COVID-19 - your employment rights

As COVID-19 continues to spread, the impact on businesses is being felt across the globe. We are seeing a flood of enquiries from people worried about their jobs and understanding their employment rights.

Our employment team have put together some free advice below to help you tackle the situation if you are an employee. 

I've been asked to take a pay cut - do I have to take it?

With the current uncertainties there is a possibility that your employer may ask you to take a pay cut to aid with the continued support of the business. 

A pay cut cannot be enforced upon you by your employer as this would be a breach of your contract of employment.  

However, you can agree to accept a pay cut if you wish to do so, perhaps as an alternative to redundancy.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme provides a Government grant to employers to avoid redundancy and is designed to protect wages in this situation.  

Can my employer force me to work even though I have an underlying health issue?

If you have an underlying health issue it is important that you make your employer aware of this. 

It is the responsibility of your employer to listen to staff concerns and to take steps to protect everyone. 

Where possible staff should be working from home, however this is not possible for everyone. 

If you are unable to work from home and you do not want to attend work it may be possible to take time off as holiday, as unpaid leave or the employer may qualify for a grant under the Job Retention Scheme.

In most cases your employer should be flexible given current circumstances, but legally they do not have to agree to this.

If you refuse to attend work without valid reason there is a risk that disciplinary action could be taken.

I’m pregnant - can I be forced to go into work?

Due to Covid-19 Government guidance states that all pregnant women must be able to work from home wherever possible, must avoid public transport and social contact, keeping a two metres distance from others. 

All employers have a duty to undertake a workplace risk assessment under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. 

Employees who are expecting, have just given birth or who are breastfeeding are entitled to additional protection to their health and safety, as well as their unborn child. This also includes the risk of exposure to Covid-19, as there is a higher risk of exposure within the workplace and the commute to work.
 
Reasonable action to remove the health and safety risks issued by the Government, under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, by an employer would include; 

  • Working from home where possible
  • Altering working condition or hours of work
  • Provide suitable alternative work with our loss of pay
  • Provide suspension on full pay for as long as the risk remains or until adjustments/home-working have been put in place. 

If you feel your employers are forcing you to return to work whilst pregnant, you can temporarily remove yourself from the workplace until these risk assessments/health and safety adjustments have been carried out.  

The Employment Rights Act 1996 protects an employee from the loss of pay and any other detrimental treatment if they reasonably believe there is a serious and imminent risk of danger as a result of a health and safety breach.
 

Will I be paid while I'm self-isolating? Do I need a doctor's note?

If you are required to self-isolate depending on your circumstances you should be entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP). This does not apply to those who are:

  • Self-employed
  • Have already had SSP for 28 weeks (and the 28 weeks ended within the last 8 weeks)
  • Have received Employment Support Allowance in the last 12 weeks
  • Are already receiving statutory maternity pay or a Maternity Allowance
  • Are in the armed forces
  • Have had a baby in the last 14 weeks (or last 18 weeks if your baby was born over 4 weeks early)
  • Are in legal custody (detained by the police or in prison)
  • Are an agricultural worker, details of what is available for agricultural workers can be found here.

If you live alone and have symptoms then you must self-isolate for 7 days, however if you live as part of a household and are the first to display symptoms then you must still self-isolate for 7 days. Other members of your household must self-isolate for 14 days. 

If you are required to self-isolate then you should inform your employer as soon as possible, advising why you are unable to attend work and how long you are likely to be absent for.

In most cases if you are off ill from work you are able to self-certify for absences up to 7 days. You can use the Self-help guide on the NHS Inform website

This will ask you a series of questions and confirm the length of time you are required to self-isolate for. 

Should you be recommended to self-isolate for 14 days and require an isolation note for your employer you will be provided with a link in order to obtain an isolation note. 

This can then be passed on to your employer.

What can I do if I have to look after my children?

With schools and nurseries only open for essential workers it is likely that if you have children they will require full time care. If this impacts you it is important that you discuss the options through with your employer. 

At this stage as much as possible most people should be working from home, most employers given the circumstances should be willing to look at options that allow work to continue but in a flexible way. This could be changing your daily working hours from home to allow you to take care of your children.

If you are not an essential worker and unable to work from home it may be possible to take time off as holiday or as unpaid leave.  Employees have the right to time off to care for dependents but this is unpaid. 

In most cases your employer should be flexible given current circumstances, but legally they do not have to agree to this.

I've been asked to go into work but I'm not an essential worker. Should I go?

At present the Government advice is to work from home where this is possible. If your role does not allow you to work from home then it is important that you raise your concerns with your employer in writing and ask for a written response.

Options you could include within the letter would be:

  • Furlough – which is taking advantage of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme as mentioned above
  • Unpaid leave
  • Annual leave

As before most employers should be willing to be flexible given the current circumstances, but they are not legally obliged to do so.

If this is the case and you refuse to attend work there is a risk that you could face disciplinary action.

Can I be sacked for raising health and safety concerns from COVID-19?

Your employer should not dismiss you for raising health and safety concerns. If you were to be dismissed for this reason (and this was the only reason for your dismissal) you should consider lodging a claim for Unfair Dismissal at the Employment Tribunal.

An employee may also have added protection if they have raised health and safety concerns or if they refuse to return to work if they believed there was a serious and imminent threat to themselves or others. 

Dismissing an employee in certain circumstances related to health and safety would be considered as 'automatically unfair' in terms of the Employment Rights Act 1996. This protection would apply to employees whether or not they had 2 years’ service.

Can I be dismissed during furlough?

You do not have any additional protection against dismissal during furlough. If you have more than 2 years’ service you can be dismissed if your employer has a fair reason for terminating your contract, for example misconduct or capability/performance.

If you have less than 2 years’ service your employer will be able to dismiss and you will be not be able to lodge a claim at the Employment Tribunal unless the dismissal is based on discrimination, whistleblowing or health and safety issues.

Can I be made redundant during furlough?

You can be made redundant during furlough but in any redundancy situation your employer has a duty to follow a fair procedure. 

You can be made redundant if due to a downturn in business your employer ceases or intends ceasing to provide the type of work you were employed to do or ceases to provide it from your particular place of work.

Can I make an employment claim if they haven’t followed fair redundancy procedure?

Fair redundancy procedure involves identifying a pool of employees and applying an objective selection criteria to identify who will be made redundant.

When identifying the pool, the employer should consider the type of work which is ceasing and the employees who perform that work. 

They should consider employees who are performing similar work and whether jobs are interchangeable.

If the employer fails to identify a pool of employees it is likely that the dismissal will be unfair.

If you are made redundant in this situation you should make a claim to the Employment Tribunal for unfair dismissal.

Can my new company delay my start date due to COVID19? 

Your employer is able to delay a start date if this was simply a proposed start date. 

If however the start date was an agreed term and condition of the contract this should only be changed if there is a flexibility clause in the contract and the employee agrees to the change.

In this situation depending on the circumstances it may be prudent to try to negotiate with your prospective employer. The alternative would be to bring a breach of contract claim.

Last updated 28 April 2020.

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