In these unprecedented times, there is so much uncertainty for all businesses and their employees. Below are a few of the more frequently asked questions that may help employers and employees. These are correct at the time of writing (17.3.2020) but be aware that emergency government guidelines are changing all the time.
If the government makes employment changes will this affect my contract?
Firstly you must always check your contract before you do anything. Any statutory changes will change your term of employment (e.g. increases to the minimum wage, changes to public holidays) but if you have an enhanced contract (your employer gives you above and beyond the legal minimum) this will still stand as long as the statutory changes have not increased above what you are currently offered.
My employer never gave me a contract do I not have rights?
All employers should supply you with a written terms and conditions of employment however in reality that doesn’t always happen especially with small businesses. If you have a record of consistently providing work and have received a regular wage, you will have a customary contract – an unwritten I’ve turned up to work and you’ve paid me contract. You will be entitled to basic statutory employment rights only and no enhancements.
I’ve been told to work from home but what if I can’t do my full job?
Many businesses have been very hesitant to the benefits of offering working from home so are very unprepared for this sudden shift in thinking. Many will not have the full systems in place for you to effectively carry out all your normal day to day activities. All these changes will be classified as a temporary reasonable adjustment to your employment so I would recommend being very upfront with your employer keeping them up to date (in writing) with issues you are having and what areas of your role can not be performed at home. This will then give them the opportunity to add systems to support your role or understand some functions may not happen. You should not be considered having performance issues due to your inability to carry out your role in this situation so having the evidence in writing will support you should you face any form of disciplinary.
My employer wants to Lay-off staff without pay, can they do that?
It all depends on what is in your contract. Short term working is where your hours, and therefore pay, are temporarily reduced. Lay-off is where you are told to stay away from the business without work.
If there is a clause for unpaid Lay-offs then yes they can once they have paid the statutory maximum of £29 per day or your daily pay (whichever is lower) for five days in any 3 month (pro rata for part time). Once your Lay-off period is over 4 weeks or 6 weeks in any 13 weeks period, you will be entitled to ask for redundancy if you qualify. If your contract does not include these terms then any Lay-off must be at full pay.
If you have a short term working clause in your contract then you can be asked to temporarily reduce your hours at a pro rata rate of pay. If there is no clause in your contract then your employer can make the request but you are entitled to stay on your current terms and conditions including hours and pay. Quiet often employers will ask large numbers or all employees to take a temporary reduction to reduce the risk of redundancies and preserve the business long term.
More information is available at https://www.gov.uk/lay-offs-short-timeworking
Can my employer make me use my annual leave?
Yes. Unless it specifically written in your contract that they can’t, an employer can make you take your annual leave or refuse an annual leave request with a legitimate business case (e.g. too many people away from the company at the same time). If your employer tells you to take annual leave they must give you double the notice for the amount of time they want you take. So for one weeks’ holiday they must give you two weeks’ notice. However, in these fast moving and extraordinary times, employers may suggest you take annual leave rather than unpaid Lay-off for example, without the statutory notice. This will be your choice to forego your rights and you will probably need to agree this in writing.
I’ve been told to self-isolate for 14 days – will I get paid?
Again check your contract for any enhanced sick pay options. If not, you will be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) even if you are not showing symptoms but have had formal confirmation that you must self-isolate. SSP has seen some temporary changes by the government relating to Covid-19. You will be entitled to statutory pay after your first three “waiting days” and you will be paid by your employer for up to 28 weeks but you will still have tax and national insurance deductions. The changes to small and medium business being able to claim SSP back will not affect you being paid.
Get more information here:
I am self employed, can I claim SSP?
Unfortunately not however there is a contributory benefit call Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). There are conditions and you must have paid your National Insurance for the last two consecutive years with your tax self assessment to qualify but the government has put measures in to simplify the process due to Covid-19.
I’ve been made redundant, what should I do?
Assuming that your redundancy has been fair and that all due processes have been followed, you should look at the YouGov website for what, if any, benefits you are entitled to.
I have a zero hours contract but my employer has no work for me, can I claim benefits?
Not all zero hours contracts are equal and some employers do offer enhanced support for it’s workers so, as always, check your contract. On the basis that you have a basic contract, a break in employment is considered after your employer has not provided work for a full calendar week (7 consecutive days) and you may then be able to claim some benefits or Universal Credit. However your employer must pay you any outstand wages and holiday accrued.