Hot topic: Coronavirus - Q&A

Given the variety of issues arising from the Coronavirus outbreak, the Expert Advice team have looked at a range of typical scenarios and potential client questions relating to work and employment rights.

Do I have to go in to work if I’m worried about catching Coronavirus?

If your employer requires you to be at work, you don’t have a right to take time off just because you’re worried about catching Coronavirus, for example if you commute to work on crowded public transport. You might be able to negotiate with your employer to work from home, or take annual leave, so that you don’t have to attend work. If your employer doesn’t agree to your request and you don’t attend work, your employer can treat this as unauthorised absence and could refuse to pay you or take disciplinary action against you.

Your employer should be following any government guidance about health and safety precautions, particularly about travel to affected areas.

If you have a pre-existing condition which would make you very vulnerable to Coronavirus such as an auto-immune illness, it might be more important for you to work from home. If your illness means that you’re a disabled person, your employer would be required to consider this as a ‘reasonable adjustment’ under the Equality Act 2010.

My office is being shut down for two weeks because a colleague tested positive for Coronavirus - will I still get paid?

An employer can ask you not to attend work for any reason, but they have to pay you while you’re suspended, unless there’s a term in your contract of employment which says they’re allowed to suspend you without pay in specific circumstances.

If your employer makes arrangements for you to work from home, you’re contractually obliged to do so.

I’ve been given medical advice to self-isolate. Will I get Statutory Sick Pay?

The government has told employers that if you have been given medical advice to stay at home and avoid contact with other people (self isolate) then you should get statutory sick pay. You have to meet the normal conditions for SSP.

Statutory sick pay is normally paid from the 4th day you’ve been sick (or in self-isolation). The government has said it plans to change the law so that people should get it from the first day they are unable to work because of Coronavirus but the law has not yet been changed.

You can self-certify for the first 7 days of sickness but then normally need a fit note from a doctor or other medical evidence. The government has urged employers to be flexible about medical evidence.

I normally get contractual sick pay on top of SSP. Will the same rules apply?

An employer can set whatever rules it likes for any enhanced sick pay which it pays on top of SSP under your contract, so you’d have to check whether being asked to self-isolate is treated as sickness. However Acas say it’s ‘good practice’ for employers to pay contractual sick pay given it could enable people to stay at home and limit the spread of the disease.

I’ve booked time off to go on a foreign holiday, but I’ve decided not to go because it's to an area where there’s a Coronavirus outbreak - can I change my annual leave?

You can ask your employer to change your annual leave dates, but there’s no legal obligation for your employer to agree. You should give as much notice as possible if you want to cancel or reschedule your leave, and explain why. If you want to take leave at a later time, your employer can refuse the dates you want to take, for example if it would leave them short-staffed.

I’ve been caught up in travel delays because of Coronavirus and can’t get back to work from my holiday on the day I was supposed to - what should I do?

You should tell your employer as soon as possible. A reasonable employer is likely to be understanding if there’s a short delay in you returning to work, but it’s probably a good idea to keep evidence of the reason for it. You aren’t necessarily entitled to pay if you miss work for this reason, but you should negotiate with your employer if there’s a problem. For example you could ask for extra annual leave to cover the delay, if you have some left.

Am I allowed time off work if my child’s school is closed because of Coronavirus?

If you are an employee you have a right, by law, to take a type of leave called ‘time off for dependents’.

This a right to take ‘reasonable’ time off to take care of an emergency relating to a child or other dependent person, including school closures for any reason.

It’s important to note that what is ‘reasonable’ time off depends on the circumstances.

This right is intended to cover short-term time off, to deal with the emergency and make other arrangements to cover it - for example arranging for a relative to look after a child so that you can return to work.

It is not intended to cover long periods. The longer you take off, the less likely it is to be seen as reasonable. Longer periods are only going to be reasonable if you can show that there were no other reasonably workable options and that you had to look after your children yourself.

You need to tell your employer as soon as you can, and, if possible, tell your employer how long you expect to need off to deal with the emergency.

The statutory right is to unpaid time off. Your contract might have a term, or your employer might have a policy that gives you paid time off in an emergency, so you should check these. A reasonable employer might pay you for a short period of time off to deal with an emergency even if it’s not a contractual right.

Alternatively, you could see if you are able to work from home, change your shift pattern, or take annual leave.

You can’t be sacked or subjected to bad treatment because you’ve taken time off under this right - if you are an ‘employee’ and provided that you took only ‘reasonable’ time off and notified your employer properly. That’s not the case if you’re a ‘worker’ such as an agency worker, where you need to be a bit more careful about having to take time off - you don’t have the same protections.

To keep up to date of any developments in terms of Coronavirus guidance please keep an eye on Coronavirus (COVID-19): UK government response.