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What Are My Rights Regarding Unpaid Leave?

In response to the on-going Covid-19 Coronavirus situation, the government announced on 16 March that employees should work from home where possible.

What is less clear is what happens when working from home isn’t possible.

Some employers, such as Virgin Atlantic, are asking employees to volunteer to take unpaid leave to avoid having to make people redundant in the long term. Employees are therefore rightfully worried that their bosses may force them to take unpaid leave.

Currently, if you or those you live with are not displaying symptoms of Covid-19 (i.e. a new persistent cough and/or fever) and you are unable to work from home, you should carry on going to work as normal. 

If your employer tells you to stay at home then the normal position is that they should continue to pay you at your usual rate.

Some contracts of employment, however, contain ‘lay-off and short-time’ clauses. These essentially allow employers to either temporarily shut down operations or reduce the number of working hours because they cannot find enough work for their employees. You should check your contract of employment to see if it contains one of these clauses and seek legal advice if your employer tries to implement any such term.

If you are on a zero hours contract and are fit to work, your employer is not obliged to give you any work. If that does happen then you should look at claiming state benefits such as universal credit.

If you do develop symptoms then you should self-isolate for 7 days if you live alone or 14 days if you live with others. 

Depending on the type of employment contract you have and the number of hours you work you should then be entitled to company sick pay (CSP) or statutory sick pay (SSP). 

Last week the government announced that people who qualify for SPP will get it from day one, rather than having to wait the usual three days. The emergency legislation which will bring this change into effect is currently before parliament (although at the time of publication had not been passed). The government have confirmed this will be backdated to 13 March 2020. Anyone who has been signed off sick since 13 March 2020 will therefore get SSP from day one, rather than waiting three days.
 
It’s really important to note, however, that these provisions only apply to employees and not people who are self-employed. Currently, if you are self-employed and unable to work because of Covid-19 coronavirus you should look at claiming state benefits such as universal credit. 

Remember that this is an ever-changing situation and advice is changing quickly. You should always consult the gov.uk and Public Health England and ACAS websites for the latest information and advice. You can find more information on your employment rights and how we can help you HERE.

This answer does not class as formal legal guidance. To obtain information specific to your needs, please contact one of our legal professionals on 0808 168 5550.

This information has been compiled by Deborah Scales and Philip Pearson of Cartwright King.

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