I’ve just returned from an affected part of northern Italy. I feel fine but I’m stuck at home. Will I still be paid?
Not necessarily, says Sarah Evans, an employment expert and partner at JMW Solicitors. Most people will come to an arrangement with their employer to work at home and they will paid as normal. “Increasingly, lots of employees can and will work at home. However, the problem comes if you work in a shop or a warehouse that requires your presence. The hard truth is that in this case your employer can send you home and is under no obligation to pay you. For a small company, having an unproductive member of staff sitting a home doing nothing on full pay will be a huge burden.”
That’s a bit unfair – won’t that encourage people to go to work as normal, with the risks that entails?
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) best practice advice is that employers treat such a scenario as sick leave, or agree for the time to be taken off as holiday, says Martha McKinley, an employment specialist at the law firm Stephensons. “I would expect most firms to take a pragmatic view as clearly there is no point in refusing to pay someone who then insists on coming to work, and who then infects the rest of the staff.”
My children have been sent home from school to self-isolate. Can I ask for time off, and will I be paid?
Sarah Evans says employees could ask for emergency time off in such a situation. The employer would have to grant this, she says, but again would be under no obligation to pay the employee. In reality, most people would again just work from home. Most employers would probably allow the person to take the time off as holiday, which in most cases is still paid, says McKinley, but they are under no obligation to do so.
I have the virus and am off sick. What will be paid?
If you are sick or have symptoms you qualify for at least statutory sick pay, or whatever your contract may provide over and above that. Most employers will allow a certain number of days a year on full pay. After that employees are entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) of £94.25 per week, which will be paid for up to 28 weeks. It is paid from the fourth day of sickness. A doctor’s note may not be necessary, although employees can self-certify with symptoms of flu without seeing a doctor, says Evans.
I’m self-employed – what do I get?
Nothing, and you are not entitled to SSP either, says McKinley. “One of the biggest downsides of being self-employed is that in most cases you will not be paid if you do not turn up for work. If the virus spirals out of control, those in the gig economy will be adversely affected and face significant loss of wages.”
Can I claim benefits instead?
In theory, yes, but be prepared for a long wait. The Department for Work and Pensions has confirmed that people who are prevented from working because of a risk to public health are able to claim universal credit. They may also be entitled to contributory employment and support allowance, which helps with living costs for people who cannot work because of a health condition. Universal credit is paid monthly in arrears, so you will have to wait one calendar month from the date you submitted your application before your first payment is made. This is called your assessment period. You then have to wait up to seven days for the payment to reach your bank account.