Coronavirus: What are your employment rights? Do you have to take a pay cut?

16 April 2020, 08:58 | Updated: 16 April 2020, 13:51

What are your employment rights during the Covid-19 crisis?
What are your employment rights during the Covid-19 crisis? Picture: PA

Can you take time off to look after a relative who has Covid-19? Will my annual leave days carry over because of coronavirus? What are my rights if my employer asks me to take a pay cut?

As the number of coronavirus cases across the UK continues to grow and the lockdown measures look set to continue until at least May, many people are questioning what their employment rights are.

The Government announced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which covers 80% of workers' pay, will take applications from Monday from companies which have laid-off workers.

But there is a lot of confusion around who can take time off sick and what happens if you haven't got the virus but need to take time off work to look after sick relatives?

Laura Kearsley, partner and solicitor in the employment team at law firm Nelsons, answers the most frequently asked questions on employee rights during the pandemic.

Here's everything you need to know about your employment rights at the moment.

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.”

“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, you will be entitled 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. Prime Minister 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.”

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

“With the lockdown leaving most people housebound, it’s likely many of us will have ample amounts of annual leave days to take once restrictions are lifted.

“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.

“The new measure means employees across the country can carry on working in support of their employers’ effort to continue business against the coronavirus impact without losing out on the bulk of their annual leave entitlement if they are unable to take it.”

My employer has asked me to take a pay cut. What are my 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.”

Can I take time off work to volunteer?

“A new temporary form of statutory leave – called emergency volunteering leave (EVL) – has been introduced by the government for workers who wish to help support essential health and social care services during the Covid-19 outbreak.

“EVL – a form of unpaid leave – can be taken in a block of two, three or four weeks and you can only take one block in any 16-week period.

“You are entitled to be absent from work for the purposes of EVL, providing you have obtained an emergency volunteering certificate and one of the following exceptions does not apply:

You are employed by a small business with less than ten staff;

You are employed by the legislature, for example the Crown, or you are a member of the House of Commons or Lords; or

You are a police officer.

“You must notify your employer of your intended absence from work at least three working days before the period specified in the emergency volunteering certificate. You must also provide your employer with a copy of the certificate.”

I have been furloughed – can I still take EVL?

“If you have been placed on furlough leave, you can notify your employer of your intention to take EVL. However, while you’re on EVL, you will not be entitled to receive the pay you would have received had you been on furlough leave.”