Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Questions and Answers for employers and employees
What is Social distancing / lockdown?
Current government advice states for everyone to avoid unnecessary contact which means you should only do the following:
- Shopping for necessities; or
- One form of exercise a day; or
- Any medical need/ care for vulnerable person; or
- Travelling to and from work, if necessary.
Government guidelines have been unclear but it appears that only ‘key workers’ should be travelling to and from work.
As a result, employers should support their workforce to take these steps including:
- Agreeing to more flexible working;
- Allowing staff to work from home wherever possible;
- Cancelling events which involve face-to-face meetings, and arranging, where possible, video or conference calling technology; or
- Temporarily closing their business.
What if you employ a vulnerable person?
Employers must be careful to take extra steps for any employee or worker within their workforce who is considered part of the vulnerable group. They include, however not limited to the following:
- have a long term health condition, e.g. asthma, diabetes, or a weakened immune system as a result of medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy; or
- are pregnant; or
- are aged 70 or over; or
- care for someone with a health condition that may out them at greater risk.
If the employer employs a disabled person, certain policies relating to COVID-19 may amount to indirect discrimination (such as requiring the to continue to travel to work) if this puts them at risk. A dismissal based on a disabled person self isolating may amount to discrimination arising from a disability.
Are there any rules around Homeworking?
In the absence of a homeworking policy or contractual clause If an employer and employee agree to working from home, the employer should:
- Pay the employee as usual
- Keep in regular contact including checking on the employees’ health and wellbeing
Note: If an employee is in self isolation, employers cannot force employees to work from home unless there is a contractual right to do so.
When should I self isolate?
You should self-isolate for the following reasons:
- You have been tested positive for COVID-19
- You have the symptoms of COVID-19 such as a new contentious cough OR a high temperature
- Someone in your household has the symptoms as described above
- You have been advised to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111
What is my sick pay entitlement?
Employees and workers may be entitled to more than Statutory Sick Pay. This will depend on the provisions contained in their Written Contract.
The Written Contract should state:
- How much sick pay is paid
- The duration of the sick pay entitlement
- Any rules the employer has for sick pay to be paid.
If there is no Written Contract, Statutory Sick Pay is the minimum amount employers must pay. If an employee is in self isolation but not actually showing symptoms, the employer is only obliged to pay Statutory Sick Pay.
How much is Statutory Sick Pay?
Employer and Workers will meet the criteria for Statutory Sick Pay:
- From the first day of sickness under emergency legislation (this is usually after the fourth day of sickness);
- When they earn at least £118 per week before tax
- When they have informed their employer within any deadline specifically set by that employer or 7 days.
Agency, casual and zero-hours workers can qualify for Statutory Sick Pay providing they meet the criteria as stated above.
The Government announced that that the cost of providing 14 days of statutory sick pay per employee for self isolation will be refunded by the Government.
Anyone not eligible to receive sick pay, including those earning less than an average of £118 per week, some of those working in the gig economy, or self-employed people, is able to claim Universal Credit and or contributory Employment and Support Allowance.
Can I be temporarily laid off or put on short- time working?
In the event that an employer may need to close down their business for a short time or ask staff to reduce their hours it is important that employers inform and talk with their members of staff as soon as possible.
Unless it is specifically stated within a Written Contract OR agreed otherwise, staff are still entitled to be paid for this time.
Employers MUST have either an expressed (term of a contract) or implied (established over a long period of custom and practice) to lawfully lay-off or reduce pay of their staff.
If employer’s make a decision to lay-off their staff or put them on short-time working (pay less than half a week’s pay) for four consecutive weeks (or for six non-consecutive weeks within a 13-week period) because of a shortage of work, employees and workers will have the right to provide written notice of their intention to claim a redundancy payment.
If an employee is put on short term working, they may be eligible for up to 5 “Guarantee Payments” for workless days. This is equivalent to up to £29 per day.
NOTE: Hatchers will be providing a separate newsletter in relation to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme or ‘furloughing’.
If you are either an employer or employee and require further advice on the effects of COVID-19 contact Hatchers Solicitors’ Employment Law Team on 01743 237694.
The content of this Newsletter is descriptive of its subject matter only and must not be relied upon as providing specific legal advice.
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