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Home Advice for Parents & CarersCoronavirus (COVID-19) Coronavirus (COVID-19) – What are my rights?

Coronavirus (COVID-19) – What are my rights?

Last updated 11 May 2020.

*PLEASE FOLLOW ANY GOVERNMENT GUIDANCE IN CONJUNCTION WITH THIS ARTICLE AS GUIDANCE ON THE CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) IS CHANGING DAILY*

You might also want to look at our other Coronavirus pages:

Taking time off work

My workplace hasn’t shut. Do I have to go in to work if I’m worried about catching coronavirus?

On 10 May the government announced a plan to slowly come out of lockdown and return people to work.  Updated guidance was published on 11 May to state that people should continue to work from home wherever possible. Workplaces should make every possible effort to enable working from home as a first option. You should only travel to work if you cannot work from home and your workplace is open.  This guidance came into effect on 13 May in England. The guidance for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is different, so you should check what your local government says.

If you are a ‘key worker’, you may still be able to work from home. The government has advised everyone who can work from home to do so.

If you absolutely cannot work from home and your workplace has not yet shut, then you should continue going into work, but bear in mind your employer also has a duty to protect your health and safety (see more below). 

If you are afraid of catching Coronavirus, your employer may agree to let you take some leave so that you do not have to come into work. Your employer may be willing to agree for you to take annual leave, unpaid leave, unpaid parental leave, a sabbatical or other period of leave. You would need to check how long the leave could last and if the leave would be paid or unpaid. If you need further advice on what benefits you could claim during this time, we have a specific website page on financial support for families whose income is affected by coronavirus.

Your employer has a duty to protect your health and safety. Your employer should make sure that you are able to follow Public Health England guidelines including, where possible, maintaining a 2 metre distance from others, and washing your hands with soap and water often for at least 20 seconds (or using hand sanitiser gel if soap and water is not available). If your role does not allow you to follow Public Health England guidelines, you could argue that it would be a breach of your employment contract (more specifically a breach of the mutual duty of trust and confidence) to force you come to work, although if you don’t go into work you are not likely to be paid. The government has published sector-specific guidance for employers on working safely during coronavirus. You may also find the HSE website useful for checking that your employer is doing everything they should to keep employees safe and well. 

If your employer threatens to discipline or dismiss you for your refusal to go into work, you could argue that they are breaching the Employment Rights Act, specifically s44 and s100. These provisions make clear that where an employee refuses to go to work due to a “serious and imminent” danger which they could not reasonably be expected to avert, they will be protected from detriment or dismissal. What matters here is that the employee has a “reasonable belief” that the danger is “serious and imminent” at the time of refusing to go to work. If you refuse to go to work due to Coronavirus, you should make clear to your employer why you refuse to go to work, why you consider you are in danger and why you will not be able to return whilst these dangers persist.

If you are shielding, the government’s advice is that you should not go into work. You should have received a letter telling you that you need to shield, or been told this by your GP. There is more information from the government here on those who are ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ and need to shield. If you are shielding in line with official public health guidance, you can get statutory sick pay if you are eligible, but only for the period you have been told to shield. You can also be furloughed if your employer agrees. 

If you are pregnant, or you or someone in your household is vulnerable because of an underlying health condition, you could argue that it would be a breach of your employment contract (more specifically a breach of the mutual duty of trust and confidence) to force you to come to work. If your illness means that you’re a disabled person your employer would be required to consider this as a ‘reasonable adjustment’ under the Equality Act 2010. If you are a carer or live with someone who is shielding, have a look at our carer page.

If you work for the NHS and are (without the necessary protective equipment) in contact with high numbers of patients with confirmed or suspected cases of Coronavirus, you could also potentially argue that your work puts you in a serious and imminent danger of catching the virus yourself and refuse to come to work for that reason. In our view you would be protected from dismissal (a dismissal for refusing to come to work in those circumstances would be automatically unfair, section 100 of the Employment Rights Act) but you would not be entitled to pay.

Am I allowed time off work if I have to care for my children (who are now off school) or someone else who depends on me?

All UK schools have closed for most pupils until further notice due to COVID-19. Schools will remain open for children of ‘key workers’ and children who are considered vulnerable. Vulnerable children includes children with education, health and care plans.

The government has outlined a list of who is considered to be a key worker. Many key workers will be able to ensure that their children are kept at home. Schools will only remain open for those children whose parents are key workers and who cannot also ensure that their children stay at home while they work.

If you can work from home

If your child cannot go to school, and if it is at all possible for you to work from home, you should. The impact that working from home has on your employer’s business should not be taken into account when making the decision of whether or not you can work from home, as it would be for a normal flexible working request – the government has advised that insofar as it is possible, you should work from home.

If you cannot work from home

Furlough: The first thing you should do is to ask your employer to furlough you. The government guidance on furloughing employees was updated on 4 April and makes it clear that if you cannot continue working because of caring or childcare responsibilities as a result of covid-19, your employer can furlough you. See our page on furlough for more information.

Negotiate a reduction of your hours: though this would be a normal flexible working request – your employer could refuse because of the impact it would have on the business. 

Time off for dependants: You also have the right to take time off for dependants but this is unpaid unless that’s a perk in your contract/employer’s policy or practice. This concerns not just children, but other dependants too, like a partner or parent. You can take time off which is necessary because of an unexpected breakdown in care arrangements. Time off for dependants usually lasts only a couple of days, it is aimed to allow you time to organise the care of your dependant. But for now, our view is that this could last for much longer, as the schools are closed and people are told to avoid all but the necessary travel. Older relatives who would usually provide childcare may have been told to self-isolate or shield. In today’s circumstances, most people have no other care options they can organise.

The exact rules on social distancing may change in the coming months. If social distancing rules are relaxed and your employer argues that you are no longer eligible for time off for dependants because you can now arrange alternative childcare, you may need to switch to parental leave – see below.

Your employer might also say that you are no longer eligible for time off for dependants because the disruption in care is no longer “unexpected”. It is true that if you knew about a situation beforehand, this is not normally covered by time off for dependants. But knowing that something will happen in advance does not necessarily mean you cannot have the time off, so long as the time is reasonable and necessary. In the case of Royal Bank of Scotland plc v Harrison [2008] the Employment Appeal Tribunal found that a mother who had two weeks’ notice that her childminder would not be available, and who had tried but was unable to make alternative arrangements for her children, had taken time off for dependants when she was absent from work. If you can show that it is not possible for you to make alternative arrangements and there is nobody else who can help, then you should be able to make use of time off for dependants even if you knew this was going to be the case for a while.

Time off for dependants does not have to be taken in blocks of 1 day, it may only need to be for a few hours. There’s also no limit to how often you can take time off for dependants, the time taken off just has to be reasonable and necessary. For example, if you only need time off work for part of the day, it would be possible for you to continue working for part of the day (or week) but explain that you take time off for dependants for x number of hours (or days) – these will then be unpaid. Unlike flexible working or parental leave, your employer cannot refuse you this time off as long as it is necessary. You should not be punished for taking this time off (in legal terms, this means you have the right not to be treated unfavourably), so your employer should let you continue working the hours that you are able to work. 

Unpaid parental leave: You can also take unpaid parental leave, if your child is under 18 years old. You can take 4 weeks per child per year. Bear in mind your employer might be able to postpone parental leave if the business would be particularly disrupted (whereas they cannot postpone time off for dependants). However, it may be difficult for an employer to argue that it is reasonable to postpone parental leave in the current circumstances. You are entitled to parental leave if you are an employee who has worked for your employer for at least one year. Strictly speaking, you need to give 21 days’ notice to take unpaid parental leave, but given the circumstances, your employer may let you take the leave even if you cannot give the required notice.  If your employer insists that you give them 21 days’ notice, you may be able to take time off for dependants to look after your children for this 21 day period. Parental leave can also only be taken in blocks of 1 week (or 1 day if your child is on disability benefits). If you cannot take unpaid parental leave, for example because you haven’t  worked for your employer for more than 1 year, or you have already taken the maximum amount of parental leave available to you, you could rely on time off for dependants instead (see above). 

Special leave: If you can take special leave (that your employer has agreed specifically because of the coronavirus or as part as a more general kind of compassionate leave policy that some employers have), then this could be a good option.

Sick leave (self-isolation): If you are self-isolating because you (or someone in your household) has symptoms of coronavirus, then you may be able to claim statutory sick pay instead.

Annual leave: Finally, your employer may also allow you to take some annual leave. The benefit of this is that it would be paid at your full salary.  

The Prime Minister has been asked about parents who are asked to go to work, but have no childcare. On 13 May at Prime Minister’s Questions, he said: “in so far as people may not be able to go back to work because they do not have the childcare that they need, their employers must be understanding. As I said, it is clearly an impediment and a barrier to people’s ability to go back to work if they do not have childcare.” He has promised to look into this. You should point this out to your employer if they are trying to make you come into work and refuse all the options above. You could argue that in forcing you to come to work and refusing any of the solutions that you’ve suggested, they are breaching the duty of trust and confidence they owe you. In practice, this a negotiation.

If you are suddenly left without income, there may be certain benefits that you could claim and our page on financial support for working families during the covid-19 crisis for more information). 

What is the risk that my employer treats me as absent without authorisation?

It is important to inform your employer as soon as possible in writing of the reason why you’re not coming to work. For instance, it maybe because  someone in your home or you start developing symptoms which means you have to self-isolate, or you have to care for a dependant (see above).

Failure to inform your employer may mean they treat your absence as unauthorised, but if you do inform them and the reasons of your absence is one of the above, your absence will be justified – indeed the government says you must stay at home if you develop certain symptoms, however mild. In any case, we would recommend that you keep a record of everything agreed in writing.

Can I get sick pay if I’m off work?

You can claim statutory sick pay if you are off work because of a reason relating to coronavirus:

  1. If you are shielding in accordance with public health guidance because you are extremely vulnerable and are considered to be very high risk to severe illness as a result of coronavirus, but only for the period you have been advised to shield, or
  2. If you or someone else in your household has or has had specific symptoms of coronavirus
  3. If you have been told to self-isolate by the NHS due to contact with someone with confirmed coronavirus, but only for a maximum of 14 days.
  4. If you are signed off by a medical professional such as your GP (for any reason, including the effects of coronavirus).

1. If you are shielding in accordance with public health guidance

If you are considered extremely vulnerable and at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus because of an underlying health condition and you have been told that you should be ‘shielding’ by Public Health England, Public Health Wales or Scottish ministers, then you can get statutory sick pay if you qualify, for the period during which you’ve been told to shield. If your employer doesn’t offer contractual sick pay, most employees will still be eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP). To qualify, you need to be an employee and normally earn lower earnings limit per week.

You will get SSP for as long as you have been told you need to be shielding. This scheme only came into force on Thursday 16 April, so you will not be able to claim SSP for any period that you were off work and shielding before then. You will be able to claim SSP from 16 April onwards if you qualify. Your employer may also offer contractual sick pay on top of statutory sick pay. You should check this with your employer.

Though you can get sick pay if you are shielding, you should also check to see if your employer will use the job retention scheme (furlough), as this is likely to be worth more than SSP.

2. If you or someone in your household is displaying symptoms and you are self-isolating

If you are self-isolating because you or someone in your household is displaying specific symptoms of coronavirus, you should be treated as on sick leave and so may be entitled to statutory sick pay. The symptoms are the recent onset of a continuous cough or a high temperature, or any other symptoms which have been specified in guidance by the Chief Medical Officer or Deputy Chief Medical Officers for your part of the UK.  

The government’s online guidance for employees says that to make it easier for people to provide evidence to their employer that they need to stay at home, they have developed an alternative form of evidence to the fit note, called an ‘isolation note’, that you can access online via the NHS website.

Your employer may have updated their sickness absence policies in light of the Coronavirus outbreak. Check with your employer as regards your entitlement to sick pay and also the impact on your sickness record if you need to self-isolate.

If your employer doesn’t offer contractual sick pay, most employees will still be eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP). To qualify for statutory sick pay (SSP), you need to be an employee and normally earn £120 per week. SSP is paid at £94.25 (£95.85 from April 2020). Your employer should pay you SSP in place of your salary whilst you are self-isolating. The government has confirmed that employees will be eligible for SSP from day 1 of sick leave when self isolating to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, rather than day four (the usual rule).

Though you can get sick pay if you are self-isolating, you should also check to see if your employer will use the job retention scheme (furlough), as this is likely to be worth more than SSP.

You cannot get SSP if you are not self-isolating or shielding, unless you are actually sick.

Bear in mind that self-isolation (when you our someone in your household has symptoms and you should not go out even to go shopping, or you have been instructed by the NHS to stay at home because of contact with someone with confirmed coronavirus) and shielding (when you have to stay at home and avoid all unnecessary contact because you are particularly vulnerable) is different from social distancing (when no-one in your household has any symptoms but you’re choosing to stay at home to avoid contamination).

Unfortunately, you’re only eligible for SSP if you actually signed off sick (via a ‘fit note’), you are shielding (because you are classed as ‘extremely vulnerable’ and you are still within the shielding period), you have been formally told to self-isolate because of contact with someone with confirmed coronavirus, or if you are self-isolating because you or someone else in your household has developed specified coronavirus symptoms). You cannot claim SSP if you decide to stay off work for any other social distancing reasons.

If you are furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and become sick, your employer can decide to leave you on the furlough scheme, receiving your furloughed pay (80% or more of wages) instead of receiving SSP only. Alternatively, your employer may move you from furlough to SSP. This may partly depend on whether they can claim the SSP back (SSP paid due to coronavirus can be reclaimed by the employer). You cannot get SSP and remain on furlough, however.

Can my employer count my absence towards my sickness record?

If you are sick, this should be accepted as sickness absence by your employer. If you are showing signs of coronavirus, you should not go to see your GP to get a sick note. Instead, the  NHS has produced an online version of the sick note called an ‘isolation note’, which your employer should accept. See our financial support page for information on sick pay and benefits you may be able to claim while you’re off sick.

Your employer should record your sickness absence in the usual way in line with their sickness policy. Many employers will update their policies to make it clear that absence related to Coronavirus will not be taken into account in attendance or management procedures that could impact on your employment. Even if your workplace policies haven’t been updated, we would not expect your employer to be taking the coronavirus-related absence into account in making any decisions in relation to disciplinaries or dismissals.

If you remain concerned about taking sick leave, you could consider whether there are any alternative options available to you.   

Your employer may also be willing to agree for you to take annual leave, unpaid leave, unpaid parental leave, a sabbatical or other period of leave. You would need to check how long the leave could last and if the leave would be paid or unpaid. If you need further advice on what benefits you could claim during this time, we have a specific website page on financial support for families whose income is affected by coronavirus. 

You may be able claim unfair dismissal if your employer decided to dismiss you because of sickness absence taken in relation to coronavirus. We would strongly emphasise that although this sick leave is likely to be noted on your sickness record, it is vital you do not continue going to work while displaying symptoms.

Can I take or change my annual leave?

Your employer may ask you to use your annual leave to cover the period of self-isolation (if on annual leave, you will be paid as normal). You can also ask your employer to change your annual leave dates, but there’s no legal obligation for your employer to agree.  If you want to take leave at a specific time, your employer can refuse the dates you want to take, for example if it would leave them short-staffed. But if you do not want to take your annual leave during the lockdown, you could say that in the current circumstances, this would not be a holiday which is supposed to be for rest and recuperation. If you can prove that the current time off work because of your personal circumstances (e.g. having to homeschool your children) is not a non-working relaxation time, you could argue that your employer should not be forcing you to take your holiday. 

You should follow any specific rules set out in your contract or another workplace agreement about how to request holiday. In the absence of anything to the contrary in your contract, then the default rules are as follows:

  • you would need to give at least twice as much notice as the period of holiday you want to take (so, to take 2 days’ holiday you would need to give 4 days’ notice); and
  • your employer could refuse your request by giving the same amount of notice as the holiday it wishes to refuse (so, to refuse 2 days’ holiday the employer would need to give at least 2 days’ notice).

But also bear in mind that if your employer cannot cover staff costs due to COVID-19, they may be able to access support to continue paying part of your wage, to avoid redundancies. Your employer could apply to the government to cover 80% of your wages (to a max of £2,500p/m gross) through the coronavirus job retention scheme (see our page on furlough for more information).  If you take annual leave while you are on furlough, your employer should pay you your normal salary (and not 80% of your pay through the coronavirus job retention scheme).

Can I carry over my annual leave into next year if I can’t take it?

Yes, the government has announced that you are able to carry over up to four weeks of annual leave into the next two leave years.

This will allow leave to be taken sometime in the following two years but only where the holiday leave was not taken in this current holiday year as a result of the effects of coronavirus.

What if my employer asks me to stay home? Is it a suspension? Will I be paid?

If you can work from home, you should be paid your salary as normal. Even if home working isn’t usually allowed, check with your employer if you are allowed to work from home.

If you cannot work from home (maybe because you are a shop or factory worker), then your employer can apply to the government to cover 80% of your wages (to a max of £2,500p/m) through the coronavirus job retention scheme

Childcare

If only one parent or carer is a key worker, can I send my children to school?

The Department for Education has issued guidance to say that ‘Children with at least one parent or carer who is critical to the COVID-19 response can attend school if required.

However, many families with a parent or carer working in critical sectors will be able to ensure their child is kept at home. Every child who can be safely cared for at home should be, to limit the chance of the virus spreading.’ 

We’ve included some information about how Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland have applied this guidance below:

  • Northern Ireland: ni.gov.uk has not given any guidance that differs from that of the UK Department of Education, so at this stage the assumption is that if one parent is a key worker, then their child can continue going to school if it is not possible for the other parent to care for them at home.
  • Wales: gov.wales has not given any guidance that differs from that of the UK Department of Education, so at this stage the assumption is that if one parent is a key worker, then their child can continue going to school if it is not possible for the other parent to care for them at home.
  • Scotland: The Scottish government website has published guidance to say that ‘if one parent is a key worker and the other is not, the non-key worker should normally be expected to provide childcare. If it is at all possible for the children to be at home, then they should be.’

    So the assumption is that the parent who is not a key worker should normally be looking after the child(ren). But if it is not at all possible for you to provide childcare at home and only one of you is a key worker, your children should be able to continue going to school.

For more information on childcare provisions for key workers, contact your local authority.

I’m a key worker but my child’s school/nursery has shut. What can I do about childcare?

If your child’s school or nursery has shut, then the local authority should ensure that your children can still attend school elsewhere. If your school hasn’t already informed you of those arrangements, please contact your local authority and they should make alternative arrangements. 

How does the guidance on schools for children of key workers vary in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales?

The schemes for childcare vary depending on which part of the UK you live in. Since the pandemic, and the closure of schools, critical workers can send their children to school at no cost (see above). For children who are too young to attend school, the usual childcare schemes still apply. We understand local councils are keen to help critical workers and may be providing additional support for critical workers.

So as a first step, we recommend you get in touch with your local council childcare team. We also suggest you ask your workplace if they are arranging any support for childcare costs.

If you live in Wales:  the government has announced that funding will be diverted so that key workers can access free childcare for their pre-school age children under the Coronavirus Childcare Assistance Scheme.

If you live in Scotland: the government has not made any specific provision for pre-school age children. However they have set out guidance on who is a key worker (which is different to the guidance issued by central government) and made clear that decisions on key workers and childcare are taken locally in line with national criteria. Importantly only key workers who cannot fulfil their functions when they are working remotely from home can qualify for critical childcare.  

If you live in any other part of the UK: unfortunately the schemes in the rest of the UK have not been amended in light of the pandemic. The government have announced that local authorities are able to redistribute funding across settings accordingly to enable local authorities to ensure that critical workers, including NHS staff, are able to access childcare where they need it.   The government has issued guidance as to how childcare settings will operate. We await further guidance on support with childcare costs. In the interim, the normal rules around childcare therefore continue to apply. Please click here for details.

Will the government continue to pay for free childcare entitlements for children aged 2, 3 and 4, even though my child’s nursery is closed?

Yes, the government has confirmed that they will continue to pay for free early years entitlement places for 2, 3 and 4 year olds, even if the childcare provider is closed or the children aren’t able to attend. Local authorities have been told to continue to fund early entitlements for all childminders, schools and nurseries.

The schools are reopening, but I don’t want to send my child back to school because I am worried about coronavirus. Do I have to send them back to school?

The latest scientific guidance to the government is that most children infected with coronavirus experience less severe symptoms than adults. Schools are taking a number of precautions to prevent the spreading of coronavirus, such as reducing class sizes. As a result, the government strongly encourages children in the eligible year groups and priority groups (such as children of key workers) to attend schools as they re-open. However, if you are uncomfortable with your children going to school because of the risk of coronavirus, you should be able to keep them out of school.

From 23 March, vulnerable children and the children of key workers have been able to attend schools and nurseries. But they have not been required to attend school, and are only encouraged to do so if there is no possible way for them to be cared for at home.

Although the guidance will change once schools begin to reopen for certain year groups (potentially from 1 June), the government has confirmed that parents who choose to keep their child out of school will not be fined. Parents who decide not to send their children to school should notify the child’s school or college as normal if the child is unable to attend, so that staff are aware and can discuss this.

If your child is clinically extremely vulnerable to coronavirus, they should continue to shield. The government has confirmed that children with underlying health conditions will not be expected to attend school.

If your child is clinically vulnerable (but not clinically extremely vulnerable), the government says that parents should follow medical advice. 

If your child lives with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable, they should only attend school if stringent social distancing can be adhered to, and if the child or young person is able to understand and follow those instructions.

If your child lives with someone who is clinically vulnerable (but not extremely clinically vulnerable), including those who are pregnant, the government’s advice is that they can attend school. 

More information for parents about the reopening of educational settings is available here.

Working from home

My employer has said I wouldn’t be able to work from home because I have my children at home and I’m a single parent. Can they do that?

Your employer has the right to expect that when you’re working, you’re actually working, not babysitting. But if you can reassure them that you will be working, maybe explaining that you will spread your working hours so that you work some hours when your children are asleep, there is no reason why they should treat you differently to other employees who are not parents. You could otherwise potentially argue breach of contract: the duty of mutual trust and confidence which in those exceptional times would require employers to allow employees to work from home as much as possible. 

You could tell them that if they think your performance is not up to scratch, they could treat it as a performance/productivity issue, but at least give it a try. 

If  you are a woman, you can also argue that this kind of policy is indirect sex discrimination. A blanket ban of home working for single parents with young children impacts more women than men because women tend to have more childcare responsibilities than men. If your employer has allowed some of your male colleagues (especially if they are also parents) to work from home, this could also be direct sex discrimination. 

I’m working from home but now that I have the children, I’m often interrupted and my employer insists that I either devote the whole day to work or take time off for dependants and have the day unpaid. What can I do to persuade them to let me work my hours but spread in the best possible way and with childcare interruptions allowed?

It is true that, when you are working, your employer has the right to expect that you are devoting your attention to working rather than looking after your children.

However, this is an exceptional situation and many employers are exercising common sense and flexibility to allow employees to reduce or vary their working hours or pattern to enable them to work around childcare needs.  If you think this is an option in your role then you should raise that with your employer. Explain how the pattern could work for you and them.

If your employer does not agree to your request then you have the option to make a formal request for flexible working. Make clear your request is only temporary, or if accepted, it will become a permanent change to your contract. We would suggest asking for the new work pattern to remain in place for as long as the government request people work from home due to Coronavirus. However, this will not provide an immediate outcome because of the time your employer is permitted to respond to your request and your employer may still refuse your request.  In addition, this would be a permanent change to your working arrangements, unless agreed otherwise (you cannot insist on a temporary change).

In our view, you could also potentially argue that not to allow you the flexibility you need is in today’s exceptional times a breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence and – if you are a woman – sex discrimination. See the section on single parents above. 

Other options available would be to:

  • taking annual leave;
  • using unpaid dependent leave. Please note time off for dependents only applies to employees (not workers or the self-employed).
  • Using parental leave – parent employees who have at least one year’s service are entitled to 4 weeks of unpaid parental leave per year per child. There are notice requirements for the leave but in such circumstances your employer may waive these.

If you cannot agree working arrangements which enable you to look after your children and you cannot afford to take unpaid leave, then do remember the government is reviewing the rules on benefits. See here for more information.

 

I feel as though I am being targeted because I have children. Do I have any rights?

If you are a woman with children, then being treated negatively or being forced to take unpaid leave as a result of childcare responsibilities could potentially amount to indirect discrimination, as childcare responsibilities impact women more than men. This is especially important if you feel like your employer might be using this as an excuse to make you take unpaid leave when it could otherwise agree to more flexible arrangements.  You may wish to consider raising this to encourage your employer to agree your request, but try to do so in a neutral manner.

Testing

My employer wants me to take a coronavirus test before returning to work. Can they make me do this?

No, there is nothing in the law that allows your employer to force you to take a coronavirus test. If you strongly object to taking this test, it may be a breach of your employment contract (specifically, the mutual duty of trust and confidence) for your employer to make you take the test. If you do not agree to your employer’s request, you should tell them this.

If you take a coronavirus test, and share the results with your employer, remember that they have to handle this data lawfully, fairly and transparently. They may be able to tell other employees that someone has contracted coronavirus, but they should avoid naming this individual, and shouldn’t provide more information than necessary. The Information Commissioner (the regulator responsible for data protection) has published advice for employers on coronavirus and testing. This gives you an idea of what your employer should be doing.

I’ve been contacted by NHS test and trace in England, and told to self-isolate for 14 days. What pay do I receive while I am off work?

If you are unable to work because you are self-isolating, you are entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP). In England, Wales and Scotland, SSP has been extended to cover those who receive an official notification to self-isolate, even if they do not have coronavirus symptoms. If you are an employee, and you normally earn £120 per week, you should be able to claim SSP. SSP is paid at £95.85 a week from April 2020. Your employer may have a company sick pay scheme in place that pays you more than SSP. Have a look at what your contract says, or check with your HR department.

Furlough

Can I be put on furlough if I cannot continue working for childcare/caring reasons?

Yes, the government guidance updated on 4 April also makes it clear that employees can be furloughed if they are unable to work due to childcare and caring commitments. It also mentions that you can be furloughed if you are shielding in line with public health guidance or need to stay home with someone who is shielding and you are unable to work from home.

See our dedicated page on furlough for more information. 

Benefits

Will I be able to claim any benefits while I’m off work because of coronavirus?

Working Families have a separate website article on financial support that is available if your income has gone down because of covid-19.

If you are self-isolating due to specified coronavirus symptoms in your household, you may be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay.  This also applies if you’ve been told to ‘shield’ (stay at home) due to a health condition, but only for the period you’ve been instructed to do so by the NHS. You can also get SSP if you’re self-isolating due to contact with someone with coronavirus and you’ve been told to stay at home by the NHS, but this will only be for a maximum of 14 days.  You may also be eligible for increased awards of benefits you are already claiming or make a new claim for Universal Credit if you are not already claiming benefits (see below).
 
If you are already claiming benefits (in particular working tax credit, child tax credit, income support, housing benefit and income-based employment and support allowance), your award for these benefits may increase while your income is lower if you are off work. 
 
If you are not already claiming any other benefits, you may be able to claim Universal Credit if you are on unpaid leave or only receiving Statutory Sick Pay. Beware that making a claim for Universal Credit will replace any existing claims you have for working tax credit, child tax credit, housing benefit, income support, income-based employment and support allowance and income-based jobseeker’s allowance. So if you are already claiming any of these benefits, you should seek advice from a benefits expert before deciding to claim Universal Credit instead.

To check your eligibility, use this online benefits calculator on the Entitled To website.

Remember too that the government has advised that anyone who is able to work from home, should do. Also, all employees with 26 weeks service can request flexible working, even on a temporary basis. Find out more information about Flexible Working.

Where can I go for more help?

To find out what government schemes will help if work has been affected by Covid-19, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) have created a decision tree to help you navigate what you may be entitled to, including whether you are eligible to be furloughed.


This advice applies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ. Please call our helpline for more details.

If you have further questions and would like to contact our advice team please use our advice contact form below or call us.

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