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Covid-19 – FAQs from employees 

In these unprecedented times, employees may be concerned about their employment rights and protection. Here are some answers to some of the most frequently asked questions. Do get in touch with our team about these, or any other questions you may have. 

I have been told to self-isolate, am I entitled to full pay?

If you are not sick and you are still able to perform your normal duties safely from home then you will likely be entitled to continue to receive your normal salary in full.

If you are unable to carry out your duties remotely, then you will likely be entitled to receive sick pay.  You could decide to use your holiday entitlement (if you have enough) for some or all of this period as an alternative to scenarios where you would otherwise be on sick pay or nil pay. You are entitled to take statutory annual leave during sickness absence but cannot be compelled to by your employer.

What is Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and when would I be deemed to be eligible for it?

SSP is paid to an employee if they are absent from work/unable to work due to “incapacity”.  The legislation regarding SSP has been amended so that employees that are self-isolating (in line with government guidance) and are unable to work as a result are entitled to receive SSP from day one of their self-isolation.

The current rate of SSP is £94.25 per week and is payable to all employees that earn an average of at least £118 per week.  Employers may pay more than SSP but cannot pay less.

If you refuse to work without good reason then it is unlikely that you will be eligible for sick pay and may be forced to either use your holiday entitlement for this period or take it as unpaid leave.  There may also be disciplinary consequences, although employers are encouraged to support their workers’ welfare during this time.

What if I am not eligible to SSP?

If you do not meet the threshold for SSP, you may be able to apply for Universal Credit.  This is the same for self-employed contractors.  If you are on a zero hours contract, you may be eligible for SSP.  You should speak to your employer to confirm.

Can my employer force me to come into work?

The Government’s current advice is to only travel to and from work where it is absolutely necessary and where work cannot be done from home.  If it is not possible to work from home and you are not required to self-isolate, then your employer is currently allowed to request that you attend work if it is safe to do so.  If you have concerns, you should discuss these with your employer and see if a workaround can be reached.  If you are ill then you should not attend work.

If you are ill or required to self-isolate, medical evidence is not required for the first seven days of sickness.  After this period, it is for the employer to determine what evidence they require, if any, from the employee.

If evidence is required to cover self-isolation or household isolation beyond the first seven days of absence, employees can get an isolation note from NHS 111 online or from the NHS website.

Can my employer force me to take holiday?

In short, if you are not ill, then yes.  Your employer can give you notice to require you to use your statutory annual leave on specified dates.  Such notice must be at least twice the length of the period of leave that you are being ordered to take e.g. if your employer requires you to take two weeks’ leave, it must give you at least four weeks’ notice.  There are no explicit requirements about the form that this notice must take.

If you are ill then you can choose to use your holiday entitlement rather than sick pay, but your employer cannot force you to do this.

Can my employer force me to take unpaid leave?

This will depend on what your contract of employment says.  Some contracts have a provision that allows employers to “lay off” their staff for a temporary period i.e. ask them not to attend work and not pay them for that period (subject to a statutory minimum).  Your employer could ask you to reduce your hours (sometimes referred to as “short time working”), again, an entitlement to do this would be subject to what is written in your contract of employment.

If there are no such provisions in your contract of employment then your employer cannot impose these actions on you.

Will I be made redundant?

Unfortunately, redundancy is a possibility for all employees, particularly in these times.  What is important to remember is that employers are obliged to follow a redundancy process and cannot just tell you that you are being made redundant.

If you are told that you are at risk of redundancy, you should be given the opportunity to put forward alternatives to avoiding redundancy e.g. an adjustment to your hours/shifts.  You should also be offered and allowed to apply for suitable alternative employment with your employer.  It is important to note that only employees with two or more years’ service will be eligible for redundancy pay, subject to your employer’s policy.

How can I avoid being made redundant?

If your employer cannot cover staff costs due to COVID-19, they may be able to access support to continue paying part of your salary to avoid redundancies through the Government’s newly introduced Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

If your employer intends to access this scheme, they will discuss with you becoming classified as a “furloughed worker”.  This would mean that you are kept on your employer’s payroll, rather than being laid off or made redundant.

To qualify for this scheme, you should not undertake work for your employer while you are furloughed.  This will allow your employer to claim a grant of up to 80% of your wage for all employment costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month.

You will remain employed by your employer while furloughed.  Your employer could choose to pay the difference between the Government’s contribution and your salary, but is not obliged to.

If your salary is reduced as a result of these changes, you may be eligible for Universal Credit.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is intended to run for at least 3 months from 1 March 2020, but will be reviewed and possibly extended at the end of this period.


Disclaimer

This briefing is for guidance purposes only. RadcliffesLeBrasseur LLP accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken or not taken in relation to this note and recommends that appropriate legal advice be taken having regard to a client's own particular circumstances.

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