Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Coronavirus: your rights at work - UNISON advice as 24 March

Some really good advice from my union for all workers - If you work in or provide public services make sure you joining.unison.org.uk/join-unison-to
As the COVID-19 virus spreads, find out what your rights at work are.
Important update: New government guidance released on 23 March advises that everyone should stay at home and only go to work where this absolutely cannot be done from home.
For key workers who cannot work from home, issues and risks will vary depending on the sector you are working in, so UNISON has been proactive in negotiating jointly agreed advice in some sectors.

If you think you or someone you live with has coronavirus

What should I do if I think I have the symptoms of, or have had close contact with someone who has had, COVID-19?

For the latest information on symptoms, what you should do and how long you should self-isolate, see the “staying at home information” from NHS UK.
For additional information on coronavirus see list of resources below.

If I have to self-isolate, will I be paid?

The health secretary has sent guidance to employers telling them staff who have been asked to self-isolate are entitled to take the time as sick leave or special leave.
Although this would be good practice and has already been agreed for NHS staff, the majority of local government staff and some major contractors, this in itself doesn’t guarantee that staff will get sick leave or special leave as a matter of course.  If you are self- isolating but you are not sick, you may be expected to work from home, on full pay.
Speak to your UNISON branch if you are concerned your employer is not following the guidance.
If you live with someone who has symptoms of coronavirus, you can get an isolation note to send to your employer as proof you need to stay off work.  You do not need to get a note from a GP.

Sick pay for coronavirus

Statutory sick pay is now available from the first day you are off sick, and if you are paid less than £118 a week you will be able to access Universal Credit or Contributory Employment and Support Allowance more easily.
Unfortunately, if you’re on a zero-hours contract you are not entitled to statutory sick pay unless you can demonstrate that you earn at least £118 per week from your employer.
We are urging the government to help those on zero-hours contracts.
If you get contractual sick pay (a rate agreed by your employer), it’s good practice to ensure that such absence is not counted towards any sickness absence policy triggers points.
This has been agreed for NHS staff and the majority of local government staff (ie those covered by national joint council (NJC) terms and conditions.) A similar agreement is in place for local authority workers in Scotland whose terms and conditions are agreed at the Scottish joint council (SJC). UNISON Scotland issued an update on this in early March.

If you need to go to work

The government announced on 23 March that no one should travel to work unless absolutely necessary.  You should therefore work from home unless your job is essential to the operation of a key service and you cannot do it from home.
If it is absolutely necessary that you travel to work, the government guidelines issued on 23 March advise people to stay two metres apart from others. Your employer should put steps in place to:
Speak to your UNISON branch if you are concerned your employer is not following the guidance.
See the link to specific service group advice at the top of the page.
If you have underlying health issues or are pregnant please see additional advice below.

If you are affected by school closures or travel restrictions

Do I have to go to work if my children can’t go to school?

The government has announced that most children in the UK will need to stay home from school from 23 March.
If you need to stay at home to look after your children because of this, you are legally entitled to unpaid dependant leave.  However, many UNISON members will be entitled to paid dependant leave due to agreements negotiated with their employer.
Check against your own terms and conditions to see what your contract or talk to your UNISON branch if you are unsure what your rights are.
The children of key workers can continue to attend school.  The government has produced a list of key workers which includes those working in health, social care, childcare and early years, areas of local government, emergency services, transport and utilities.
If you think you are a key worker, confirm this with your employer and contact the school to let them know you will need to continue to send your child/children to school.

What if I can’t get to work because of transport closures?

There have been reductions to public transport in some areas and this may affect you being able to get to work on time or at all if you are a key worker.  If this is the case you should let your employer know.
Government advice is that people should work from home, unless it is ‘abolsutely necessary’ that they travel to work.  If home working really isn’t possible then your employer should agree flexible working hours to allow access to public transport, access to free parking or consider providing private transport, for example taxi.

If you are pregnant

If you are pregnant the government issued “strong advice” on March 16 that you should work from home, if possible.
On 23 March updated government guidance advised that all workers should stay at home and only go to work where this absolutely cannot be done from home.
Your employer should therefore consider allowing you to work from home. If your job is not suitable for home working then your employer should consider whether you can be temporarily re-deployed to a role that would allow home working for the duration of this crisis, on full pay.
If working from home isn’t an option then your employer should undertake a risk assessment to identify any additional steps they need to take, such as re-allocating some of your duties or providing you with additional personal protective equipment.
Local government employers have already acknowledged that in some cases they will need to allow staff who can’t work from home to stay at home on full pay. Download the local government circular here (PDF)
If your employer won’t let you to work from home please contact your local UNISON branch for help.
The government is advising pregnant women to be particularly stringent about ‘social distancing’.
You should avoid non-essential use of public transport, large gatherings and gatherings with family and friends, in addition to working from home where possible.

What if I’m pregnant and also have a heart condition?

The NHS will write to people who are pregnant and also have significant heart disease by 29 March with advice on “shielding” which is a way of protecting very vulnerable people from the virus.
The government is strongly advising people in this category to stay at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact for a period of at least 12 weeks from the day you receive your letter. The advice will include:
  • not leaving your home – you should not go out to do shopping, visit friends or family, or attend any gatherings
  • avoiding close contact with other people in your home as much as possible
The government advice means that you are strongly advised not to go to work.  Speak to your UNISON branch if you think you employer is not following the guidance.
If you are pregnant and also have a heart condition but you do not receive a letter by 29 March, contact your GP by phone.

If you are disabled, over 70 or have an underlying health condition

Can my employer refuse home working?

For people with an underlying health condition the government “strongly advises” that you work from home in guidance released on 16 March.
On 23 March updated government guidance advised that all workers should stay at home and only go to work where this absolutely cannot be done from home.
Employers should therefore consider allowing you to work from home if at all possible.  If your job is not suitable for home working then your employer should consider whether you can be temporarily re-deployed to a role that would allow home working for the duration of this crisis.
Local government employers have already acknowledged that in some cases they will need to allow staff who can’t work from home to stay at home on full pay.
If working from home isn’t an option then your employer should undertake a risk assessment to identify any additional steps they need to take, such as re-allocating some of your duties or providing you with additional personal protective equipment.
If your employer won’t let you to work from home please contact your local UNISON branch for help.

Will I need to stay in my home for a long time?

The government has asked everyone to reduce social contact.  This is called “social distancing”.
However, older and disabled people and those with underlying conditions are the most at risk from COVID-19.  The government says that those in the most at-risk groups (people who are instructed to get a flu jab) should be particularly “stringent” about social distancing.
If you have an underlying health condition the government strongly advises that you:
  • work from home if possible;
  • avoid non-essential travelling;
  • avoid large gatherings or those in small spaces, including pubs, clubs, restaurants, cinemas or theatres;
  • avoid gatherings with friends or family and instead use technology to stay in touch;
  • access GP services by phone instead of in person.
The government has also issued additional advice for people who are especially vulnerable to Covid-19 and you should check below if you are in this group.

What if I am at high risk of becoming seriously ill from coronavirus?

People who are at high risk include those who:
  • have had an organ transplant
  • are having certain types of cancer treatment
  • have blood or bone marrow cancer, such as leukaemia
  • have a severe lung condition, such as cystic fibrosis or severe asthma
  • have a condition that makes you much more likely to get infections
  • are taking medicine that weakens your immune system
  • are pregnant and have a serious heart condition
If you are in this group the NHS will write to you with advice by 29 March with advice on “shielding” which is a way of protecting very vulnerable people from the virus.
The government is strongly advising people in this category to stay at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact for a period of at least 12 weeks from the day you receive your letter. The advice will include:
  •  not leaving your home for a period of 12 weeks – you should not go out to do shopping, visit friends or family, or attend any gatherings
  • avoiding close contact with other people in your home as much as possible
The government advice means that you are strongly advised not to go to work.  Speak to your UNISON branch if you think you employer is not following the guidance.
If you think you are in the high risk category but you do not receive a letter by 29 March, contact your GP by phone.

What happens if I receive sickness or disability-related benefits?

The government has announced that face-to-face health assessments for sickness and disability benefits will be suspended for three months.
This means you should continue to receive PIP (personal independence payments), ESA (employment support allowance) and industrial injuries disablement benefit without having to attend a face-to-face appointment.
If you have an outstanding assessment appointment that has not been postponed please contact the phone number on the letter to make sure it has been postponed.

If you need protective equipment to do your job

If it is absolutely necessary that you go to work, it’s vital your employer provides you with the correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to do your job safely.

If you’re worried about redundancy or paying the bills

What if my employer is considering layoffs or redundancies?

UNISON and other unions have been working with the government to make sure workers still get paid even if their employer is considering layoffs or redundancies. The government announced on 20 March that they will pay 80% of wage costs, up to a limit of £2,500 per month, as part of a new Job Retention Scheme to protect those at risk of redundancy or lay-off.
The Chancellor announced some details relating to the Job Retention Scheme on Friday 20 March 2020 – but we do not have the substance of the legislation at this time.
UNISON will issue detailed guidance once the details of the new legislation on this scheme are known.
So far we understand that the scheme will be backdated to 1 March and will last for three months.
To access the scheme employers will need to designate affected employees as ‘furloughed workers,’ and notify their employees of this change.
This will change the status of your employment relationship. This change in employment status for affected employees remains subject to existing employment law and, depending on the employment contract, may be subject to negotiation.
If you have been notified by your employer but are unclear then you should contact your UNISON Branch for advice.

Can I get help to pay my bills?

If you are on a low income you may be entitled to Universal Credit.
The government announced on 20 March that Universal Credit will be increased by £20 per week (£1,000 a year). Working Tax Credit will also be increased by £20 per week (£1,000 a year). The increase starts from 6 April.
You might also be entitled to more help with your rent. The government has announced that the Local Housing Allowance will be increased to cover more people’s rents.
UNISON’s charity There for You can also offer help if you are in financial difficulty.

If you need to work from home

What are my employers’ duties if I’m working at home?

Even if you are working from home your employer is still responsible for your health and safety while you are working.
Your employer should be ensuring that you have the correct equipment to do your job.  They should arrange regular check-in times with home workers and should ensure all team communication includes home workers.
In particular, your employer has to ensure your workload is at safe levels, provide you with support and ensure that you aren’t put under unreasonable stress.
The HSE provides guidance for employers on health and safety for home workers.

Coronavirus and your mental health

None of us have ever experienced a global pandemic before and, naturally, we feel worried and anxious.
The best thing you can do is to follow government advice on social distancing.
Try not to spend too much time following social media and beware of fake rumours that only cause panic. Important updates will be released on the government website.
If you have to stay at home for a prolonged time, use the telephone and technology to keep in touch with friends and loved ones. The Mental Health Foundation have produced a guide to protecting your mental health during the coronavirus crisis.
Remember that your employer is also responsible for ensuring your stress levels are managed if you are working from home.
If you have an existing mental health problem, it is very important that you look after yourself while in social isolation and that you continue to access medical support online or by telephone. The mental health charity MIND has produced a helpful guide which will be useful to anyone who has to practice social isolation.
Your employer may have an Employee Assistance Provider who can help.  Check with your employer/HR.
UNISON’s There for you charity can also provide signposting to emotional support.

Further information on pay, terms and conditions

Local government members in Scotland can download advice here.
There is general advice for members in Scotland from the Scottish government.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

If I have an accident in my home office while I am working on my PC will I be able to make a claim against my employer? Will my Union Rep be able to take this up for me. My next door neighbour told me that I could. He was talking to me through the garden fence just to keep a good distance whilst we were clapping for the NHS. It was amazing because I could hardly hear him over all the din. After one week my mental health is also under strain. I can't go for a walk because then someone says to me why arnt you in work.

Anonymous said...

What kind of accident could you possibly have in your home office?.

Employers are having a hard enough time, without getting sued.