Coronavirus: what are your rights at work?

by Brean Horne from Moneywise |

Find out your rights if you have to take time off work due because of coronavirus

Many workers are undergoing huge change by working remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has left some facing an uncertain financial future.

Many employees have been told to work from home where possible and others have taken time off to self isolate or care for someone affected by the virus. 

We outline your rights if you have to take time out of work because of coronavirus.  

What is social distancing?

Social distancing is the process of reducing physical distance between people, curbing the spread of the virus.

The government has suggested avoiding: 

  • Contact with people displaying coronavirus symptoms
  • Non-essential use of public transport where possible
  • Large and small social gatherings in public spaces
  • Gatherings with friends and family

For more information and advice read the government's guidance on social distancing

What is self-isolation?

Self-isolation involves staying at a secure indoor location and avoiding contact with others. This prevents you spreading the disease or catching it in the first place.

Public Health England (PHE) guidance recommends a self-isolation period of 14 days.

When self-isolating you must:

  • Stay indoors
  • Not go to work, school or public areas
  • Not use public transport e.g. buses trains, tubes or taxis
  • Avoid visitors to your home
  • Ask friends, family members or delivery services to carry out errands for you e.g. getting groceries, medication and other shopping

For more information on how to self-isolate correctly read the full PHE guidance.

Will I get paid if I self-isolate?

If you have been instructed to self-isolate, you will be entitled to sick leave. According to health secretary Matt Hancock, self-isolation should be considered “sickness for employment purposes". The amount of pay you get depends on your employment contract.

If your employer does not not offer sick pay, you will be entitled to statutory sick pay for up to 28 weeks. This is currently £94.25 per week.

Usually this would be paid from the fourth day of illness, however, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that it will now be paid from the first day of illness. 

Will I get sick pay if I'm on a zero hours contract?

If you are on a zero hours contract, you may be entitled to sick pay. To qualify, you will need to have earned more than £118 per week before tax over a period of eight weeks. 

Workers who are not eligible for statutory sick pay, will now be able to make a claim for Universal Credit or Contributory Employment and Support Allowance.

Contributory Employment and Support Allowance, which is £73.10 a week, is paid from the first day of illness rather than the eighth for eligible people affected by coronavirus.

Will I get sick pay if I'm self-employed?

Self-employed workers can apply for a grant worth 80% of their average monthly profits, over the last three years, up to £2,500 a month.

The scheme is open to those who earn under £50,000 a year.

Eligible self-employed workers will begin receiving money from HMRC from June 2020. 

The grants will be subject to tax and must be declared on tax returns by January 2022. 

Company owners who pay themselves a dividend are not eligible for this scheme. 

What happens if I’m not sick, but work tells me to stay home?

If you are not ill and have not be asked to self-isolate but your employer tells you to stay home, you will be entitled to your usual pay.

What happens if I have to take time out of work to care for someone?

You are entitled to take time off work to help someone who depends on you in an "unexpected emergency". This includes:

  • If your child’s school has been closed and you have to arrange childcare
  • Your child or another dependent is sick, needs to go into isolation or go to the hospital

While there is no statutory right to pay for this time off, some employers may offer this depending on your contract or workplace policy.

What happens if someone with coronavirus comes to work?

If someone with coronavirus comes to work, the PHE health protection team will get in touch with your employer to assess the case. They will then be advised on what to do, which can include closing down the workplace.

What happens if I don’t want to go to work in case I catch coronavirus?

If you are afraid of catching coronavirus at work, speak to your employer immediately.

Employers should try to resolve your concerns and ensure the health and safety of their staff. For example, you may be given the option to work from home for a certain period of time.

If you still do not want to go into the office, your employer may be able to arrange for you to take time off as holiday or unpaid leave. They do not have to, and persistent absence from work could mean disciplinary action.

Can I still claim benefits if I self-isolate?

If you are unable to attend your usual appointments due to self-isolation, you will need to phone the office responsible for paying your benefit and give a reason. Not doing this could result in you losing your benefits payments. If you are on Universal Credit, you can use your online journal to explain why you are unable to attend an appointment.

This article was first published on 3/3/2020 and has been updated to reflect recent developments. 

This article was originally published in our sister magazine Moneywise. Click here to subscribe.

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