Coronavirus time off from work: your right to get paid

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The impact of Coronavirus (Covid 19) on employees at work

This blog is based on a selection of questions that we have recently received from employees about absence from work and pay/sick pay rights related to Coronavirus – also known as Covid 19. 

With the current spread of the virus in the UK  (as at 17th March 2020), people are naturally anxious about their entitlement to pay if they are not able to work because of travel and other related restraints.  Here are some of those questions and answers about Coronavirus and your entitlement to pay if you are absent from work because of it.  

We’ve grouped the 6 questions and answers below into broad categories which are based on the extent to which your freedom of choice/movement is restricted by others: 

  • You decide to self-isolate
  • Medical specialist or government advises you to self-isolate
  • You have to care for dependents whose usual carers/schools/similar are not operating because of the Coronavirus
  • Restraints placed on you by your employer
  • Compulsory quarantine or restrictions imposed by government 
  • Actually having the virus

(Note: Where reference is made to the ‘government’ and ‘legislation’ it relates to  the UK government and legislation.) 

Phials containing liquids and coronavirus label

Am I entitled to pay if I want to self-isolate to avoid catching Coronavirus?  

You are now legally entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you want to self-isolate because of Coronavirus, even if your employer wants you to come into work.  The new legislation (effective 13th March 2020 – see link below) says that you will be counted as a person ‘deemed incapable of work’  if you are ‘isolating [yourself] from other people in such a manner as to prevent infection or contamination with coronavirus disease…….and by reason of that isolation [you are] unable to work.’

If, however, you are able to work remotely, and your employer agrees that you may do so, then in those circumstances, you will be entitled to your usual pay.

You should talk to your employer about your concerns before you decide to take any action, and see if you can agree on the best way forward.  A good employer will want to treat all their employees in the same way if they can. However, if you are pregnant, or suffer from a disability or ill-health which your employer already knows about, then we hope that your employer would be more receptive to proposals for you to work remotely.  

This latest legislation is contained in The Statutory Sick Pay (General) (Coronavirus Amendment) Regulations 2020. There are also proposals to make Statutory Sick Pay available from the first day of sickness absence, but the legislation has yet to be published.

Do I get paid if a medical doctor or the government just advise me to self-isolate because of Coronavirus?

As mentioned above, the law now says that you are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you are self-isolating because of Coronavirus, whether or not you have been advised to self-isolate by a doctor or government agency. That applies even if you have no symptoms.  However, if you are able to work remotely, then you would be entitled to your usual contractual pay.

Employers now have to treat any such self-isolating absences as sick leave and to pay accordingly.  It is of course in your employer’s best interests if someone who has been in contact with an infected person self-isolates.  Otherwise, anyone coming into work in such circumstances might well spread the virus to other employees.

(See The Statutory Sick Pay (General) (Coronavirus Amendment) Regulations 2020) and S151 Social Security, Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 for relevant legislation.)

What are my rights to pay if I have to take time off to care for dependents because of the Coronavirus?

In an emergency, you have a right to ‘reasonable’ time off work to care for dependents.  Your dependents may themselves be unwell, or their usual carers/school/other provider can’t operate because of Coronavirus restraints.  

This time off is unpaid, unless you have an employment contract or insurance policy which provides for payment in such circumstances.  What is a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off will depend on your particular situation. Your employer is required to consider your case without reference to any inconvenience or disruption to their business.  You should discuss it with your employer as soon as possible to avoid any possible misunderstanding.

(See S57A-57B Employment Rights Act 1996 for applicable legislation)

Am I entitled to full pay if my employer requires me to be absent from work because of Coronavirus?

If your employer has good reason to ask you not to attend work (eg you have just come back from a badly affected country, or have had known contact with someone with the virus), then they can ask you to stay away.  You will be entitled to your contractual pay.  

If your employer decides to reduce your hours of work or to close your place of work, then you are entitled to pay as normal, without any reduction.  The only exception would be if there was a specific clause in your employment contract which says otherwise, but this is highly unlikely.

(See S151 Social Security, Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 and S147-154 Employment Rights Act 1996 for relevant legislation)

What happens about my pay if legislation/similar means that I get placed in  compulsory quarantine for Coronavirus?

Recent Coronavirus legislation in the UK (see link below) gives government and those acting on its behalf the power to detain people for testing, to impose travel and other kinds of restriction, and to keep people in isolation where deemed necessary.  

If you found yourself placed in any of the above compulsory circumstances and couldn’t attend work as a result, then you would be entitled to SSP, but your entitlement to contractual sick pay would depend on the terms of your employment contract.

(Relevant legislation on the above includes: The Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020;  Statutory Sick Pay (General) Regulations 1982; Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984;  and Civil Contingencies Act 2004.)

If I get Coronavirus, will I get the usual sickness leave and sick pay entitlements?

If you have been diagnosed as having contracted Coronavirus or are suspected by medical authorities as having it, you will be entitled to the usual sick leave and entitlements to pay, as with any other sickness and sickness absence.

(See S151 Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992)

If you think your employer is unfairly treating you because of your absence or pay relating to Coronavirus situations like those outlined above, Monaco Solicitors may be able to help.  

In addition to our free coronavirus employment rights app, you can also access our free coronavirus letter templates. Or, if you think you need a lawyer to take your case, including on a no win no fee basis, please request a free consultation.

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About the Author: Alys Bratch