BBC Radio London on Coronavirus free employment rights app

On 14 April 2020 Alex Monaco was interviewed on BBC Radio London about our Coronavirus Employment Rights App.

Here is the show: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p088bmjf  The relevant part is at 1hr 13mins 25 secs.

Here is the written transcript of the interview [where the initials DB indicate the host, Duncan Barkes – standing in for Eddie Nestor -and AM for Alex Monaco.]

DB [Introduction]: ‘We find ourselves since lockdown, with many people being left in quite challenging situations regarding their jobs. Some people – and we’ve heard them on this radio station – being forced to continue working, even though they are not key workers, and others have been sent home with no pay.  So, let’s find out what your rights are, because I think this is really important.’

‘Alex Monaco is founder of Monaco Solicitors and creator of a new app to help people in these situations.  Hello Alex! What made you come up with this idea – presumably a lot of people saying ‘help’?’

AM:  Yes, a lot of people saying ‘help’ – that’s exactly right.  It’s carnage out there for employees and their rights.

DB: Carnage is quite a strong word, so what are the recurring bits of carnage that you’re hearing about?

AM: Well, it’s just a number of scenarios: you’ve got the people who are being forced to go to work when it’s unsafe to do so, and that includes whether they are vulnerable themselves or maybe their partner is vulnerable, or maybe they are healthy and just don’t want to catch coronavirus.

DB:  OK, When we talk about it being unsafe for them to do so, presumably that means that they are being asked to go into a workplace where there’s no social distancing going on – is it that kind of thing?

AM:  Yes.  So maybe you are working in a factory and you are producing non essential goods – the kind of stuff that people just buy online.  It’s not to do with medical supplies or frood, and arguably, it’s not strictly necessary. So, why are these companies still open and making people attend work?  And it’s not just at work, it’s your transport to work as well.

DB:  OK.  So you’ve had people coming along saying ‘I’ve been told to come into work, but I feel unsafe about it because they’re not – for example – adhering to the social distancing measures’, etc.  So, what about these people who are simply being sent home with no pay?

AM: We’re seeing people who are getting a What’s App [message] from their boss saying ‘you can’t come into work tomorrow’ and without any real explanation.  And whether that applies to people who are self-isolating or not, the law hasn’t just been thrown out the window in this horrific time we’re in. It still applies.  So, if you are going to make someone redundant, you still need to do that with a procedure, and ask them to attend a meeting, and basically respect their rights.

I’m not suggesting for a minute here that all employers are doing this stuff on purpose, but people are panicking, and you are seeing these knee-jerk reactions.  And what’s happening is that it’s those without a voice, and perhaps those who are lower paid especially, who can’t do anything about it, and couldn’t really afford a lawyer.  They are getting fired willy-nilly, sent home with no pay, forced to attend work, and those sorts of things.

DB:  Well, we’ll get on in a minute to how the app actually works.  But you could help a lot of people listening to Radio London this evening.  If someone, for example, is being told: ‘you must come into work’ and they get there and they feel unsafe.  What are their rights?

AM:  Well, we’ve had one lady who works in a supermarket, and her husband has got blood cancer.  She’s worked there for 17 years and he worked in the same supermarket for 20 years. What they’ve said to her is that ‘you can have statutory sick pay if you stay at home, or nothing’ and what they’re not doing is putting her on the furlough leave scheme – you know, this 80% government pay.

Now what employers don’t realise is that the government is being very generous here with public money, and you are pretty much allowed to furlough anyone, for any reason, and that’s the summary that I really want to get across to listeners out there in London, and especially to employers: ’you can furlough anyone’.  They don’t have to be shielding, or vulnerable. It doesn’t have to be a redundancy situation. It doesn’t have to mean that your company has to have stopped working or that you have run out of work. You can furlough anyone, but it’s at the discretion of the employer however.

DB: So let me ask you about that one.  So, what’s your gut [impression], Alex? Is it that they [the employers] don’t understand that they can do it, or are they just being lazy, or what is it?

AM:  No.  They don’t understand.  The guidance itself is a bit unclear.  It was obviously written in a hurry and the government is continually updating it and clarifying it wherever possible, but they [the employers] are playing it on the side of caution: ‘we can’t possibly furlough this person, because the shop is still open so there is plenty of work…’.  So it’s this lack of understanding, which is fair enough because of the lack of clarity around the Scheme itself.

We are not saying [to employees] here ‘you must quickly take your employer to a Tribunal’, because that wouldn’t be the right thing to do. But you can write them a persuasive letter, calling on their discretion, and illustrating to them the finer points of the Scheme, saying ‘look, you can put me on furlough leave here.  I can’t survive on SSP – statutory sick pay which is £96 a week – you can put me on furlough leave.’ And that’s what this money is for. It’s to keep people in their jobs and to keep people fed until we can get out again.

DB: This is really interesting.   So let’s just follow up this scenario:  they send a letter as you’ve just outlined.  What if the employer just ignores the letter?  What should you do next, or what could you do?

AM:  Well, at that point, once you’ve tried the nicely-worded amicable solution and tried to negotiate something, then at that point  you should escalate it. So you are looking to put in a formal written grievance and to activate the company’s grievance procedure.  If you are vulnerable in terms of ill health, then that could be disability discrimination against you, or if you are an older person, then that could be age discrimination, so you need to be raising that.  If they still don’t reply after a grievance, then you have got this concept of going to an Employment Tribunal, but really only as a last resort. At this point, we haven’t got that far with anyone yet, because it’s so new and we are still working this out as we go along and obviously we are updating our app.

DB:  You’ve been particularly good at walking us through that particular scenario.  So let’s talk about the app. I think it’s very clear why you’ve come up with it and I’m delighted also to read that it’s free of charge.  So, if people want to use this service, Alex, what do they need to do?

AM: You go to the Monaco Solicitors (my law firm’s) website and on the home page you can access it from there.  It’s free and you just answer a few questions there. You don’t actually have to download it (it’s a ‘web app’) so you answer the questions on the website.   When you’ve answered the questions, it outputs a letter and an advice email to yourself explaining all the points of the law that you need to know about. Also, that crucial letter to your employer which is weighted just right, with enough ‘carrot and stick’ in there to make them listen, but hopefully for you still to have a good employment relationship with them afterwards.

DB: So, it’s like a pro forma letter and they just fill in the gaps, right?

AM: Yes, well, you make it sound really simple, Duncan, but the law is horrifically complicated in this area……

DB:  I’m not suggesting that it’s anything but simple.  I just want to make sure that my listeners can benefit from it and not feel too daunted by it.  A final question: It’s very interesting that you’ve had to launch this at this particular time. Are we seeing some unscrupulous employers think to themselves ‘ I can use this particular crisis to dump some staff I don’t like’?

AM: I would like to stress that most employers are behaving very well, and everyone is pulling together at this time. There is a lot of optimism and people being nicer to each other.  But, yes, there are exceptions and we’ve seen some horrendous things. We’re seeing employers putting their staff on the furlough leave, so they are getting their 80% from the government,  but then they’re making them work. They are making them sign contracts and they are being asked to work overtime so when they come back from furlough, they have to make up all the hours that they spend at home, and the employer is still claiming the money from the government.  So yes, there are a few unscrupulous exceptions out there, unfortunately and one can only hope that they will be uncovered in time.

DB: Yes, so good luck Alex, and if you could just remind us of the website again.

AM: Yes, thanks a lot Duncan.  So, it’s monacosolicitors.co.uk.  You can  search it online. The app is free to use and we are just hoping that it helps people at this time.

DB:  Thanks Alex, that’s really interesting.

‘That’s Alex Monaco, founder of Monaco Solicitors, creator of this new app, which may be of use to you.  I hope you don’t need to use it but at least there is some support out there.’

Next steps for you

If you believe your employer is unfairly treating you because of your absence or pay relating to Coronavirus situations like those outlined above, Monaco Solicitors may be able to help.

Our free coronavirus employment rights app  (discussed above) generates a written advice letter for you, plus an example letter to your employer.

Our overview guide on coronavirus and employee rights, together with our other related articles are listed below and should give you a better understanding of your various rights at work in the covid-19 pandemic.

If you think you need a lawyer to take your case, including on a no win no fee basis, please request a free consultation.

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