Coronavirus: Employee rights
This article provides an April 2022 updated overview of the impact of Coronavirus on employees and their rights.
It also includes a variety of FAQs about aspects of the pandemic which are still largely relevant to employees and their workplaces.
If you have been unfairly dismissed or had your pay cut or withheld because you refused to attend an unsafe workplace (eg where Coronavirus is/was widespread), then see our separate (updated) article here.
Do you have an employment problem relating to coronavirus?
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Impact on employees of Coronavirus 2020 to 2022
From March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic had unprecedented effects on employees’ rights.
It focused debate on the right to get paid according to your contract and to a healthy and safe workplace.
However, by the end of 2021, the Coronavirus variant Omicron had largely superceded the Delta variant as the most prevalent variant in the UK.
The symptoms of Omicron were much less severe. There was a huge reduction in the numbers having to be hospitalised and/or off work for long periods of time.
As a result, the government started to relax its compulsory restrictions on the activities of employers and workers.
By April 2022, these restrictions had been lifted entirely.
FAQs about your employment rights during the Covid-19 pandemic
Although the nature of the pandemic has changed a lot over the past two years, it raises wider questions about sickness, sickness absence and health and safety at work that still broadly apply.
Below is a selection of the kinds of questions we have frequently been asked.
For a more detailed overview of current legislation relating to health and safety at work, see our article on unfair dismissal or ill-treatment due to health & safety issues at work
Can I be forced to attend work if vulnerable or living with someone who is?
If you are pregnant, old, or suffer from a disability or ill-health that your employer already knows about, then it’s to be hoped that they would be receptive to proposals for you to work remotely wherever possible.
If you are living with someone in one of the above categories, and your employer is still forcing you to come to work, then they could be breaking the law.
They may be subjecting you to one or other of the following:
-breach of health & safety law
Can I be dismissed for self-isolating/staying off work?
No! Your employer might be within their rights to discipline you in certain circumstances, but they can’t legally dismiss you.
If they tried to, it would amount to automatically unfair dismissal under s.100 Employment Rights Act 1996.
There is a case about this kind of dismissal between Harvest Press Ltd & McCaffrey 1999 ILRL 778.
It doesn’t of course relate directly to the coronavirus, but it is a good example of automatically unfair dismissal.
Read our more detailed guide on coronavirus unfair dismissal here.
Could my employer reduce my salary?
Your employer could reduce your salary if they were justified in doing so.
During the height of the pandemic, we saw huge numbers of employers telling employees to take a pay cut.
You could have refused to accept a pay cut and felt you then have no choice but to resign as a consequence.
In that case, you may have a claim for constructive dismissal.
However, if other colleagues were being asked to take a pay cut too, then it would be easy for your employer to justify it.
Many employers gave employees notice and then gave them another contract of employment with lower pay.
They could tell you that if you didn’t agree to work under the new contract, your employment would end when your notice period was over.
Am I entitled to pay when self-isolating?
You are legally entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you have symptoms, or have been advised to self-isolate by a doctor or other medical authority.
You can get an isolation note online on the NHS 111 website
If you want to self-isolate because of Coronavirus, but you are not sick yourself, then the current legislation does not entitle you to SSP.
If you are a vulnerable person, for example, old or with underlying health conditions, then again, the current legislation does not entitle you to SSP.
We would advise you to get an isolation note online on the NHS 111 website mentioned above. This would then entitle you to SSP if you were employed.
What are my rights if I am pregnant?
If you are pregnant, then your employer must do a risk assessment.
If it is unsafe for you to attend work, your employer has to suspend you on full pay. More on this in our guide on unfair dismissals due to unsafe workplaces.
If that is within 6 weeks of your due date, then you are entitled to start your maternity leave at that point, as per the legislation here.
If, however, you are able to work remotely, and your employer agrees that you may do so, then in those circumstances, you will be entitled to your usual pay.
You should talk to your employer about your concerns before you decide to take any action, and see if you can agree on the best way forward.
The latest legislation is contained in The Statutory Sick Pay (General) (Coronavirus Amendment) Regulations 2020.
Should I get paid if my employer tells me to stay off work?
If your employer has good reason to ask you not to attend work because of Coronavirus, or any other health and safety issue, then they can ask you to stay away.
You will be entitled to your contractual pay.
If your employer decides to reduce your hours of work or to close your place of work because of Coronavirus (or for any other good reason), then you are entitled to pay as normal, without any reduction.
(See S151 Social Security, Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 and S147-154 Employment Rights Act 1996 for relevant legislation)
What are my rights if I take time off to care for dependents?
Your rights to take time off to care for dependents are set out in the existing legislation, Section 57A-57B Employment Rights Act 1996 .
According to this legislation, you have a right to ‘reasonable’ time off work to care for dependents in an ’emergency’.
Your dependents may be unwell, or their usual carers/school can’t operate because of the impact of Coronavirus.
This time off is unpaid unless you have an employment contract or insurance policy that provides for payment in such circumstances.
What is a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off will depend on your particular situation.
Your employer is required to consider your case without reference to any inconvenience or disruption to their business.
Undoubtedly the Coronavirus crisis counted as an emergency, but what is ‘reasonable’ has yet to be legally tested.
Your first course of action should be to ask for full pay.
If I get coronavirus, will I get sick leave and pay?
If you have tested positive for Coronavirus or are suspected of having it, you will be entitled to the usual sick leave and entitlements to pay, as with any other sickness/sickness absence
If I can’t take my annual holiday entitlement due to coronavirus, can I carry it forward?
Legislation passed in October 2020 provides support for employees who haven’t been able to take their annual leave entitlement because of Coronavirus.
It allows you to carry forward up to 4 weeks of your 5.6 weeks’ statutory leave entitlement into the next two leave years if you haven’t been or won’t be able to take your leave because of the effects of the virus.
That just leaves the remaining 1.6 weeks of statutory annual leave that may only be carried forward into the next leave year and then only with the agreement of your employer.
If I am made redundant due to covid-19, does my employer still have to consult me?
When intending to make over 20 employees redundant in any one 90 day period, your employer normally has to consult for a minimum number of days before dismissing you, as follows:
|Number of redundancies
|Minimum consultation period
|20 to 99
|100 or more
If your employer fails to consult as above, then that would be procedurally unfair dismissal.
If less than 20 people are being made redundant, then your employer also has a duty to consult you.
This duty is not defined by statute, but would generally include more than one meeting, and a chance for you to make some reasonable input into the decision.
See our guide on redundancy for further details.
If you think your employer was unfairly treating you because of your absence or pay relating to coronavirus situations like those outlined above, Monaco Solicitors may be able to help.
If you think you need help or advice, including legal representation on a no win no fee basis, please get in touch:
- Through this website link
- By phone on 020 7717 5259
- By email: email@example.com
Our related guides
- Coronavirus furlough leave/job retention scheme 2020 – 2021
- Unfair dismissal & ill-treatment due to health & safety issues at work
- Unfair dismissal settlements and compensation
- Constructive dismissal: A guide for employees
- Coronavirus employee rights app: Alex Monaco on BBC Radio Surrey
- Coronavirus employee rights app: Alex Monaco on BBC Radio London
- Virtual Lawyer – free letter writing tool
- Age discrimination at work: a guide for employees
- Disability discrimination at work
- Mental health and discrimination at work
- Pregnancy and maternity discrimination at work