Updated: 18 March 2020 at 11:50 am
As the COVID-19 virus spreads, find out what your rights at work are if taking sick leave or self-isolating.
We have received an increasing number of enquiries on what employers – and members – should do to minimise the risk of infection at this worrying time.
The issues and risks will vary depending on the sector you are working in, so UNISON has been proactive in negotiating jointly agreed advice in a number of sectors.
For additional information on COVID-19 see list of resources below.
What should I do if I believe I may have the symptoms of, or have had close contact with someone who has had, COVID-19?
For the latest information on symptoms, what you should do and how long you should self-isolate, see the “staying at home information” from NHS UK.
For additional information on COVID-19 see list of resources below.
If I have to self-isolate, will I be paid?
The health secretary has sent guidance to employers telling them staff who have been asked to self-isolate are entitled to take the time as sick leave.
Although this would be good practice and has already been agreed for NHS staff and the majority of local government staff, this in itself does not guarantee that staff will get sick leave as a matter of course.
Speak to your UNISON branch if you are concerned your employer is not following the guidance.
Sick pay for coronavirus
Statutory sick pay is now available from the first day you are off sick, and if you are paid less than £118 a week you will be able to access Universal Credit or Contributory Employment and Support Allowance more easily.
Unfortunately, if you’re on a zero-hours contract you are not entitled to statutory sick pay unless you can demonstrate that you earn at least £118 per week from your employer.
We are urging the government to help those on zero-hours contracts.
If you get contractual sick pay (a rate agreed by your employer), it is good practice to ensure that such absence is not counted towards any sickness absence policy triggers.
This has been agreed for NHS staff and the majority of local government staff (ie those covered by national joint council (NJC) terms and conditions.) A similar agreement is in place for local authority workers in Scotland whose terms and conditions are agreed at the Scottish joint council (SJC). UNISON Scotland issued an update on this in early March.
If I am disabled or have an underlying condition can my employer refuse home working?
Although there are some jobs where it is not possible to work from home, current government advice is that everyone should work from home if at all possible.
For people with an underlying health condition the government “strongly advises” that you work from home. Employers should therefore consider whether you can be temporarily re-deployed to a role that would allow home working for the duration of this crisis.
If your employer is not allowing you to work from home please contact your local UNISON branch for help.
If I’m disabled or have underlying health conditions will I need to stay in my home for a prolonged period?
The government has asked everyone to reduce social contact. This is called “social distancing”.
However, older and disabled people and those with underlying conditions are the most at risk from COVID-19. The government says that those in the most at-risk groups (people who are instructed to get a flu jab due each year) should be particularly “stringent” about social distancing.
If you have an underlying health condition the government strongly advises that you:
- work from home if possible;
- avoid non-essential travelling;
- avoid large gatherings or those in small spaces, including pubs, clubs, restaurants, cinemas or theatres;
- avoid gatherings with friends or family and instead use technology to stay in touch;
- access GP services by phone instead of in person.
What happens if I receive sickness or disability related benefits?
The government has announced that face-to-face health assessments for sickness and disability benefits will be suspended for three months.
This means you should continue to receive PIP (personal Independence payments), ESA (employment support allowance) and industrial injuries disablement benefit without having to attend a face-to -ace appointment.
If you have an outstanding assessment appointment that has not been postponed please contact the phone number on the letter to make sure it has been postponed.
What protective equipment should I be getting from my employer?
This will depend on what you do, with whom, and where you are working. Your employer must carry out a full risk assessment and provide you with all the specialist training and the personal protective equipment (PPE) (gowns/aprons, masks, gloves, etc) that you may require.
It is recommended that as a minimum staff caring for patients with confirmed COVID-19 or suspected cases undergoing “aerosol generating procedure” should be provided with FFP3 respirator, disposable eye protection (preferably visor), long-sleeved disposable gown and gloves.
Staff caring for a patient with unconfirmed cases should be provided with fluid-resistant surgical mask, gloves, apron and eye protection if there’s a risk of splashing into the eyes.
For additional information on the sector or country you are working in see list of resources below.
Cleaning in non-healthcare (including educational settings)
If you are cleaning an area where there have been possible or confirmed cases, you should as a minimum be provided with disposable gloves and apron. Hands should be washed with soap and water after all PPE has been removed.
Where a higher level of contamination may have been present (for example, where unwell individuals have slept such as a room where there is visible contamination with body fluids), then the need for additional PPE such as a surgical face mask and full-face visor should be considered.
For additional information on the sector or country you are working in see list of resources below. This includes advice on cleaning in healthcare settings.
What should UNISON branches do if cleaning or other services are contracted out to private companies?
Branches should ensure that contracted-out staff receive the same protections and rights, as far as possible, as those employed directly.
This may involve initiating discussions with the main employer as well as with the contractor to ensure a joined-up approach is taken for the benefit of both service users and staff.
What else do I need to know to keep my patients, clients, pupils and colleagues safe?
The Department for Education has a new helpline for questions related to the virus and education for staff, parents and young people. Please call 0800 046 8687. Lines open 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.
Universities UK is providing updated advice for the higher education sector on the coronavirus on their webpages. UNISON is approaching the national employers asking for urgent discussions to develop more detailed advice for staff.
For social or community care and residential settings, including what to do if colleagues or residents are being tested for COVID-19, and what to do if cases are confirmed, see list of additional resources below
Local authorities should be reminded that they still have a responsibility – even where care services have been contracted out.
General advice for the public on COVID 19, the nature of disease and precautions they should take.
Further information on pay, terms and conditions
Specific guidance for those working in the NHS.
For staff working in England, there is additional advice from Public Health England including detailed sectoral advice on infection control measures regarding staff, patients, pupils, students and other members of the public.
There is general advice for members in Scotland from the Scottish government.