Employment FAQs

We understand that as the Government advice continues to change, there is concern within our community surrounding returning to work, levels of risk and employment rights.

This page was last updated on 18 November 2020

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough scheme)

The UK Government has extended the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) or furlough scheme until 31 March 2021. The guidance relating to the CJRS makes it clear that people who are clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) should be eligible. You can read the full guidelines here.

Employers across all sectors should continue to facilitate working from home for staff who are CEV, wherever possible. If this is not feasible, furlough should be considered as an alternative. This applies even if the business or organisation stays open or continues to function normally.

If you feel that you may be eligible under the scheme, talk to your employer in the first instance. If you have received a shielding letter you can show this as evidence that you are considered to be CEV.

Statutory Sick Pay also exists as a safety net for individuals who are CEV, but whose employers either cannot or choose not to furlough them under the CJRS. It may also apply in cases where alternatives such as working from home or redeployment are not available.

Your rights as a carer

If you have caring responsibilities as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, you may also be eligible under the CJRS. This includes having to stay at home to care for a child who cannot attend school because they are CEV. Again, the first step is to speak to your employer about any policies that may already be in place. Employees have the right to take time off for dependants, although this is unpaid. You can also request flexible working arrangements if you have been employed for at least 26 weeks; and this should be accepted by the employer unless there are sound business reasons for not doing so.

If you cannot work from home, you may be eligible for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) under the ESA Coronavirus Regulations. You may also be entitled to Universal Credit, depending on the circumstances.

Frequently-asked questions

We have answered some of the most frequently-asked queries below, and this should be read in conjunction with the latest Government advice. We will continue to review the situation on a daily basis and to update this information as the advice changes.

Employment issues and rights in relation to COVID-19 for people living with Scleroderma and Raynaud's phenomenon are covered in this video presented by senior solicitor Stephen Robson. Stephen covers a range of questions and concerns about going back to work and your rights if you are shielding or just generally feeling anxious about how safe this will be. Stephen also clarifies that if the Government or your doctor have recommended that you shield, you should work from home if possible with the support of your employer. This is an excellent resource for the information you need to make the best decision based on your individual circumstances.

What is statutory sick pay (SSP) and what am I eligible for?

Organisations should have clear processes in place for sickness reporting and sick pay. Those who are absent from work because they are following Government advice to stay at home will be eligible for SSP from the first day of absence. A person can receive £94.25 per week under SSP, which will be paid by the employer for up to 28 weeks. This also applies to those who are not sick themselves but still have to stay at home and/or cannot work as the result of sickness, such as having to care for others in the same household or needing to quarantine. If a dependant of an employee (such as their child) starts to show symptoms of coronavirus, then the affected parent should receive SSP. People who are not eligible for sick pay, such as those earning less than £118 a week, those who are working in the gig economy or are self-employed, can claim Universal Credit and/or Employment and Support Allowance.

Employees are also entitled to take time off work if they are needed in relation to an unexpected event associated with coronavirus, such as helping a neighbour or relative by collecting their medications. Employers do not need to pay them for such time off, however this depends on their workplace policy.

The Government has urged employers to use their discretion surrounding the requirement for medical evidence in order to receive SSP, as this will reduce the burden placed on GPs. If evidence is needed, people who have symptoms of COVID-19 (or who are living with someone who does) can get an isolation note from NHS 111 here. Evidence such as a sick note is not needed for the first seven days of absence; and employers may use their discretion thereafter.

What should I do if someone in my household is in the 'high risk' group for coronavirus?

The whole household does not need to self-isolate if someone is classed as extremely clinically vulnerable, unless one of you is displaying symptoms (a high temperature, a new, continuous cough or the loss of or change to normal senses of taste and smell). The Government has recommended that you take extra precautions to minimise the likelihood of the vulnerable person being exposed to the virus, which can be found here. This includes minimising the time spent together in shared areas, such as the living room, and keeping these spaces well-ventilated.

If you are caring for someone who is shielding, then ideally you should be working from home. If you are unable to do this, furlough may be a suitable option. If your employer refuses, you still have the right to take time off work because they owe a duty of care, and it could constitute a breach of your employment contract if you have a dependant who is living with a chronic condition, such as scleroderma.

Your employer does not have to grant you paid leave; and taking time off for dependants is usually unpaid unless otherwise stated in your contract. This would normally only be for a few days, to allow enough time to organise care arrangements, however it is possible that for many people these arrangements have fallen through due to the ongoing pandemic. You therefore have a right to take further time off for dependants if necessary. Unpaid parental leave is also an option for those with children aged under 18. You may take up to four weeks off annually, however your employer can postpone this leave if it would cause disruption to the business, which they cannot do for requested time off for dependants. If you are a key worker and your child is in the 'very high risk' group for coronavirus, you do not have to send them to school if you are able to continue caring for them at home. You also have a right to take time off work to arrange childcare.

The Government has encouraged employers to be understanding and socially responsible by acknowledging the needs and concerns of their staff, especially when they have care responsibilities. Acas is available for further information and advice on resolving in-work disputes.

I am classed as high risk and work as a key worker. Should I go on sickness absence or not?

If you have been instructed to shield beyond the initial 12-week period, that would be regarded as sickness absence. Depending on job contract you should receive at least SSP, in which case you can ask your employer to furlough you, since they will incur no expense in doing so. If you are working for a public sector body, they should not be able apply to the job retention scheme. For NHS staff, depending on your length of service and sickness absence entitlement, you could receive full pay for six months and half pay for a further six months.

Can I be furloughed even though I have had a shielding letter? Can furlough be used if a company is still trading? My employers say it cannot.

Yes, it can. The Government job retention scheme does allow an employer to furlough some employees and not others. There are businesses that are not closing completely and operating with reduced staff numbers. If an employee is furloughed, employers can claim 80% of salary for a three-week period. Vulnerable employees can be furloughed and the employer can claim the costs back from the job retention scheme.

I am not in the 'high risk' category and still have to go into work. What steps should my employer be taking to protect my health and that of my colleagues?

Employers have a duty of care to their staff and wherever possible, all workplaces should be making every effort to support their staff in working from home. This is of course not possible for everyone, including those employed in the food supply chain or as transport workers and delivery agents, as well as vital NHS staff working on the frontline. In these instances, employers should remind their staff to wash their hands regularly for 20 seconds and to catch sneezes and coughs in tissues, alongside providing hand sanitiser. Additionally, as this is a distressing and challenging time for many of us, employers should continue to provide updates on the actions and procedures that are in place to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace; as well as ensuring those who have been told to shield themselves are supported in doing so. Further guidance for employers can be found here.

I work in a nursery that is not closing and I really need advice, since if I am isolating I will only get Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). I also have a child to look after and his school is only open from 8:45 - 3:30pm, however my boss wants us to work from 7:15 - 6pm every day. I am a single parent with no help, so what can I do?

You are classed as a key worker and your institution is required to stay open by the Government. Your normal employment contract will remain the same. Your employer cannot force you to work longer hours. You are only obliged to work these hours. By doing so, you will be able to provide childcare.

I work in a supermarket and my employer is insisting that I attend work. Unless I have been put in the shielding category and can provide medical evidence, what are my rights? Also, what steps should my employer be taking to protect my health?

If you are clinically extremely vulnerable your employer must accept this. You could work from home, but if this is not possible your employer still cannot expect you to attend work. Therefore, the ideal situation is for your employer to furlough you and claim your salary from central funds. Whilst they are entitled to do this there is no requirement on their part, and this can lead to difficulty. Ultimately if you are not going to work because you have been told to self-isolate, all you will be entitled to is SSP every week.

Someone who is not in the clinically extremely vulnerable category will be required to come to work. Government guidance is that your employer is under an obligation to carry out a risk assessment to make sure you are safe. Employees who are vulnerable should be placed in the safest posts or workspace within the workplace. If your employers cannot provide a safe environment for you to work, or if attending work would present a danger to your health, The Employment Rights Act 1996 provides that you should not be penalised for non-attendance. If your employer claims that they have covered the risks and you disagree, your legal position will depend upon whether your decision not to attend work is a reasonable one.

What can I do if my employer is requesting written evidence that I need to self-isolate?

People unable to work for more than seven days because of COVID-19, either because they have symptoms or they live with someone who does, are able to obtain an 'isolation note' through the Government online service. This will provide employees with evidence that they have been advised to self-isolate due to COVID-19. You can get an 'isolation note' by visiting NHS 111 online, rather than from a doctor. For coronavirus cases this replaces the usual requirement to provide a 'fit note' (sometimes called a 'sick note') after seven days of sickness absence. Once your employer has the note, you will be entitled to SSP which will start from day one of your isolation.

Can you be classed as disabled due to having scleroderma and Raynaud's?

Whether or not you have a disability due to having scleroderma and Raynaud's comes down to meeting the definition of 'disabled,' which is referenced in the Equality Act 2010. Simply having a diagnosis does not automatically mean that you are disabled. For conditions such cancer, MS or HIV, you are classed as disabled; however in other cases, this will depend on the degree to which you are affected by your condition. Scleroderma and Raynaud's do not affect everyone in the same way. Does the condition have a substantial effect on your ability to carry out day-to-day activities? To determine this from a work perspective, many employers will ask for an occupational health assessment, as they may need to make adjustments to your working environment.

I am over 70 with systemic sclerosis. My lungs and digestive tract are affected. I am now a patient at the Royal Free Hospital. I also have hypertension. I work and have taken myself into isolation as I am worried about contracting COVID-19 with my underlying illness. However, I require a medical letter for my employer to cover my job and salary whilst I am away from work. Please could you help me?

You only get a letter if you are classed as being clinically extremely vulnerable. You do not get a letter if you are concerned about getting COVID-19. Just being worried about the condition does not give you any extra rights. If you say in these circumstances, 'I am concerned to come to work because I will contract COVID-19', your employer might say that you will not get paid for that time. Your employer does have an obligation to look after your health and safety. If you have a reasonable belief that attending work puts your health at risk, you can say that you cannot attend work because of this. You are protected from being dismissed and/or disciplined. Your rights are covered by the Public Interest Disclosure Act. This comes down to the nature of the risk to your health and whether you cannot attend because of this risk. The ideal situation would be for your employer to place you on furlough and reclaim the money.

What happens if your employer ignores the 12-week letter and demands that you go in?

The shielding 12-week letter from your doctor or NHS England is an instruction to avoid all social content. You are not required to attend your workplace. Whilst you are entitled to SSP during that time, your employer cannot discipline or dismiss you. The Government letter overrides that.

I am a 62-year-old woman with systemic sclerosis. I work, and although I am not in the shielding category I have taken myself into isolation as I am worried about contracting COVID-19 with my underlying illness. My employer requires a medical note to cover my job and salary whilst I am away from work. Unfortunately. there is no guidance on this, and I don't know what to do next, which is making me very anxious. Please can you help?

Unfortunately, the simple fact you are concerned does not necessarily mean you have to avoid work. If you can reasonably say that the risk is too great and therefore you should stay at home for health and safety reasons, you are safe from being penalised. You would not be entitled to any payment for that period unless you had a letter specifically instructing you to shield and stay off work. It is not possible to demand that your employer place you on furlough.

I work at the local hospital in the main X-ray department and have been informed that HR want me to go back. I have just been diagnosed with scleroderma and secondary Raynaud's last year. I have no Government letter and I do not feel comfortable returning to work due to my condition putting me at higher risk. Could this affect my employment or be a reason for dismissal? I cannot work from home so what are my options?

If you are a keyworker, your employer is entitled to ask you to return, however you can refuse on the grounds of health and safety if you can show that there is a reasonable concern that you would put yourself at risk if you attended. In those circumstances, your employer will not be able to discipline you, although you will not be paid or entitled to recieve SSP. The reason you are not at work is not because you are shielding or told to self-isolate, you are just concerned about the risks.

My mum has scleroderma and has been experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. I need to stay at home and care for her, am I allowed time off and what pay am I entitled to?

If you live with somebody with symptoms of COVID-19 you are required to self-isolate for a period of 14 days. You are entitled to SSP from day one of the isolation period. If after 14 days your relative still requires care, you have the statutory right to take reasonable time off work for dependents, until the person recovers. In normal circumstances this only applies until you could reasonably make alternative arrangements, however in the present situation this may be extended.

I am currently looking after my daughter who is shielding. I have been furloughed by my employer. What happens at the end of the shielding period and when furlough comes to an end?

This is an area which is not fully covered. The guidance does not require people who live with someone who is shielding to self-isolate as well, so they can still be required to attend work. The furlough scheme will be extended until October 2020, and an understanding employer would be sympathetic to the fact that you cannot return to work because of the risk to your daughter. You can extend your furlough, and if you have a good relationship with your employer that would be the best approach for dealing with this. If they are not supportive, you can take time off for dependents which would not be paid, however your job would be protected when shielding comes to an end.

I have a family member who is in the high-risk group and has been shielding because of her scleroderma. I am wary of putting her at risk and I am worried about her contracting the virus, would this be reason enough for my employers to allow me to work from home?

General guidance from the Government is that if you can work from home you should do so. If the job can be done remotely, your employer should allow you to do so.

I have Raynaud's, pulmonary embolism and am on medication, am I safe to go back to work in July 2020?

If you are within the shielding category and your GP does not think it is safe for you to return to work, you will be provided with another letter. If this is the case then you should not be required to attend the workplace. If your shielding letter has expired, you need to contact your GP and discuss with them whether it is safe to return to work or not. Your employer does have an obligation to look after your health and safety, particularly with your vulnerability. You have the right to refuse to work if you have a reasonable belief that your health is at risk if you do so.

I have suspected primary Raynaud's for years but never had a diagnosis since whenever I had an attack I was unable to see a GP. I am a key worker within a day centre for people with learning difficulties, but the number of attendees has dropped off, so I am working in an office at the moment with social distancing not being observed. I am frightened that I will catch COVID-19 and this will make the Raynaud's worse. I would like to know if I am vulnerable and should be shielding? Please can you advise me?

It is up to your GP to assess whether or not you should be shielding. As your job is office-based; it may be possible to do this from home. If you are a vulnerable person, the risks arising from the lack of social distancing will be enhanced. You may have the right not to attend work if you hold a reasonable belief that there is a danger to your health, however you must justify this to your employer.

I have taken myself into isolation as I am worried about contracting COVID-19 with my underlying illness. But I require a medical letter for my employer to cover my job and salary whilst I am away from work. I live alone, have no children and cannot find anyone to deal with this. What should I do?

Simply having scleroderma or Raynaud's does not automatically place you in the clinically extremely vulnerable category. Therefore, you have no absolute right to say you cannot attend work, and feeling anxious about contracting COVID-19 is not sufficient to miss work if you are a key worker. If there are specific risks to your health and you are concerned about this then things may be different. Your employer should carry out a risk assessment. If they recognise you as being vulnerable, they should put you in the least vulnerable position within the workplace. You cannot demand to be excused from work simply because you are concerned.

I have limited scleroderma with no impact on my lungs and I take no medication. I am going into work every day in a factory making electronic equipment. I need to catch four buses to and from work every day. I would like to know what vulnerable classification I come under, and whether I should be stopping work?

Unless you are clinically extremely vulnerable you are not entitled to stop work. Your employer needs to take reasonable steps for your health and safety. Whether your employer's duty also extends to your journey to and from work is something to discuss with them. If you cannot attend work because of your condition, they will not pay you unless they have agreed to furlough you. An understanding employer would do this, however if they do not, your rights are quite limited.

I have not had a shielding letter, however due to my diagnosis of limited scleroderma, Raynaud's and high blood pressure, I think I should have received one from my doctor. What should I do?

If you think you should be in the shielding group, you should get in touch with your doctor. Ultimately it is a medical assessment that will determine if you should be in the clinically extremely vulnerable group.

Further information

If you have further questions regarding your employment rights and COVID-19, contact the Disability Law Service or email advice@dls.org.uk. Alternatively, you can call 0207 791 9800 and press option 8.