19 March 2020

Coronavirus Q&A for employees

I’m worried about my job – what are my rights?

Coronavirus has disrupted our working lives, so here we set out some of the most common questions our employment team are getting from people worried about their jobs.

The key points to remember:

  • Read your contract
  • Talk to your boss
  • Check if your union is involved

What sick pay does my employer need to pay?

If you’re off sick due to coronavirus or suspected coronavirus, you’re entitled to statutory sick pay from day one. If you’re self-isolating on government and/or medical guidance and you can’t work from home, you’re also entitled to statutory sick pay from day one.

If your employer operates an enhanced company sick pay scheme, you will need to ask for details. But this could just apply if you’re off sick due to actual or suspected coronavirus and not if you’re self-isolating unless your employer has decided to extend the scheme due to coronavirus.

My child’s school is closed and I can’t go in to work. What are my rights and what can I do?

You have a statutory right to take unpaid leave to deal with emergencies in relation to dependents like your children, such as school closures, for instance. But it is important to remember that this is to allow you to make alternative arrangements to deal with the situation and is not simply time off for you to provide childcare yourself, though this might be a problem if other childcare options are limited.

Employers can choose to pay for such leave, but it is their choice.

If it looks as though you’ll need significant time off (because of school closures) then you need to discuss the issue with your employer – these could cover working from home, flexible working or reduced hours. Alternatively, you could use annual leave or unpaid leave.

What do I need to do when working from home?

You will need to make sure that your employer gives you clear instructions about what’s expected of you when working from home. Discuss adjustments to your targets or your normal output; do ask for a copy of any homeworking policy, so that you can be clear on what is expected of you.

If you can’t do your work from home, are there other options?

If you can’t work from home, there are different options your employer may consider, including:

  • Allowing you to continue working from your normal workplace (if it stays open) but with measures in place to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Giving you alternative work to do at home, if possible
  • Allowing/requiring you to use your holiday entitlement
  • Offering a period of unpaid leave
  • Considering the temporary layoff of employees.

If you’re placed in any of these situations, especially being required to take holiday or being temporarily laid off, you’ll need to check your contract of employment to see what is and isn’t provided for. If your contract doesn’t allow your employer to do this, seek legal advice.

I have a job offer and am due to join my new employer in the next month. Can they get out of this?

If they have offered you the job but you haven’t accepted it, you haven’t formed a binding contract, so they can withdraw the offer ahead of the start date.

If you have had the offer and accepted it, it’s more difficult for them to withdraw the offer, but not impossible. They may be able to delay the start date or give notice to terminate the contract even before you have started work for them.

The offer letter and contract will determine what they can and can’t do, and whether they will have to pay you anything, so check your documents carefully.

My employer’s turnover has plummeted and it will be like this for the next few months. I am worried they can’t afford to pay the staff and might look to cut their wage bill by laying off staff or making redundancies. What could happen?

They could:

  • Dismiss staff with less than two years’ service – you would be entitled to your contractual notice period or a payment in lieu of notice and any accrued holiday. If you have less than two years’ service, you’re not entitled to redundancy pay and cannot bring a tribunal claim for unfair dismissal.
  • Make people redundant – if you have over two years’ service, employers will need to follow a fair redundancy procedure, including adopting and applying fair selection criteria, consulting with staff, considering alternative employment and providing a right of appeal against the decision to dismiss. If they give you notice and then change their mind, because business picks up, you also need to agree to stay on; they can’t impose it on you.
  • Lay people off temporarily – if the contract allows for it. Sometimes, a person who’s laid off can still be entitled to a redundancy payment.
  • Agree a period of unpaid leave – it is very unlikely they could make you take unpaid leave, but, faced with the possibility of job losses, you and your colleagues may be willing to agree a period of unpaid leave as an alternative. This could be agreed with unions – do check with them.
  • Change contracts – your hours of work, pay, or your benefits. How your contract is worded will decide whether they can do this or not, but this may be the only way for a business to survive and avoid widespread job losses.

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About the Author
Peter Orton, Senior Associate

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