The working rights you’re entitled to during coronavirus

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A law expert answers the most frequently asked finance questions during the COVID-19 pandemic

With COVID-19 affecting businesses and individuals across the globe, it’s certainly a tumultuous time – but that doesn’t mean your working rights lessen. We tapped up Laura Kearsley, partner and solicitor in the employment team at law firm Nelsons, to answer the most frequently asked questions on employee rights during the coronavirus crisis. From taking time off work to look after poorly relatives to furlough leave, she’s got you protected during the pandemic.

One of my relatives has coronavirus – if I take time off to care for them, will I get paid?

You are entitled to take a reasonable amount of emergency time off work to take care of your dependants (a spouse, partner, child, grandchild, parent or someone who depends on you for care). However, your employer does not have to pay for the time you have taken off.

If taking unpaid leave is not practical, the other option is to use some of your annual leave entitlement – many employers will allow workers to take holiday at short notice or make the time up further down the line.

And remember, if your poorly relative is a member of your household, then you will be required to self-isolate in any event. Self-isolating because you or a member of your household has coronavirus or coronavirus symptoms entitles you to sick pay (see below).

Will I get paid if I’m not able to work due to having coronavirus?

If you’re poorly with coronavirus symptoms and unable to work, your working rights entitle you to sick pay, as per government advice. Statutory sick pay (SSP) is available to those who are employed and earning at least £118 a week. Boris Johnson has also confirmed that workers will get SSP from the first day off work, not the fourth.

The current rate of SSP is £94.25 per week and can be paid for up to a maximum of 28 weeks for the days employees usually work. It’s up to your employer – and should be set out in your contract – as to whether you’re paid more than SSP.

Can I carry my annual leave days over because of the pandemic?

At the end of March, the government announced that employees who have not been able to use their statutory annual leave entitlement as a direct consequence of coronavirus are able to carry over up to four weeks of unused leave into the next two years.

working rights

On Thursday April 17 the government extended the UK’s lockdown by a further three weeks (image courtesy of Unsplash)

My employer has asked me to take a pay cut. What are my working rights?

As a pay cut is a variation of the terms and conditions of your employment, your employer must have obtained consent from you before implementing one. If you’re reluctant to accept a pay cut, your employer can take steps to either insist on the changes or consider alternatives such as furlough or redundancy.

Who can be furloughed?

The cut-off date for companies to furlough employees has been extended to Sunday 19 April, meaning that many more employees may potentially find themselves furloughed by Monday.

Employees who are paid via PAYE are eligible to be furloughed as long as they were on the payroll as of 19 March 2020. This includes apprentices, and full-time, part-time and zero-hour contracts. Foreign nationals are also eligible to be furloughed. Those on fixed-term contracts can also be placed on furlough leave and their contracts can be renewed or extended during the leave period.

Does my employer have to top up my pay to 100%?

No. Some employers may wish to and some may not be able to.

I’ve already been dismissed, left my job or taken unpaid leave. Can I be furloughed by my previous employer?

The scheme is backdated to 1 March 2020, so employers can take back anyone they have already dismissed or who stopped working for them and convert them to furlough leave instead. Likewise, with anyone who has been placed on unpaid leave.

Can I take annual leave while furloughed?

It is not clear whether employees can take annual leave while furloughed, whether this breaks furlough leave and what an employee is entitled to be paid for any annual leave.

What can I do during furlough leave?

You cannot undertake work for your employer (providing services or generating revenue). However, you can undertake training and do volunteering. If contractually allowed, you can also work for another employer.

For more information on employee rights, see nelsonslaw.co.uk or call 0800 024 1976. For the latest government advice on coronavirus, visit www.gov.uk

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