In addition to running this wellness business I'm also an employment solicitor. I have put together this factsheet with the answers to frequently asked employment law questions for both employees and employers. I hope it helps at this challenging time.
Employers - small businesses
My business has gone dead, no one is coming in. What if I have to shut down until things pick up?
Check your employee’s contracts for a lay off and short time working clause. If you have these clauses in the contracts you should be able impose lay offs (temporarily requiring your employees not to work and not paying them) or short time working (reducing their hours) without needing any agreement or input from your staff.
If you don’t have this clause you may be able to get you employees to agree to sign one now - this seems unlikely but many employees would elect to be laid off or put on short time working on a temporary basis with the hope that things will settle and pick up, rather than losing their job entirely.
If you don’t have the contractual power to lay off, and staff won’t agree to it now your options are to ask them to take as much holiday as they can and / or to consider starting a redundancy process. Many businesses will want to start with short servers (i.e. those who have worked for you for less than two years because you usually don’t need to have a long consultation process as rights to claim unfair dismissal are very limited at this point and there won’t be any redundancy pay owing at this point)
If i do have lay staff off how long can i do this for?
There’s actually no time limit but if you have completely laid them off or you have been paying less than half a week's pay for 4 consecutive weeks or 6 weeks in a block of 13, staff can then ask you to make them redundant and if you don’t expect to have at least 13 weeks work to offer them within the next 4 weeks at that point you will have to comply.
Do i have to pay anything at all to staff who are laid off and if not how will they manage?
There is a statutory guarantee payment based on their pay up to a maximum of £29 per day for up to 5 workless days in a 3 month period. So a maximum of £145.
For staff in this position please advise them that they should apply for Universal Credit - hopefully the government will make the application process for this a lot quicker in light of the current situation.
What about staff who have to Isolate?
See the section for employees as I’ve addressed this there.
Note - the government have indicated that SSP which is now payable from Day 1 if in relation to Coronavirus will be recoverable for small business (under 250 employees) although they haven’t set this up yet and we’re not clear as to exactly which date it will be recoverable from.
What if i have to isolate because I catch the virus?
This is normal sick leave and you will be paid what you normally are for sick leave with the exception that SSP (Statutory Sick Pay) is now payable from day 1 rather than there being 3 waiting days.
If you have contractual sick pay over and above SSP you should receive this for your absence as you are sick.
What if I’m not sick but have to isolate due to government and/or medical advice because of being in contact with someone infected?
You will be classed as sick for the purposes of SSP so entitled to receive that from day 1 but this will most likely not apply to contractual sick pay from your employer. That’ll be at their discretion and most small employers I’ve spoken to are struggling with the prospect of widespread absence and a downturn in trade so be prepared to just receive SSP which they will now be able to recover from the government.
The best case scenario if you are isolating as a precaution is that you work from home and in that case you would be paid as normal.
What if i’m not sick, haven’t been advised to isolate but am still anxious that i might have caught it and want to isolate as a precaution
If you aren’t sick and haven’t been advised to isolate you are voluntarily absenting yourself from work so you aren’t entitled to sick pay. Although if you are experiencing significant anxiety this in itself is a medical issue and you could report sick for work with anxiety.
What if i’m not sick, there’s no medical or government advice to isolate but my employer or colleagues/clients are anxious about me having caught it (maybe you’ve come back from a more affected country recently) and as such they won’t let me come to work?
Your employer would have to pay you in this instance, if you’re set up to work from home they could ask you do this or ask if you’d be willing to take holiday, but otherwise if they are preventing you from coming to work and there is no official advice underlying this then you should be paid.
What if I get laid off or have my hours reduced?
See the section for employers for the procedures employers have to follow before they can do this. While you’re laid off think about looking for casual work in the meantime (some businesses are busier than usual at this time)- check your contractually permitted to do whatever work you’re planning. Otherwise you can also apply for Universal Credit to help tide you over.
Link to criteria for lay offs/short time working
At the time of writing this is the current position from the government
Now the risk in the UK has gone from moderate to high the distinction between countries i.e. Category 1 and 2 has been replaced by the following;
“We are asking anyone who shows certain symptoms to self-isolate for 7 days, regardless of whether they have travelled to affected areas. This means we want people to stay at home and avoid all but essential contact with others for 7 days from the point of displaying mild symptoms, to slow the spread of infection.
The symptoms are: * A high temperature (37.8 degrees and above) (and/or) * A new, continuous cough
You do not need to call NHS 111 to go into self-isolation. If your symptoms worsen during home isolation or are no better after 7 days contact NHS 111 online at 111.nhs.uk. If you have no internet access, you should call NHS 111. For a medical emergency dial 999.
In the coming weeks, we will be introducing further social distancing measures for older and vulnerable people, asking them to self-isolate regardless of symptoms”: