Employers/Employees Rights: Coronavirus Frequently asked questions

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With more employers re-opening and employees coming back from furlough this fact sheets answers some common questions regarding employees and employers’ rights during this time and includes:

  • Sick Pay
  • Time off for dependents
  • Vulnerable / High Risk (shielding employees)
  • Bereavement pay
  • Annual leave
  • Re-opening / returning to the workplace

Sick Pay and Self Isolation

As of 13th March 2020, employees who self-isolate must receive any Statutory Sick Pay due to them from the first day they are absent from work if it is because:

  • They have coronavirus
  • They have coronavirus symptoms, for example a high temperature
  • Someone in their household has coronavirus symptoms
  • The have been told to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111 or NHS Tracer

Employees are able to ‘self-certify’ for the first 7 days off work. This means, unless contrary to their workplace process, they do not need to obtain a sick note from a doctor or NHS 111. If an employee is self-isolating for more than 7 days due to coronavirus, they can get an online self-isolation note from the NHS website.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) Explained:

It is a legal obligation for employers to pay SSP to employees and workers when they meet the following conditions; they earn on average at least £120 a week (before tax) and that they’ve told their employer within any deadline the employer has set, or within 7 days of becoming ill. If the employee is off sick for an illness not related to coronavirus, then the employee must be absent from work for 4 days in a row before they are eligible.
It is important to note that agency, casual and zero-hour workers are also eligible for SSP if they meet the above conditions.

SSP is £95.85 per week and can be paid for up to 28 weeks.

Time Off for Dependents

If an unexpected event or emergency occurs, an employee is entitled to time off work to help someone who depends on them (a ‘dependent’). This could apply to situations to do with coronavirus. Importantly, a dependent does not necessarily have to live with the person, eg an elderly neighbour or relative living elsewhere who relies on them.

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

The amount of time an employee takes off to look after a dependent must be reasonable to the situation. For example, they might take 2 days off to start with, and if more time is then needed, you can encourage them to use some of their holiday allowance.
If you request an employee returns to work following furlough and they are unable to due to not having childcare then the options are for that employee are; to take unpaid leave, use holiday entitlement, remain on furlough (if the employer agrees) or work a reduced / changed work pattern from home.

Vulnerable People and Those at High Risk

Some employees may have been considered a ‘vulnerable person’ during the coronavirus pandemic. Some may have received a letter, or live with someone who has received a letter, from the NHS asking them to take extra steps to shield themselves because of an underlying health condition.

If an employee receives a letter asking them to begin shielding and is able to work from home, this should be supported by the employer. If an employee receives such a letter and is unable to work from home, they can ask their employer to put them on ‘furlough’.
This may be a particularly distressing time for some employees, so it is important that employers keep in touch and offer their support regularly.
Any details relating to an employee or workers medical condition must be kept confidential, unless the employee or worker says it can be shared.
It is important for employers to remember that employees and workers are protected by law against unfair treatment and dismissal if it is because of:

  • Pregnancy
  • Age
  • A health condition that’s considered a disability under the Equality Act

It would be considered unlawful discrimination on the grounds of the above if an employer unreasonably tries to pressure someone to go to work OR unreasonably disciplines someone for not going to work.

Bereavement Pay

The number of deaths that have occurred due to the coronavirus has been a distress for many people, and it is important to recognise that this may have affected an employee or a member of an employee’s family during this time.
Whilst many companies do not offer bereavement pay, there is a Government benefit which employees may be able to access and employers should direct their employees to the following website:

https://www.gov.uk/bereavement-support-payment for more information.

Annual Leave

In most circumstances, employees and workers should use their paid holiday in their current leave year. The statutory amount is 5.6 weeks in the UK, however some companies may have policies allowing more.

It may be a good idea to discuss the following with employees and workers:

  • Talk about any plans to use or cancel holiday during coronavirus as soon as possible
  • Discuss why holiday might need to be taken or cancelled
  • Listen to any concerns, either from staff or employer
  • Welcome and suggest ideas for other options
  • Consider everyone’s physical and mental wellbeing
  • Be aware that it’s a difficult time for both employers and staff

If a furloughed worker takes any holiday during their period of furlough, they must get their usual pay in full.

During the coronavirus pandemic, it may not be possible for staff to take all their holiday entitlement during the current holiday year, although employers should encourage as much as possible to still be taken.

The Government has introduced a temporary new law allowing employees and workers to carry over up to 4 weeks’ paid holiday into their next 2 holiday years. This applies to those who have been furloughed for a period as well as those who have continued working. It is important to note, that this law does not affect any agreements already in place within businesses.

Returning to the Workplace

It is very important that employers speak to staff as soon as possible about when they can return to the workplace. Staff should continue to work from home where possible.
Employers must make the workplace as safe as possible for staff, customers and anyone else who visits. To do this employers must:

  • Encourage staff to work from home, wherever possible
  • Do a risk assessment (a template for this can be found on Harwood HR’s website) to
    identify what might cause harm and take reasonable steps to prevent it
  • Follow government guidelines on working safely during coronavirus (please see
    https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19 )

Discussing Plans with Staff

A few areas that could be vital for employers to discuss with their employees are:

  • When staff might return to the workplace
  • How staff will travel to and from work
  • How health and safety is being reviewed and managed – you should share the latest risk assessment
  • Any planned adjustments to the workplace, for example additional hand washing facilities, staggering start and finish times to avoid overcrowding or floor markings helping people keep 2 metres apart
  • If there might be a phased return of the workforce, for example some staff returning before others
  • Working from home arrangements and communication

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Outsourced Services. We provide clear, cost effective HR advice.

For a free consultation, please contact us on:
0117 439 0119 or info@harwood-hr.co.uk


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