Coronavirus News

Work and Coronavirus – 23/03/2020

Original article by UNISON Scotland, available here.

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

UNISON members are understandably concerned both with not catching or spreading the virus and with making sure that they aren’t faced with a choice between keeping people safe and paying the bills. This guide is about your rights at work during the outbreak. 

What should I do if I believe I may 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.

Can my employer make me self-isolate?

Yes, your employer can instruct you not to attend your workplace

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

The health secretary has sent guidance to employers telling them staff who have been asked to self-isolate are entitled to take the time as sick leave or special leave.

Although this would be good practice and has already been agreed for NHS staff, the majority of local government staff and some major contractors, this in itself doesn’t guarantee that staff will get sick leave or special leave as a matter of course.  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 having Coronavirus?

Statutory sick pay is now available from the first day you are off sick, and if you are paid less than £118 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 £118 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.

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

The government has announced that most children in the UK will need to stay home from school from 23 March.

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.

Check against your own terms and conditions to see what your contract or talk to your UNISON branch if you are unsure what your rights are.

The children of key workers can continue to attend school.  The government has produced a list of key workers which includes those working in health, social care, childcare and early years, areas of local government, emergency services, transport and utilities.

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

What should I do if I am pregnant?

If you are pregnant the government has issued “strong advice” that you should work from home, if possible.

See the government’s advice for vulnerable people

Your employer should therefore consider allowing you to work from home if at all possible. If your job is not 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 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.

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

The government is advising pregnant women to be particularly stringent about ‘social distancing’.

You should:

  • Avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19). These symptoms include high temperature and/or new and continuous cough
  • Avoid non-essential use of public transport, varying your travel times to avoid rush hour, when possible
  • Work from home, where possible. Your employer should support you to do this.
  • Avoid large gatherings, and gatherings in smaller public spaces such as pubs, cinemas, restaurants, theatres, bars, clubs
  • Avoid gatherings with friends and family. Keep in touch using remote technology such as phone, internet, and social media
  • Use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services

I am disabled or have an underlying condition, can my employer refuse home working?

For people with an underlying health condition the government “strongly advises” that you work from home.  Employers should therefore consider allowing you to work from home if at all possible.  If your job is not 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.

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.

Download the local government circular here (PDF)

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 re-allocating some of your duties or providing you with additional personal protective equipment.

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

What are my employers’ duties if I’m working at home?

Even if you are working from home your employer is still responsible for your health and safety while you are working.

Your employer should be ensuring that you have the correct equipment to do your job.  They should arrange regular check-in times with home workers and should ensure all team communication includes home workers.

In particular, your employer has to ensure your workload is at safe levels, provide you with support and ensure that you aren’t put under unreasonable stress.

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

I’m disabled or have underlying health conditions, 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.

If you have an underlying health condition the government strongly advises that you:

  • work from home if possible;
  • avoid non-essential travelling;
  • avoid large gatherings or those in small spaces, including pubs, clubs, restaurants, cinemas or theatres;
  • avoid gatherings with friends or family and instead use technology to stay in touch;
  • access GP services by phone instead of in person.

Government guidance on social distancing

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 for three months.

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.

If you have an outstanding assessment appointment that has not been postponed 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

What protective equipment should I be getting from my employer?

It’s vital your employer provides you with the correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to do your job safely.

We have a page of detailed advice here

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

There have been reductions to public transport in some areas and this may affect you being able to get to work on time or at all.  If this is the case you should let your employer know.

Government advice is that people should work from home if at all possible.  If this 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.

What if my employer is considering layoffs or redundancies?

UNISON and other unions have been working with the government to make sure workers still get paid even if their employer is considering layoffs or redundancies. The government announced on 20 March that they will pay £80% of wage costs, up to a limit of £2,500 per month, as part of a new Job Retention Scheme to protect those at risk of redundancy or lay-off.

We are waiting for the government to clarify how this will work and the application process. So far we understand that the scheme will be backdated to 1 March and will last for three months.

We will be adding more details on this once they are announced.

More on the government’s announcement

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

Coronavirus and your mental health

None of us have ever experienced a global pandemic before and, naturally, we feel worried and anxious.

The best thing you can do is to follow government advice on social distancing.

Try not to spend too much time following social media and beware of fake rumours that only cause panic. Important updates will be released on the government website.

If you have to stay at home for a prolonged time, use the telephone and technology to keep in touch with friends and loved ones. The Mental Health Foundation have produced a guide to protecting your mental health during the coronavirus crisis.

Remember that your employer is also responsible for ensuring your stress levels are managed if you are working from home.

If you have an existing mental health problem, it is very important that you look after yourself while in social isolation and that you continue to access medical support online or by telephone. The mental health charity MIND has produced a helpful guide which will be useful to anyone who has to practice social isolation.

Your employer may have an Employee Assistance Provider who can help.  Check with your employer/HR.

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

Further information on pay, terms and conditions

Local government members in Scotland can download advice here.

There is advice from the Welsh government and also advice from advice for members in Northern Ireland.

There is general advice for members in Scotland from the Scottish government.