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Staff and Coronavirus
With the seemingly sudden onset of COVID-19 and the escalation of the crisis in recent weeks, a lot of people are worried about how their jobs are affected and how businesses can continue in these very challenging times. Clearly we are going through very difficult and unchartered times and they are changing by the day.
The current advice from the Government is that, where possible, employees should work from home. Over the years and for various reasons, including train and tube strikes and severe weather conditions, many firms are set up for allowing their staff to work from home. However, it is not possible for every business. With schools and nurseries now closed, more workers are now having to look after children at home whilst also continuing to work. With those over 70 being told to self-isolate for 12 weeks at least, a lot people are without their usual backup childcare provision. So what does this mean for employees? Here we try to answer some of the employment queries you may be asking.
Can I get paid if I am self-isolating?
If you are ‘deemed incapable to work’ meaning unable to work because you are self-isolating in order to prevent the spread of the virus, you are entitled, under new legislation: The Statutory Sick Pay (General) (Coronavirus Amendment) Regulations 2020.
If you are entitled to contractual sick pay, then you should be paid in accordance with those provisions.
Working from home?
If you are required to work from home, you are entitled to receive your normal pay.
If your employer requires you to remain at home or reduce your hours, you are entitled to receive your normal pay. However, if your contract provides for making staff redundant or reducing hours, then you will be paid in accordance with those provisions.
What happens if I have to stay at home and look after my children?
If you are prevented from working because you have to look after your children, you are entitled to ‘reasonable’ time off for emergencies, but this is unpaid. What is reasonable would depend on the circumstances.
If you are having to take time off for more than emergency situations, which is likely to be the case now, you may have to consider using holiday entitlement and unpaid leave with agreement with your employer.
What if my employer does not allow me to work from home and I believe that there is a risk of contracting the virus because I am remaining at work?
The guidance is currently that you can work from home, if possible. This may not always be practical but your employer has a duty of care to provide to you a safe place of work, including ensuring that arrangements are in place to prevent the spread of the virus throughout its staff, and it would be unreasonable and possibly a breach of that duty, for any employer not to take account of that, especially if you have underlying health issues. If you are disabled under the Equality Act, your employer has an additional duty to make reasonable adjustments to your working environment.
The Government have announced measures to support both businesses and individuals in this crisis and it is hoped that those employees financially disadvantaged will be able to take advantage of that assistance. More details are expected in the Chancellors’ speech on 20 March 2020 and in the following days and months. Without these measures then it is likely that companies will have to make redundancies or to ask employees to take unpaid secondments or reduction in wages in order to survive. In the meantime, employers are urged to “stand by their employees” and not to take any impulsive action.
Blog written and information correct as of 19/03/2020.