Coronavirus Work Rights | UK Advice for Coronavirus from Unite
Last updated: 8 July 2022
Covid-19 restrictions were replaced by public health advice for England in April 2022 reducing the spread of respiratory infections, including Covid-19, in the workplace
See updated information in all nations below:
Both the government and HSE are issued guidance which supports the premise that every employer need not explicitly consider Covid-19 in their health and safety risk assessment. Instead advising employers that they may choose to continue to cover Covid-19 in their risk assessments. See HSE guidance here: Coronavirus (Covid-19) – Advice for workplaces (hse.gov.uk)
At present there is increasing prevalence of a new variant of Omicron circulating: Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 which is causing a significant increase in cases in the UK and elsewhere. At present there is currently no evidence that Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 cause more severe illness than previous variants. See the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) COVID-19 variant technical briefing 43
Infection rate and hospital admissions are rising significantly and there is an increase in deaths from COVID 19. Unite is advising that officers and reps to should continue negotiating with employers to retain risk assessments for Covid-19.
Large employers Unite is involved with are starting to put in place a more generic approach and assessing risks around respiratory infections in general, which Includes Covid-19. Controls such as good ventilation and welfare provision need to be in place and will continue to be enforced by the HSE.
PLEASE NOTE: Government, public health and other official advice and guidance on Covid-19 is changing on a daily basis. In depth guidance can be found by accessing links below.
Main Unite guidance
- Updated Unite detailed Health & Safety guidance on coronavirus/Covid-19 for officers and reps [PDF].
- The latest Unite advice on risk assessments/procedures [PDF].
Please also see all the following Unite coronavirus work and employment rights' guides:
- Covid-19 Guide on Ventilation and CO2 monitoring [PDF]
- Unite guidance on face coverings [PDF]
- Unite Covid-19 and construction guide [PDF]
- Covid-19: Unite guide to workplace equality impact assessments [PDF]
- Advice on your legal right to a safe place of work [PDF]
- Home working [PDF]
- Mental Health [PDF]
- TUC's call to government on Protecting Workers’ Safety in the Coronavirus pandemic [PDF]
- Unite Legal Services' redundancy guide for members [PDF]
Check the official government issued guidance on support for workers, public services and businesses related to Coronavirus Employment Rights, while the government's critical workers list is here (scroll down to see the full list of Coronavirus response critical sectors and essential workers).
Below is a list of frequently asked questions tailored by Unite's legal department to quickly access a broad range of information and resources on Coronavirus-related issues, including support measures provided by the union and advice on employment rights. This includes advice and guidance on the new Coronavirus job retention scheme and the self-employed scheme.
Howard Beckett – assistant general secretary, political & legal affairs
Updates regarding Coronavirus employment rights ⬇
UK public health advice regarding COVID-19 is provided by the four devolved health authorities:-
In England, Public Health England (PHE)
In Northern Ireland, the Public Health Authority
In Scotland, NHS Scotland
In Wales, Public Health Wales
PHE has published COVID-19 advice for employees, employers and businesses, which is being updated on an ongoing basis and can be accessed in full, read the PHE advice on coronavirus and employment.
Additional PHE guidance has been published for certain sectors; including education, hostels/day centres, prisons/places of detention, residential/social care, shipping/ports, transport and health professionals, which can be accessed via sector guidance for Coronavirus, employment rights and more.
As the UK Government moves to encourage those who cannot work from home in England to return to the workplace and more employers look to re-open or increase staffing levels in workplaces, Unite’s advice on your legal right to a safe place of work can be accessed here.
The latest advice regarding Coronavirus employment rights ⬇
This means individuals are to remain at home and to limit their contact with others. In some cases, employees may be able to work from home while in self-isolation. However, in many cases, if an employee is unable to attend their place of work, they will be unable to work, e.g. those working in frontline services such as the care sector, healthcare, cleaning, hospitality, catering and the emergency services.
Detailed advice on isolation is provided by all UK health authorities’ dedicated COVID-19 hubs (links above) and read the latest PHE version of guidance on coronavirus and isolation.
Who should isolate?
The advice on who should self-isolate is something that has changed several times as the situation evolves. Whilst previous advice on self-isolation applied only to those travelling back from an area where COVID-19 was known to be prevalent or present with symptoms or in close contact with someone with COVID-19, this has changed.
Current advice (see last update time/date above) is if you have symptoms of coronavirus infection (COVID-19), however mild, do not leave your home for at least 10 days from when your symptoms started.
If you live alone, you should stay at home for 10 days from when your symptoms started.
if you live with others and you or one of them have symptoms of coronavirus, then all household members must stay at home and not leave the house for 10 days. The 10-day period starts from the day when the first person in the house became ill;
it is likely that people living within a household will infect each other or be infected already. Staying at home for 10 days will greatly reduce the overall amount of infection the household could pass on to others in the community;
for anyone in the household who starts displaying symptoms, they need to stay at home for 10 days from when the symptoms appeared, regardless of what day they are on in the original isolation period;
if you can, move any vulnerable individuals (such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions) out of your home, to stay with friends or family for the duration of the home isolation period;
if you cannot move vulnerable people out of your home, stay away from them as much as possible.
The most common symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) are recent onset of:
a new continuous cough;
a high temperature; and/or
a loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste or smell (anosmia)
UK health authorities advise that for most people, coronavirus (COVID-19) will be a mild infection.
The latest information regarding Coronavirus work rights, plus government updates on UK advice for Coronavirus ⬇
Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is available for eligible individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 or those who are unable to work because they are self-isolating in line with Government advice.
SSP is payable from day one instead of day four for affected individuals.
People who are advised to self-isolate for COVID-19 are to obtain an alternative to the fit note to cover this by contacting NHS 111, rather than visiting a doctor. This can be used by employees where their employers require evidence.
Those who are not eligible for SSP, for example the self-employed or people earning below the Lower Earnings Limit of £118 per week, can now make a claim for Universal Credit or Contributory Employment and Support Allowance:
for the duration of the outbreak, the requirements of the Universal Credit Minimum Income Floor have been temporarily relaxed for those who have COVID-19 or are self-isolating according to government advice, ensuring self-employed claimants will receive support
people are to claim Universal Credit and access advance payments upfront without the current requirement to attend a jobcentre if they are advised to self-isolate
contributory Employment and Support Allowance will be payable, at a rate of £73.10 a week if you are over 25, for eligible people affected by COVID-19 or self-isolating in line with advice from Day 1 of sickness, rather than Day 8.
On 9 April the government confirmed that employees who are self-isolating or on sick leave can be placed on ‘furlough’ and paid in accordance with the new job retention scheme, although businesses cannot claim funding for SSP and furlough pay for the same period.
See the question below for more information what you should be paid if you are ‘furloughed’.
The latest updates regarding Coronavirus work rights ⬇
Whether an employee who self-isolates without symptoms will have a contractual entitlement to receive sick pay may vary. This will depend on how the employee’s employment contract defines the right to sick pay. Under many employment contracts, employees have no right to sick pay unless they are incapable of working. However, since statutory sick pay was previously payable only in respect of the period of “incapacity for work”, it is good practice for employers to pay contractual sick pay to those advised to self-isolate due to coronavirus.
Unite is seeking agreements with all employers and government support to maintain normal pay to those who self-isolate.
On 9 April the Government confirmed that employees who are self-isolating or on sick leave can be placed on ‘furlough’ and paid in accordance with the new job retention scheme – see the next question for more information regarding the scheme and your coronavirus employment rights.
The latest updates regarding your Coronavirus workplace and employment rights ⬇
Unless there is a clause in the contract of employment which allows the employer to withhold pay if there is no work, the employer will be acting in breach of contract if they temporarily close the workplace and do not pay employees. This is known as lay off.
Home working is not lay off and full pay should be maintained where home working is agreed.
Where Unite is recognised employers should consult with the union before closing any workplaces.
On 20 March the government announced it would be introducing the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which will provide employers with financial support to continue paying workers laid off (or “furloughed” as they are referring to lay off) because of the Coronavirus outbreak:
The scheme will pay up to 80% of workers’ wages (capped at £2,500 gross per month) from 1 March 2020. Unite is calling on all employers to pay wages in full.
The scheme includes all workers that are paid by PAYE and were on the payroll on 28 February 2020, including those on zero hour, casual, part-time, agency, umbrella company, apprenticeship and fixed term contracts.
If your pay varies, the government funding is an average of your pay during the last 2019/20 tax year or your pay for the same month last year (whichever is higher) This includes overtime, shift pay and non-discretionary commission payments.
Your employer must lay you off for a period of at least three weeks to claim funding. They should still pay your wages when they are due.
Your employment rights continue whilst you are laid off.
Employees who are on sick leave or self-isolating can be placed on furlough and paid under the scheme if the employer choses to lay you off.
Employees who are shielding in line with public health guidance (or need to stay home with someone who is shielding) can be paid under the scheme.
The scheme covers employees who have been made redundant since 28 February 2020, if they are rehired by their employer.
The scheme covers employees that started unpaid leave after 28 February 2020.
Employees who are unable to work because they have caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus can be paid under the scheme – this includes employees who need to look after children.
The scheme covers employees that transferred under TUPE or a change of business ownership after 28 February 2020, provided the TUPE or PAYE business succession rules apply to the change.
This means there is no reason employers need to lay off anyone without pay or make any redundancies. Employers can re-employ anyone they have already dismissed and obtain funding to pay their wages.
Unite will challenge any Bad Bosses that make redundancies or do not rehire members they have already dismissed since the outbreak. You should contact your Unite rep or officer for advice if this affects you.
There are separate rules that would normally apply when employees are laid off, including a statutory guaranteed payment for one week and if laid off for four weeks or more without pay, the right to claim redundancy pay. But employers should not be laying off any workers without pay whilst the job retention scheme is running and funding is available to them. See Unite’s guidance on lay offs that would otherwise apply.
The latest government guidance regarding the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme can be accessed on the Coronavirus employment rights webpage.
Schools in the UK are closed due to COVID-19 aside from for vulnerable children and children of health, care and other key workers. In these circumstances, employees are able to take that time off to help their dependants, as identified in s. 57A Employment Rights Act 1996. Specifically, there has been an unexpected disruption to the arrangements to care for the dependant, an incident at school, or where the dependant is ill.
Unite is calling on all employers to maintain working parents’ normal pay during the Coronavirus outbreak.
Where possible and practical home care for school aged children should be balanced with home working. Home working should be paid in full.
On 4 April the government guidance on the Job Retention Scheme was updated to confirm that employees who are unable to work because they have caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus (COVID-19), including those that need to look after children, can be furloughed – see previous question.
Check the government guidance on maintaining educational provision for schools, childcare providers, colleges and local authorities in England including the key critical workers list.
The latest Coronavirus workplace rights' guides, plus government updates on UK advice for Coronavirus ⬇
Following pressure from Unite, on 26 March the chancellor announced the Self-employed Income Support Scheme, which will provide the financial support to the self-employed members whose income is up to £50,000. Key points of the scheme released so far are:
It will pay the self-employed that have lost profits due to COVID-19 a taxable grant worth 80% of average monthly income up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.
The scheme is only open to those with trading profits of up to £50k. The Self-employed whose profits exceed this will not qualify for any payment.
Income will be calculated by taking the average of income over the last three years, based on the individual’s self-assessment tax returns (for the 16/17, 17/18 and 18/19 tax years) or, if trading for less than 3 years, based on the tax returns you have submitted.
Self-employed members can claim these grants and continue to do business, provided you have lost profits due to Coronavirus (which is different to the employee scheme, where employees have to remain at home).
The scheme is only open to individuals who make the majority of income from self-employment. If you are employed but have a 'side job' which is self-employed, you will not be eligible for a self-employed grant
The scheme is only open to those who have submitted a tax return for 2019 (to minimise fraud). However, the deadline has been extended for anyone who did not submit their tax return by the due date of 31 January 2020. If you have not yet submitted your 2018/19 tax return, you had four weeks (until 23 April 2020) to submit this.
You then do not need to take any further steps. HMRC will contact the eligible self-employed directly inviting them to fill out an online form and then pay the grant straight into their bank account.
The scheme will be open for at least 3 months. However, the scheme is unlikely to be up and running before June, so it will not help with immediate cash flow issues.
For full Coronavirus employment rights and advice check the government’s site. Please note the warning regarding scams and be vigilant.
Until the scheme goes live the only option for self-employed prevented from working due to Coronavirus is to claim Universal credit and any other qualifying benefits. The minimum income floor for Universal Credit has been removed.
The latest Coronavirus work rights and government updates on COVID-19 ⬇
The government and Acas advise that businesses encourage their employees to work at home, wherever possible. If the employee does not wish to attend work, and is not in one of the groups advised to self-isolate, the employer must listen to the concerns of the employee.
If there are genuine concerns, the employer must try to resolve them to protect the health and safety of their staff. Acas suggests that the employer could consider offering flexible working or agree with the employee to take time off as holiday or unpaid leave. However, there is no obligation on an employer to agree.
An employee who has 26 weeks’ continuous service has a statutory right to request flexible working. An employer can refuse a request on a number of statutory business grounds. It is also important to be aware that any change to the contract is permanent unless the employer agrees it is for a temporary period.
Flexible working may not be possible for a large number of workers, particularly frontline workers. It is not hard to imagine a situation where employees say they are unwilling to attend work because one or more work colleagues are not following hygiene rules and they fear they are being placed at increased risk. In such situations, the employer will need to consider the employee’s concerns very carefully before deciding how to respond. In addition, in some cases the anxiety caused by the outbreak of COVID-19 may itself render the employee unfit to work and entitled to sick pay.
Where employees are required to be in attendance at the workplace, employers should be ensuring social distancing and have adequately facilities to adhere to COVID-19 public health guidance.
More detailed updates on Coronavirus work rights and government advice ⬇
The government advises businesses to ensure that employees who are in a vulnerable/at risk group are strongly advised to follow the social distancing guidance
On 16 March 2020 the government provided the following detailed list of the groups they advise to be at risk, which includes those who are:
aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)
under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (i.e. anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds):
chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy
problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed
a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
being seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)
those who are pregnant
Note: there are some clinical conditions which put people at even higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Make sure you know your coronavirus work rights. Those in this extremely vulnerable risk category, should have been contacted from 23 March 2020 by the NHS with advice on the more stringent shielding measures they should take for 12 weeks from receipt of their letter in order to keep themselves and others safe. For now, they should rigorously follow the social distancing advice in full. People falling into this group are those who may be at particular risk due to complex health problems such as:
people who have received an organ transplant and remain on ongoing immunosuppression medication
people with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radiotherapy
people with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia who are at any stage of treatment
people with severe chest conditions such as cystic fibrosis or severe asthma (requiring hospital admissions or courses of steroid tablets)
people with severe diseases of body systems, such as severe kidney disease (dialysis)
If you fall into any of these above at risk groups, you should inform your employer of your health status immediately. The employer must perform a risk assessment to assess your likely exposure to COVID-19 and any mitigating control measures that can be enacted, then implement these as soon as possible to provide a safe working environment. This may require you to work from home, stagger working time – arrival and departure - where possible, or change job roles whilst the COVID-19 virus is at large in the population.
If an employee has a disability defined by the Equality Act 2010 which could compromise their immune system or pose a higher risk of developing severe COVID-19, the employer may have a legal duty under the Act to make reasonable adjustments to the employee’s working arrangements.
Employees are required to follow reasonable management instructions related to coronavirus workplace rights. If an employer requires employees to follow the PHE guidance (e.g. coughing into the crook of an arm) and has informed employees of the same but the employee does not comply, the employer will be entitled to take disciplinary action.
If there are concerns about coronavirus and workplace rights, members should raise this with their Unite health and safety rep and/or line manager immediately.
Ultimately employees are entitled to remove themselves from the workplace if there is a real risk of serious and imminent danger, which they could not be expected to avert. You can access Unite’s advice on your legal right to a safe place of work here.
Any Unite member that finds themselves in this position should if possible consult their Unite rep or officer before taking action. Unite will challenge any employer that does not adhere to COVID-19 health guidance and fails to follow proper guidelines related to coronavirus workplace rights.
Coronavirus workplace rights and foreign travel advice ⬇
Since 17 March 2020, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised against all non-essential international travel. This advice currently applies for an indefinite period.
International freight transport (by air, ship, road and rail, including roll-on/roll-off transports) is deemed an essential activity in the context of travel advice. The FCO advice against non-essential travel does not apply to this industry. Employers in the freight transport industry need to consider whether their assignments are compatible with their duty to safeguard the employee’s health. If satisfied that the employee can reasonably be required to work in the country/area in question, steps should still be taken to reduce the employee’s risk of contracting the disease. Check the current government guidance for the freight transport industry.
Since COVID-19 reached the UK, there have been reports of targeting of people of Chinese origin.
No racial group should be singled out for less favourable treatment. Should such treatment occur at work, employers can be liable for harassment or discrimination by their employees towards other employees. Unless, that is, they have taken reasonable steps to prevent such conduct. Make sure you know about your coronavirus workplace rights. Reasonable steps, typically including having equalities' policies in place, appropriate training given on those policies and ensuring that inappropriate behaviour is tackled.
For professionally regulated persons - for example, solicitors and barristers, doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals, accountants and those working in the financial services sector - involvement in such discrimination or harassment or failure to deal with these issues appropriately may have implications for their professional registration or fitness and propriety, as applicable.
Unite is providing and collating the latest information regarding Coronavirus work rights, plus lonks to government updates on UK advice for Coronavirus ⬇
Unite officers and reps are standing up for you and holding employers to account. We are seeking the best possible agreements from employers to keep members safe, provide support and protect pay and jobs in these unchartered times.
Unite is leading pressure on government to keep businesses resilient and to pressurise government to provide direct support to the workforce, such as has been provided in other nations. We are determined to hold the government to its promise to `do whatever it takes'. We have called for the government to address the economic emergency that has followed from this health emergency and reiterated that the government must act to protect health and avert hardship, which led to the job retention and the self-employed income protection schemes.
Unite is pressing the government for urgent payments to be made under both schemes.
Unite will take any employer to task that makes redundancies or does not re-hire members that have been dismissed due to coronavirus now that funding for wages is available. Make sure you know your Coronavirus workplace rights.
More detail on Coronavirus workplace rights and government advice ⬇
If Unite members need advice on a COVID-19 related employment law query that is not covered by the information above and your workplace rep is not available, you can call Unite’s dedicated COVID-19 Legal Advice Line on 0333 202 6557.
Unite has set up a specialist legal team to advise and represent members who have suffered injury as a result of Covid-19.
If you have suffered injury from developing Covid-19, or have tragically lost a family member to the condition, then please call Unite’s Covid-19 PI team on 0800 709 007.
Coronavirus workplace rights and government advice ⬇
Unite has launched a helpline and volunteer care service for its vulnerable members during the coronavirus crisis.
All UK-based Unite members can call the helpline number 0330 1072351. The helpline is fully staffed between 08:00 until 19:00 Monday to Friday with an overflow service at other hours. A Unite volunteer will then be assigned to assist anyone who needs help with picking up shopping, posting mail, collecting urgent supplies, such as prescriptions, or simply talking to those who are experiencing loneliness. More information on the Unite volunteer service.