What are my employee rights during the coronavirus outbreak?

2nd April 2020

If you are an employee and are concerned about how the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) could affect your employment, we've put together some guidance. In this article, we outline your rights in terms of health and safety, sick pay and leave.

What should employers be doing?

Employers should consider taking steps to protect the health and safety of their employees, in the case of a widespread outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19). These steps include:

  • keeping employees updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace
  • making sure all employees' contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date
  • making sure managers can recognise symptoms of Coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes (i.e. sickness reporting and sick pay) and procedures if someone in the workplace develops the virus
  • making sure there are clean places for employees to wash hands with hot water and soap, and encouraging everyone to wash their hands regularly
  • ensuring employees are advised to follow social distancing guidance, with particular care taken to protect those who are in a vulnerable group
  • providing hand sanitiser and tissues for employees, and encouraging them to use them
  • considering if any travel planned to affected areas is essential

Will I receive sick pay if I become unwell?

If someone has Coronavirus (COVID-19) and/or Coronavirus symptoms, they will be eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP) from the first day of their absence from work (rather than the usual fourth) and any usual Company sick pay which their employer offers.

If you are an employee and are following Government advice to self-isolate due to someone else in your household having Coronavirus (COVID-19) and/or Coronavirus symptoms, you will also be eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP) from the first day of your absence from work. If your employer offers contractual sick pay, it will be good practice for them to also provide this to you.

If you're not eligible to receive sick pay, including those earning less than an average of £118 per week, you may be eligible for Universal Credit and or contributory Employment and Support Allowance.

As an employee, you should let your employer know as soon as possible if you're unable to go to work, and follow your employer's usual procedure for reporting sickness absence.

SSP is money paid by employers to employees. SSP is £94.25 per week. Self-employed workers will not be eligible for it. Please note, payment of SSP from day 1 rather than day 4 is a specific response to the COVID-19 outbreak, so is likely to lapse once the outbreak has settled.

Medical evidence is not required for the first 7 days of sickness absence. Even after 7 days, the Government are urging Employers to be flexible if they require evidence from the employee or worker. For example, you might not be able to provide a sick note (fit note) if you have been told to self-isolate, as you can't visit a GP surgery. Your employer should take this into account when requesting evidence. If your employer does require evidence, those with symptoms of Coronavirus can get a note from NHS online, and those who live with someone that has symptoms, can get a note from the NHS website.

What if the employer tells the employee not to attend work?

If you are not sick but your employer informs you not to come in to work, then you should still receive your usual pay. This could occur when you have returned from an infected area, such as China or Italy, and are told by your employer not to come into work for the safety of others. As this is your employer's decision, you should receive your usual pay for the time you are off work..

Taking leave to care for dependants

You are entitled to a reasonable amount of time off work to help someone who depends on you (a 'dependant') in an unexpected event or emergency. The Coronavirus outbreak could give rise to a number of such situations, for example:

  • You might need to take time off to look after and make arrangements for the care of your child due to school closures
  • You might need to take time off to look after and make arrangements for the care of an elderly/sick family member if they become unwell or need to self-isolate

The amount of time off granted must be reasonable to deal with the emergency situation. An employer can choose to pay an employee for time off to look after dependants but they don't have to. An employee cannot take time off if they knew about the situation beforehand.

If you have no possible alternative childcare arrangements, your employer may allow you (or in some cases require you) to use any holiday entitlement you have, and/or you could take unpaid parental leave.

If you are in this situation and you're unsure of your rights, you should check your employer's policies in the first instance.

What happens if my workplace closes?

Where it's possible your employer may ask you to continue working from home, in which case you'll be entitled to be paid as usual.

If your employer doesn't have any work for you to do, then you are entitled to be paid as usual, unless your contract says otherwise. However your employer may have to consider closure and redundancies. Your employer should seek to warn and consult with you in the event they are contemplating redundancies. They must also take into account the option of the Furlough Scheme (see details below) as a way of avoiding the need for redundancies. Failure to do so could render any dismissal unfair.

Some employers have now been instructed to close by the government. Including cafes, pubs, restaurants, leisure centers, gyms, non-essential shops, cinemas and theatres.

Furloughed employees

If your employer cannot cover employee costs due to COVID-19, they may be able to access support to continue paying part of your wage (providing you are an employee) to avoid redundancies, by using the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. This will be an online portal scheme which is unlikely to be operational until the end of April 2020.

Your employer will need to discuss with you becoming classified as a furloughed employee which would mean that you are kept on your employer's payroll, rather than being laid off. This is essentially a variation to the terms of your contract of employment which need to be agreed.

To qualify for this scheme, you cannot undertake work for them while you are furloughed. This will allow your employer to claim a grant of up to 80% of your wage for all employment costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month.

You will remain employed while furloughed. You will also continue to be entitled to accrue holiday entitlement. Your employer could choose to fund the differences between this payment and your salary, but does not have to.

If your salary is reduced as a result of these changes, you may be eligible for support through the welfare system, including Universal Credit (see Claiming Benefits below).

The Government intends for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to run for at least 3 months from 1 March 2020, but will extend if necessary.

Claiming benefits

If you are on a low income and affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19, you may be entitled to benefits including Universal Credit.

From 6 April the Government is increasing the standard allowance in Universal Credit and the basic element in Working Tax Credit for 1 year. Both will increase by £20 per week on top of planned annual uprating. This will apply to all new and existing Universal Credit claimants and to existing Working Tax Credit claimants.

Further information and resources

Public Health England (PHE)

PHE published guidance on COVID-19 for employers and businesses


ACAS published advice for employers and employees

If you have any employment issues relating to COVID-19, it's important that you seek independent legal advice.

While this information is accurate at the time of publication, it is subject to change.