Coronavirus and working from home

Should I be working from home?

With the re-introduction of  a national lockdown in England, once again, the UK government’s emphasis is on staying at home.  Please see the government’s advice for national lockdown in England.

The government’s advice remains that everyone who can work from home should do so.

Specific guidance on COVID-19 restrictions in the devolved nations including working from home can be found using the following links:

However, if working from home is not feasible, such as for those “public sector employees working in essential services, including education settings,” decisions about working in the normal workplace should be based on a thorough COVID secure risk assessment.

This should be undertaken for all roles in the workplace, taking account of additional risks for vulnerable groups including if you are pregnant, have an underlying health condition or are a disabled person, or you are Black.

Any potential risks should be addressed appropriately, such as allowing social distancing and providing hand sanitisers and opportunities to frequently wash your hands.

For some people, self-isolating at home is essential under government guidance (such as those who live in a household where another member has displayed symptoms of COVID-19 and those who are quarantining after returning from some countries abroad).

If this affects you, you must not go to work, but if you are well you can still work from home.

If you are ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’, you should previously have received a letter from the NHS or from your GP telling you this. You may need to shield and not leave your home, as announced under the third lockdown in England.  If you are well, you can still work from home.

Will I get paid whilst at home?

As long as you are well and working you should get your normal salary.

If you are self-isolating but cannot do your work at home, then, by law you should at least receive statutory sick pay.

However individuals who have to self-isolate for 14 days when returning to the UK from some countries abroad (continually under review by the UK government) are not eligible for statutory sick pay if they do not need to self-isolate for any other reason.

Some employers may provide contractual sick pay for periods of self-isolating.

Responsible employers may instead continue to give you your normal salary if feasible, as a way of encouraging workers to do the right thing and always follow government guidance on self-isolation and not increase risks in the workplace.

Is there anything I need to think about when working from home?

Your employer will still be responsible for your health and safety.

They should ensure that you have the correct equipment to do your job, that your workload is at a safe level and you’re not put under unreasonable stress.

The HSE provides guidance for employers on health and safety for home workers.

Ask your employer for advice and what support will be offered if you have a health and safety concern or need a reasonable adjustment if you are disabled.

Make sure your manager has your up-to-date contact details particularly if you are working from the home of someone you are caring for, such as an elderly relative, or are self-isolating at a partner’s home.

Managers should also tell you who to contact if you have any other concerns, such as IT problems or data protection worries.
Make sure you take care of yourself – take regular breaks and switch off at the end of the day.

What if I have unplanned caring responsibilities?

Employees who are unable to work because they have caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus can continue to be furloughed either as newly furloughed staff or continuing furloughed staff, as the Job Retention Scheme has now been extended to the end of April 2021.

For example, employees that need to look after vulnerable adults or home-school their children.

Information about furlough can be found here.

Contact your UNISON branch for further advice.

Dependants or emergency leave may also be an option.

Statutory entitlement is unpaid for this leave but many employers will provide paid leave. Many have extended such paid leave arrangements substantially for the duration of the pandemic.  Employers may offer paid parental leave or carer’s leave.  Check your workplace policies.

Ideally, employers should also follow Acas advice to consider more flexible homeworking arrangements such as working different hours, reducing the number of hours or days worked, reducing work targets, and being flexible about deadlines where possible.
This may help ensure you can continue to work whilst fulfilling caring responsibilities.

Managers should confirm with you whether there is any temporary or permanent change to your contractual obligations, as has been agreed with you.

What if it’s not possible for my work to be done from home and will I still be paid?

Due to the nature of some jobs, it may not be possible to work from home. If it is not possible for your work to be done from home and you can’t go to work, some employers will continue to offer staff full pay.

If your employer is not prepared to pay you in full, they may continue to furlough you under the government’s Job Retention Scheme.

Coronavirus and your mental health

The Mental Health Foundation have produced a guide to protecting your mental health during the coronavirus crisis and MIND has produced a helpful guide which will be useful to anyone who has to practice social isolation.

UNISON’s There for you charity can also provide signposting to emotional support.

The lockdown and other restrictions may also cause additional anxiety for those who are experiencing or feel at risk of domestic abuse. If you are at risk of abuse, remember that there is always help and support available to you, including from the National Domestic Abuse Helpline and from Galop for LGBT+ people.