what employees need to know


Coronavirus is causing unprecedented disruption to everyday life and is already having a huge impact on startups and small businesses. These are some of the measures that have changed in light of the pandemic and a reminder of some of the rights employees should know about.

Time off for childcare

Schools are closing around the country and employees are entitled to take unpaid time off work to help a dependent in an emergency. The government says that this applies if a child’s school has closed because of coronavirus, or if a dependent needs to go into isolation or into hospital. (A dependent is usually a partner, spouse, child, grandchild or parent).

There is no statutory right to pay in this time, although some workplace policies will differ on this and offer pay – it’s best to check the details of a job contract.

Lay-offs and short-time working

Employers who don’t want to resort to redundancy might resort to lay-offs or short-time working – in other words, reducing contracted hours or temporarily closing down the business.

This can only happen where employees agree to the measures, and/or their contracts provide for this situation. If this isn’t the case then employers will need to pay their staff for this time.

Employers can tell staff to take annual leave to cover this time, but they have to do so at least twice as many days before the amount of days they need staff to take off. For example, if they need staff to take a week, they must tell them about it two weeks in advance.

Sick pay: the new SSP rules

Employers have to ensure the health and safety of the people who work for them. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) advises that if an employee comes into work while displaying symptoms of coronavirus, their employer has the right to require them to self-isolate for a week.

Whether they choose to isolate or are required to by their employer, if they cannot do their normal work while they isolate then employees have the right to claim statutory sick pay (SSP) under the temporary new SSP measures.

If an employee is told to isolate for coronavirus but isn’t actually sick, they can still claim SSP. Similarly, they can also claim SSP if taking time off to care for somebody who is self-isolating for coronavirus. Small businesses can claim these SSP payments back from HMRC.

This doesn’t apply to self-employed people, to some people in the gig economy, or to those earning less than an average £118 a week. In these cases, they can claim Universal Credit and/or contributory Employment and Support Allowance.

Under the new SSP rules for coronavirus, employers should not require an employee to provide a note from their GP.

Disclaimer: This information was correct at time of publication but please check with official sources for the latest updates. None of the information in this article should be treated as financial advice.

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