Employment Law FAQ’s in the wake of Covid-19
25 March 2020 by Alexandra Drew
Government advice in relation to COVID-19 is regularly being updated. Current advice is that people should stay at home and:
- Only go outside for food, health reasons or work (where this absolutely cannot be done from home); and
- Stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people; and
- Wash their hands as soon as they get home.
Given the above, the below considers the legal effects of the same on workers who may fall ill with Coronovirus.
What is the Coronavirus Bill 2019-2021?
Details of the Coronavirus Bill were published on 17th March 2020, which set out proposed emergency legislative measures to address the outbreak. Amongst other things, it covers employment measures to address the outbreak including:
- Giving the government the power to temporarily suspend the rule that means SSP is not paid for the first 3 days of work that you miss because of sickness (waiting days), retrospective from 13th March 2020;
- Enable employers with fewer than 250 employees to reclaim SSP paid in respect of the first 14 days of COVID-19-related sickness absences during the period of the outbreak, which will have retrospective effect from 14 March; and
- Employees and workers will be able to take emergency statutory volunteer leave in blocks of two, three, or four weeks’ unpaid leave. A UK-wide compensation fund will be established to compensate for loss of earnings and expenses incurred.
When it comes to self-isolating in line with government advice, what statutory sick pay is available and who is eligible for this?
The Statutory Sick Pay (General) Regulations 1982 have been amended by the Statutory Sick Pay (General) (Coronavirus Amendment) Regulations 2020. It is provided there that a person is deemed incapable of work where he is:
- Isolating himself from other people in such a manner as to prevent infection or contamination with coronavirus, in accordance with guidance published by Public Health England, NHS National Services Scotland or Public Health Wales and effective on 16th March 2020; and
- By reason of that isolation is unable to work.
This means that an employee who is in quarantine or strongly advised in government guidance to self-isolate will generally be regarded as being incapable of working for the purposes of SSP and will, therefore, be entitled to SSP, which is £94.25 per week.
If an employee’s illness lasts longer than 14 days, what further financial support are they entitled to?
£94.25 per week Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if they are too ill to work. SSP is paid by an employer for up to 28 weeks. Those out of work, on a low income and/or affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19 will be able to access the welfare system, including access to Universal Credit – which is a payment to help with living costs.
If a workplace shuts due to Coronavirus, what pay are employees entitled to?
Some employers will be able to continue to run their businesses with employees working from home, but this will not be possible for all businesses. Employers should consider whether there is work that employees can carry out, that is not within their usual job description.
Where an employer is not able to continue its business with employees working remotely, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will pay 80% of employees’ salaries of up to £2,500 a calendar month as long as they are kept on the payroll.
Employees would not carry out work for their employer during this period. Employers could choose to fund the differences between this payment and employee’s salaries, but that is not obligatory. If your salary is reduced as a result of these changes, you may be eligible for support through the welfare system, including by means of accessing Universal Credit.
What support is available for people who are self-employed or on zero-hour contracts and must take time off work in line with government advice?
Those that are self-employed or are earning below the Lower Earnings Limit of £118 per week are not eligible for SSP.
If you have COVID-19 or are unable to work due to social distancing and/or self-isolation, you can now more easily make a claim for Universal Credit or the new Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) which you may be eligible for if you have a disability or health condition that affects how much you can work.
For those eligible for ESA, it will now be payable from day 1 of sickness, rather than from day 8, if you have COVID-19 or are advised to stay at home. Self-assessment payments will be deferred until January 2021.
The Chancellor has announced that workers on zero-hours contracts would be covered by the above provisions, as long as they were paid through PAYE. Self-employed workers, who are not on PAYE, are not covered at all and will have to claim benefits. Further government measures to protect workers are expected to be announced.
What top tips would you give to someone concerned about having to take time off work during the Coronavirus pandemic?
- Follow the government’s advice on social distancing and self-isolation above all else – do not put yourself or others at risk;
- Attempt to be as flexible as possible with your employer whether this means working from home or carrying out roles you wouldn’t usually;
- Express your concerns to your employer directly;
- Use the GOV.UK website for full details of any benefits you may be entitled to; and
- Keep an eye on government advice as this is being updated all the time.
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