Coronavirus germs

Coronavirus: your rights at work

 

Updated: 7 April 2020 at 12:20

As the COVID-19 virus spreads, find out what your rights at work are.

Government guidance released on 23 March advises that everyone should stay at home and only go to work where this absolutely cannot be done from home.

Many of our members can’t work from home due to their critical roles in the UK’s public services.

We want you to know, we are proactively engaging with the government and others to keep you safe at work. 

If you think you or someone you live with has coronavirus

What should I do if I think I have the symptoms of, or have had close contact with someone who has had, COVID-19?

For the latest information on symptoms, what you should do and how long you should self-isolate, see the “staying at home information” from NHS UK.

For additional information on coronavirus see list of resources below.

If I have to self-isolate, will I be paid?

If you cannot work while you are self-isolating because of COVID-19, you could get SSP for every day you’re in isolation. You must self isolate for at least 4 days to be eligible. If you are self- isolating but you are not sick, you may be expected to work from home, on full pay.

Speak to your UNISON branch if you are concerned your employer is not following the guidance.

If you live with someone who has symptoms of coronavirus, you can get an isolation note to send to your employer as proof you need to stay off work.  You do not need to get a note from a GP.

Get an isolation note

Sick pay for coronavirus

Statutory sick pay is now available from the first day you are off sick, and if you are paid less than £120 a week you will be able to access Universal Credit or Contributory Employment and Support Allowance more easily.

Unfortunately, if you’re on a zero-hours contract you are not entitled to statutory sick pay unless you can demonstrate that you earn at least £120 per week from your employer.

We are urging the government to help those on zero-hours contracts.

If you get contractual sick pay (a rate agreed by your employer), it’s good practice to ensure that such absence is not counted towards any sickness absence policy triggers points.

This has been agreed for NHS staff and the majority of local government staff (ie those covered by national joint council (NJC) terms and conditions.) A similar agreement is in place for local authority workers in Scotland whose terms and conditions are agreed at the Scottish joint council (SJC). UNISON Scotland issued an update on this in early March.

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If you need to go to work

The government has said that no one should travel to work unless absolutely necessary and you should therefore work from home unless your job is essential to the operation of a key service and you cannot do it from home.

If it’s absolutely necessary that you travel to work, the government guidelines issued on 23 March advise people to stay two metres apart from others. Your employer should put steps in place to assist staff in keeping 2 metres apart from each other where possible – ‘social distancing’

Gov.uk guidance on staying at home

We have produced a practical guide to social distancing in the workplace

Your employer should also:

Speak to your UNISON branch if you are concerned your employer is not following the guidance.

What do I do if my employer is not doing enough to keep me safe?

Your employer has a duty to both follow government guidelines and risk assess any hazards arising from COVID 19.

If, after reading our advice, and government guidelines you believe your employer is failing to protect your health you should firstly raise the matter with your employer. If this doesn’t resolve your concerns you should contact your local UNISON Branch.

Where your employer continues to flout public health advice, and/or there is an immediate danger to your health (particularly if you are among those considered at risk with an underlying health condition) your branch may contact your local Public Health Office (Health Board if you live in Scotland) and they should advise you and your employer on what to do.

What if I can’t take my annual leave?

The government announced on 27 March that it would be amending regulations to allow up to four weeks annual leave to be carried over into the next 2 years. 

Read more on the gov.uk website

If you need protective equipment (PPE) to do your job

If it is absolutely necessary that you go to work, it’s vital your employer considers all measures to keep you safe. Where measures such as social distancing and workplace adjustments have failed or are insufficient your employer will need to consider other measures. These include providing you with the correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to do your job safely.

UNISON has taken your PPE concerns to Government.  We have asked Ministers to resolve problems with the supply of equipment and to provide clearer advice about what you need to protect you at work.

We’ve received confirmation from the NHS that deliveries are now in place to all English health and social care providers and a 24 hour employer helpline has been set up to report any shortages.  We will keep you updated regarding supplies to the rest of the United Kingdom as we receive it.

We have a page of PPE detailed advice here

If you need to work from home

The government has advised you should work from home unless it is impossible for you to do so.

If you are affected by school closures or travel restrictions

Do I have to go to work if my children can’t go to school?

The government has asked parents to keep their children at home, wherever possible, and asked schools to remain open only for those children who absolutely need to attend.

Download the government guide to changes to school and education provision

If you need to stay at home to look after your children because of this, you are legally entitled to unpaid dependant leave.  However, many UNISON members will be entitled to paid dependant leave due to agreements negotiated with their employer.

See what your contract says or talk to your UNISON branch if you are unsure what your rights are.

The government has produced a list of key workers whose children can still attend school.

If you think you are a key worker, you should confirm this with your employer and let the school know you will need to continue to send your child/children to school.

What if I can’t get to work because of transport closures?

Let your employer know if you’re struggling or unable to get to work because of transport closures.

Government advice is that people should work from home, unless it is ‘absolutely necessary’ that they travel to work.  If home working really isn’t possible then your employer should agree flexible working hours to allow access to public transport, access to free parking or consider providing private transport, for example, taxi.

If you are pregnant

If you are pregnant the government issued “strong advice” on March 16 that you should work from home, if possible.  In addition, the government advised pregnant women to be particularly stringent about ‘social distancing’.

See the government’s advice for vulnerable people

There’s also an existing legal framework that employers must follow regarding pregnant employees (and breastfeeding mothers).

Employers have a legal obligation to assess the workplace risks for pregnant employees and their unborn children, and breastfeeding mothers who have returned to work.

Your employer should therefore consider allowing you to work from home. If your job isn’t suitable for home working then your employer should consider whether you can be temporarily re-deployed to a role that would allow home working for the duration of this crisis, on full pay.

If working from home isn’t an option then your employer should undertake a risk assessment to identify any additional steps they need to take, such as providing you with additional personal protective equipment and ensuring social distancing measures are in place.  They should also consider reallocating some of your duties or offering you alternative employment at the same rate of pay if available

If none of this is possible, because of the risks caused by COVID-19, they must suspend you from work on full pay for as long as necessary. Your full pay should be based on your usual earnings, not pay based on your contractual hours.  If you are absent from work for maternity-related reasons (ie risks to pregnancy caused by COVID-19) the period of Ordinary Maternity Leave automatically begins 6 weeks before the expected week of confinement.

Pregnant women should not be placed on sick pay

Local government employers have already acknowledged that in some cases they will need to allow staff who can’t work from home to stay at home on full pay.

Read more on our COVID-19 advice for local government staff page

If your employer won’t let you work from home contact your local UNISON branch for help.

If there is no specific health and safety risk but your employer is affected for example by a lack of demand or they are carrying out non-essential work, they may consider putting you on ‘furlough’.

See our guidance on furloughed workers for more information.

There are very serious legal risks for employers who do not gain voluntary agreement from pregnant workers to furlough.

This is because their protected characteristic (pregnancy) under the Equality Act 2010 must be read in light of (1) Government’s guidance that they are strongly advised to remain at home and (2) emergency legislation that has imposed workplaces closures and placed restrictions on travel

What if I’m pregnant and also have a heart condition?

If you fall into this category you should have received a letter from the government about  “shielding”,  which is a way of protecting very vulnerable people from the virus.

The government is strongly advising people in this category to stay at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact for a period of at least 12 weeks from the day you receive your letter.

Your employer must suspend you from work on full pay for as long as necessary to protect your health and safety or that of your baby. Your full pay should be based on your usual earnings, not pay based on your contractual hours.

You may have additional rights under the Equality Act 2010 if you are disabled as well as being pregnant

The government advice means that you are strongly advised not to go to work.  Speak to your UNISON branch if you think your employer is not following the guidance.

If you are pregnant and also have a heart condition but you have not received the letter, contact your GP by phone.

Read the full advice on protecting yourself if you’re at high risk from coronavirus on the government website.
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If you are disabled, over 70 or have an underlying health condition

Can my employer refuse home working?

For people with an underlying health condition the government “strongly advises” that you work from home in guidance released on 16 March.

On 23 March updated government guidance advised that all workers should stay at home and only go to work where this absolutely cannot be done from home.

Employers should therefore consider allowing you to work from home if at all possible.  If your job isn’t suitable for home working then your employer should consider whether you can be temporarily re-deployed to a role that would allow home working for the duration of this crisis.

If working from home is not possible your employer should undertake a risk assessment to identify any additional steps they need to take, such as re-allocating some of your duties or providing you with additional personal protective equipment.

Local government employers have already acknowledged that in some cases they will need to allow staff who can’t work from home to stay at home on full pay.

For more information, see our local government page

If your employer won’t let you work from home please contact your local UNISON branch for help.

Will I need to stay in my home for a long time?

The government has asked everyone to reduce social contact.  This is called “social distancing”.

However, older and disabled people and those with underlying conditions are the most at risk from COVID-19.  The government says that those in the most at-risk groups (people who are instructed to get a flu jab) should be particularly “stringent” about social distancing.

Government guidance on social distancing

The government has also issued additional advice for people who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 and you should check below if you are in this group.

What if I am shielded and at high risk of becoming seriously ill from coronavirus?

People who are at high risk include those who:

  • have had an organ transplant
  • are having certain types of cancer treatment
  • have blood or bone marrow cancer, such as leukaemia
  • have a severe lung condition, such as cystic fibrosis or severe asthma
  • have a condition that makes you much more likely to get infections
  • are taking medicine that weakens your immune system
  • are pregnant and have a serious heart condition

If you are in this group you should have received a letter from the NHS with advice on “shielding” which is a way of protecting very vulnerable people from the virus.

The government is strongly advising people in this category to stay at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact for a period of at least 12 weeks from the day you receive your letter.

The government advice means that you are strongly advised not to go to work.  Speak to your UNISON branch if you think your employer is not following the guidance.

If you think you are in the high-risk category but have not received the letter, contact your GP by phone.

Read the full advice on protecting yourself if you’re at high risk from coronavirus on the government website.

What happens if I receive sickness or disability-related benefits?

The government has announced that face-to-face health assessments for sickness and disability benefits will be suspended and that there will be no new reviews or re-assessments of such claims for three months.  Existing awards will be extended for this period.

Find out more on the gov.uk website

This means you should continue to receive PIP (personal independence payments), ESA (employment support allowance) and industrial injuries disablement benefit without having to attend a face-to-face appointment or to complete a review or re-assessment form.

If you have an outstanding assessment appointment please contact the phone number on the letter to make sure it has been postponed.

Government guidance on claiming benefits in light of COVID-19

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If you’re worried about paying the bills, redundancy or being ‘furloughed’ (Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme)

What if my employer is considering layoffs or redundancies?

The Government announced the ‘Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme’ on 20 March 2020 in a bid to avoid mass redundancies. The scheme will be backdated to 1 March and operate until 31 May 2020 but the Government has said it will be extended if necessary.

Further information on how the scheme will operate and UNISON Bargaining Guidance

Can I get help to pay my bills?

If you are on a low income you may be entitled to Universal Credit.

Check your Universal Credit eligibility

The government announced on 20 March that Universal Credit will be increased by £20 per week (£1,000 a year). Working Tax Credit will also be increased by £20 per week (£1,000 a year). The increase starts from 6 April.

You might also be entitled to more help with your rent. The government has announced that the Local Housing Allowance will be increased to cover more people’s rents.

Coronavirus and claiming benefits

UNISON’s charity There for You can also offer help if you are in financial difficulty.

There for you

How is my pension affected by COVID-19?

We’ve put together a Q&A on coronavirus and pensions.

Pensions Q&A

Further information

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Resources