Coronavirus - Tees Law answers employees' legal questions surrounding the pandemic
At a time when businesses and individuals are struggling under the impact of the global coronavirus outbreak, many businesses are concerned with how they will stay afloat amid forced closures and plummeting demand. Meanwhile, employees are seeking information on the support measures available to help them pay their bills, and keep food on the table for their families, if they are unable or compelled not to work.
With schools now closed until further notice, separated parents may also be wondering what this means for any childcare arrangements that are in place, particularly if one or both co-parents are what has been termed a 'key worker'.
Tees' expert employment and family law teams are on hand to provide the most up-to-date guidance on how businesses, individuals and families can access the support they need to see them through the crisis.
Here, the firm answers employees' questions...
I have only been employed a year, what will my employer need to pay me if they make me redundant?
You will be entitled to be paid in accordance with your contract and to receive appropriate notice. You are not normally entitled to redundancy pay under 2 years' service, an exception being if your employer chooses to pay this under your contract with them.
If you happen to be on maternity leave, in principle your employer can still make you redundant, although there are special rules about considering you for any alternative roles that might be available.
If I catch the coronavirus does my employer have to pay me sick pay?
If you are unwell due to illness caused by coronavirus, you should be paid in accordance with the sick pay arrangements governed by your contract of employment.
Your contract of employment may include contractual sick pay entitlements greater than statutory sick pay (SSP) entitlement. Contractual sick payments are normally stated to be inclusive of any entitlement to SSP.
If your contract of employment does not contain and sick pay entitlements then you may be entitled to SSP subject to eligibility. The Government has introduced emergency legislation so that SSP will be available from the first day of absence (rather than the fourth).
What happens if I have to go into self-isolation?
Where a period of self-isolation is necessary, which can include whole households where one member develops symptoms of coronavirus, you would be deemed 'incapable of work' and would be entitled to receive SSP (or in line with any applicable contractual sick pay entitlement) for a 14 day period.
SSP is presently payable from the first day of the absence and paid at the rate of £94.25 per week (currently). From 6 April 2020 the SSP rate will increase slightly to £95.85. It is not available to employees earning less than the lower earnings limit (presently £118 per week).
Can I request time off to care for my dependants?
The Government has announced the temporary closure of all schools due to COVID-19 with the exception of some schools remaining open to care for children of key workers and vulnerable children.
Given these circumstances, you are able to take time off to care for dependants which includes where there has been an unexpected disruption to the arrangements of care for the dependant, for example, where there the dependant is ill.
You should inform your employer as soon as reasonably practicable of the reason for your absence and where you are able to inform your employer in advance of your absence, how long you expect to be absent. However, typically this type of leave is intended for short periods. Under the present circumstances it is likely to be the case that what is considered 'reasonable' is likely to be for a longer period.
There is no statutory right to be paid when taking leave in order to care for a dependant and it is unlikely in many cases that your contract of employment provides for pay in such circumstances.
I'm a key worker and feel too anxious to go to work, what should I do?
It is understandable in the current situation that you may be feeling anxious about going into work or travelling to work through fear of the risk of infection.
It is important to talk to your employer so that they are able to understand your situation and the specific reasons for your concerns as there may be real and genuine reasons why you feel unable or unsafe to attend work.
If you are pregnant or at higher risk of infection, your employer should take this into consideration. An employer has an obligation to take steps to avoid risks to which pregnant employees are exposed as a result of their work. If identified risks, including risks in connection with coronavirus, cannot be avoided then pregnant employees must be offered suitable alternative employment on a temporary basis. Alternatively, you may need to be suspended from work on full pay for as long as necessary. Depending on how long that continues, it may trigger the start of maternity leave.
If you have a disability within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010 which puts you at a higher risk of developing COVID-19, then your employer may have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to your working arrangements but this will depend on all the circumstances.
Rob Whitaker is a partner and head of Tees' employment law department. Rob can be contacted on 01279 710647 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here at Tees, we are fully equipped to work from home and are ready to assist you throughout the COVID-19 situation. Our solicitors all have experience of flexible working and remain in regular contact through Skype, email, phone and regular conference calls. Likewise, we remain available for appointments via whichever contact method best suits you. We know our clients are worried and will have questions; we can provide the answers. Just call us on 0800 013 1165, or contact your usual Tees adviser either by phone or email. Visit www.teeslaw.com for more information.