have a significant impact on your workplace, with the UK government warning that a fifth of the British workforce could be off work at the peak of the outbreak. At a time of great upheaval it is more important than ever to know your rights in the workplace and how they could be impacted by the spread of the virus. With this in mind we have compiled below six of the most common questions that you may find yourself asking over the coming weeks.

Will I still get paid if I contract the virus?

Many employers allow staff a certain number of days a year on full pay and this should be detailed in your contract. When your fully paid sick days have been used up, if you meet the National Insurance Lower Earnings Limit, meaning that you have average earnings of at least £118 a week, you will qualify for statutory sick pay of £94.25 per week, which will be paid for up to 28 weeks. This is the statutory minimum and your employer may pay you more than this if they choose.

Until now statutory sick pay has been paid from the fourth continuous day of absence due to sickness, however, the government have announced emergency changes to regulations within the past week, which will entitle employees to statutory sick pay from the first day of absence. Unfortunately, if you are self-employed or on a zero hours contract you will not be entitled to any compensation or statutory sick pay whatsoever.


If I’m not sick but it has been recommended that I self-isolate will I be entitled to sick pay?

Current government guidance recommends that if you have recently returned from what it describes as category 1 destinations you should self-isolate for 14 days whether or not you are experiencing symptoms of the virus. You may also be advised by a doctor or NHS 111 to a self-isolate if you have been in close contact of someone who has contracted the virus.

As to whether someone in self-isolation, but who is not actually ill, is entitled to sick pay is not entirely straightforward. Employers are not legally obliged to pay for sick pay to staff who are not unwell, however, ACAS has recently released coronavirus guidance which determines that best practice for employers is to treat such cases as normal sick leave and follow their usual sick pay policy. Your employer may request that you to work from home if this is feasible in which case you would be entitled to your normal full pay.


What happens if my boss tells me not to come into work?

If you have recently returned from an affected area but are not sick or if you are displaying symptoms but have not been diagnosed with the virus then your employer may ask you to stay at home on precautionary grounds. In both cases you will be entitled to full pay during this time unless your contract specifically states otherwise. If your employer does request that you stay at home they are obliged apply this policy consistently among staff.

In some situations, an employer might need to close down their business temporarily to contain the spread of the virus. Employees will still be entitled to full pay for this period unless it states otherwise in their contract. Your employer may request that you work from home if this is feasible.


Can I take time off work to look after a family member who has been impacted by the virus?

You are entitled to time off work to help a dependent in an emergency. It could be that you have children who you need to look after because their school has closed or you may have an elderly relative who needs to go into hospital. There no statutory right to pay for this time off, but some employers might offer pay depending on your contract or workplace policy.


I’m scared that I might catch the virus at work. Can I take time off and will I still get paid?

Although the UK government has confirmed that the risk to healthy people in the remains low some people might feel they do not want to go to work if to avoid catching coronavirus. An employer should listen to any concerns that the individual may have and if these are legitimate it is the employer’s responsibility to make reasonable adjustments. Employers should be aware that the elderly, those with underlying health conditions or weakened immune systems are in a high-risk group.

Employers should also be mindful of their duties under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments to an employee’s working arrangements where that employee has a disability. If an employee continues to have concerns, they can try to arrange for time off as unpaid leave or holiday, however, the employer if under no obligation to agree to this. If an employee still refuses to attend work, this could result in disciplinary action.


What should my employer be doing now to prepare for the virus?

Employers should already be making plans to mitigate the impact of the virus. They should look at adapting policies and procedures, establishing how to deal with ongoing levels of absence and travel restrictions. Employers should ensure that they have policies that are clear and consistently applied. They should also ensure that any changes are communicated expeditiously to staff.

Employers should fulfil their duty of care by looking at what measures they can take to control the spread of the virus in the workplace. This includes knowing how to spot symptoms of coronavirus, ensuring that there is adequate provision of washing facilities and encouraging good hygiene practices among staff. Employers also owe additional duties to employees under the terms of the Equality Act 2010, to ensure that no members of staff  are treated differently during this outbreak because of their disability, race or ethnicity.


If you have any employment issues that you need resolved speak to one of our expert team today by calling us 01670 515 182 or send us a message using our contact form.

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