How Will My Work be Affected by the Coronavirus Outbreak?

Last Updated: 15/10/2020 at 13:21

The coronavirus outbreak has meant that a lot of work places have had to close or make big changes like having employees work from home.

Lots of workers lives have been affected in a big way because of this.

The UK and Scottish Governments have announced support packages to try and prevent employers from going out of business and people from not being paid or losing their jobs.

We've tried to answer some of the questions that many of you will have about work.

Should I be working?

If your place of work is open, you should only be going to work if you are not able to do your job from home.

If you are still going to work but have developed a new continuous cough, or a fever/high temperature, or loss of/change in smell or taste in the last 7 days, you should stay at home for 10 days from the start of your symptoms even if you think your symptoms are mild. If you live with someone who has these symptoms you should stay at home for 14 days (starting from the day the symptoms first showed).

NHS Scotland are now using a system called 'Test and Protect' to try and stop the spread of the virus in communities. Under this system you will be asked to self-isolate if you have coronavirus symptoms and a test will be arranged for you. If you test negative, you no longer have to self-isolate. If you test positive, you will need to self-isolate for at least 10 days and provide details of anyone you have had close contact with.

Under the system, anyone who has had close contact with a person testing positive will be traced and told to self-isolate for 14 days.

If you are self-isolating because of symptoms, a positive test or because you've been asked to by the tracers then your work cannot ask you to return to a workplace. You may be able to work from home if you feel well enough, but you should have a conversation with your employer about this.

The Scottish Government and Scottish Trade Unions Congress (STUC) made a joint statement saying that no worker should be financially penalised because of absence related to COVID-19 or for following public health advice.

Check NHS Inform for more information on what to do if you think you have coronavirus symptoms.

When will my work place be open again?

It is mandatory to wear a face covering in shops, libraries, places of worship, museums on public transport – including trains, buses, taxis, private hire cabs, trams, planes and enclosed areas on ferries, in certain areas at school and in hospitality venues when moving around (including staff).

The Scottish Government published a formal, route map and four-phase plan for easing lockdown restrictions over time which includes what businesses may be able to reopen. The Scottish Government has also published information on the safe return to the workplace.

As more places open, more guidance will be issued about how places of work should operate to keep you and customers safe. You can find guidance for each sector. Recently added is guidance for call centres and customer contact centres. 

The Scottish Government is continuing to encourage remote and flexible working options for staff. There is more information on the Scottish Government website about returning to work safely and what to do if you feel your workplace is not safe.
 
Find out more about the different phases and what they mean.

How will work be different when I go back?

As part of plans published by the Scottish Government aimed at easing lockdown restrictions, work places will gradually start to re-open and employees who have been furloughed or are working from home will begin to return their normal place of work.

However, there may be some changes to be aware of as it's likely your working environment will be different to what you're used to for a while.

Employers have the responsibility to look after the health and wellbeing of their employees and assess what risk factors may impact upon this. This means that they may have to take steps to change their working environment in a way that will help prevent COVID-19 being passed on.

For example, some changes that may be introduced to your workplace could include:

  • Redesigning tasks that usually require multiple people to be carried out by one person;
  • Putting markers on the ground to allow people to maintain a 2 metre distance;
  • Staggered start, finish or break times to avoid minimise the amount of people in one place at the same time;
  • Redesigning tasks to be done virtually such as appointments or meetings;
  • Workplace canteens to follow the same guidelines as hospitality venues;
  • Mandatory face coverings for customers;
  • Contactless deliveries;
  • Different shift times to accommodate opening hours;
  • From Monday 19th October face coverings should be worn in communal areas, such as in corridors or while walking around canteen areas.

There may be more big or small changes that are made but your employer should speak to you before any return to work to let you know what will be different and how your health and wellbeing will be looked after.

Your travel to and from work may also be different, physical distancing measures will be in place on public transport and the Scottish Government has asked that if possible, people walk or cycle to work and if they have to take public transport then it is mandatory to wear a face covering (unless you're exempt). 

If you are worried about working, Citizens Advice Scotland have some useful information available.

What about sick-pay?

Your sick-pay rights remain mostly the same.

If you need to take time off because you are unwell, as you have symptoms of coronavirus (including a new, continuous cough or a fever/high temperature or loss of/ change in smell or taste) or have to self-isolate because someone in your house has the symptoms of coronavirus, then you may be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). Most workers who earn at least £118 (£120 from 6th April) are entitled to this.

Your employer might request a sick note, you can obtain a sick note from the NHS Inform website.

SSP is £95.85 per week and is paid by your employer for up to 28 weeks. Usually this begins after you have been off work for 4 days in a row, however if you are off ill due to coronavirus you can now claim sick pay from the first day you're off sick.

If you are off sick because you have to self-isolate then your SSP will start from the first day you miss work.

Some employers may also pay extra, this is called 'Contractual Sick Pay' but you will need to look at your contract or speak to your employer to check this.

If you work on a freelance basis, but your employer still deducts tax and national insurance from your pay then you are entitled to SSP.

If you’re employed but your earnings are too low to claim SSP, you may be able to claim Universal Credit. There is information on the Citizen's Advice Scotland website about applying for Universal Credit.

I've been furloughed, what does that mean?

If your employer has asked you not to work but you are still employed, basically your work has been put 'on hold', this is called being furloughed. You can also be furloughed on a part-time basis, for example, you could work 3 days a week and be furloughed for the other 2 days.

You may have bee furloughed completely by your employer initially, but at some point they could ask you to return on a part-time basis and be furloughed for the time you don't work that you normally would.

Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, employers will get financial support from the government to pay employees who have been furloughed 80% of their wages up to £2,500 per month, although the employer can decide to pay the remaining 20%.

The employer should tell you when the furlough period will start, when it will be reviewed and how to stay in contact with them during this time - this should be done in writing. It's up to the employer to make a claim to HMRC for the support once it has been agreed with you. 

If you've been furloughed from your job on a full-time basis, you can no longer conduct any work for your employer until the furlough period is finished. You can take part in volunteer work or training, as long as it does not provide services to or generate money for, or on behalf of, your employer.

Before the scheme was announced, some employees unfortunately already lost their jobs. If this is the case for you and you became unemployed from 1st March 2020, your employer can take you back on and then furlough you, but this decision is up to them. 

I'm self-employed, what support is available to me?

On March 26th, the UK Government announced that support was being made available to self-employed workers. Under the Self-Employed Income Support Schemethose eligible will receive a cash grant worth 80% of their average monthly trading profit over the last three years up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.

HMRC will put together a list of people who are eligible and invite them to apply. Grants will be paid in a single lump sum covering March, April and May, and will start to be paid at the beginning of June.

To be eligible, you must:

  • have submitted your Income Tax Self Assessment tax return for the tax year 2018-19 (if you've not already done this, you can still do so by 23rd April 2020);
  • traded in the tax year 2019-20;
  • are trading when you apply, or would be except for COVID-19;
  • intend to continue to trade in the tax year 2020-21;
  • have lost trading/partnership trading profits due to COVID-1;
  • have a trading profit of less than £50,000 in 2018-19 or an average trading profit of less than £50,000 from 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19;
  • more than half of your income come from self-employment.

You can find the full details on Gov.uk.

If you became self-employed on or after 6 April 2019, you won't be eligible for the UK Government's scheme. However, you may be able to apply for support through the Newly Self-Employed Hardship Fund launched by the Scottish Government.

You need to meet the following criteria to apply:

  • you became self-employed on/after 6 April 2019 (did not submit a tax return including income from self-employment for 2018-19)
  • over 50% of your individual income is from self-employment
  • your trading profits were below £50,000 in financial year 2019-20
  • you have lost business due to coronavirus and are suffering financial hardship as a result
  • you are ineligible for other COVID-19 related business support (including the Business Interruption Loan Schemes, Corporate Finance Fund, Job Retention Schemes, Future Fund, R&D Focussed SMEs Fund, HMRC Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, Non-Domestic Rates relief, Small Business Grant or other business support)
  • you do not receive working age benefit payments (Universal Credit, Statutory Sick Pay, Employment and Support Allowance, Job Seekers’ Allowance, Income Support) or have applied for but not yet started receiving Universal Credit
  • you trade as self-employed, not as a limited company or partnership
  • you have taken steps to limit costs and expenditure (including through schemes such as VAT deferral and seeking a mortgage payment holiday)
  • you do not have access to sufficient savings or other sources of income to meet basic needs

You can only apply once for the scheme and applications must be made to your local authority, which you can do for free.

If you are successful, you will get a one-off payment of £2000.

It can take up to 10 days from the application being submitted to funds being released if approved.

You can find more information as well as a link to your local authority's website to begin your application on gov.scot.

What support is available if I own my own business?

The Scottish Government has put lots of different support in place for business owners from looking after your employees, to guidance on paying tax and advice on financial help that you can get.

You can find information and guidance on their website.

If you're aged 18 - 30 and are self employed or run your own business, the Princes Trust and Natwest have launched the Enterprise Relief Fund which provides cash grants as well as one to one support and guidance. Find out more.

What about my holidays?

Employers have the right to tell employees and workers when to take holiday if they need to. If your employer decides to do this, they need to give you twice as much notice as the time they are asking you to take.

For example, if they want you to use 5 days holidays, they should tell you at least 10 days before they want you take it

If you have holidays booked but don't want to take them anymore, your employer can still tell you to take the time off. Remember, just because you might not be able to go on holiday, taking time off to relax is still important. 

If you want to change when you take this time off, you will need to agree this with your employer.

On the 27th March, the government introduced a temporary new law to deal with coronavirus disruption. Employees and workers can carry over up to 4 weeks’ of unused leave to the following two annual leave years, if they cannot take holiday due to coronavirus. More information is available on the Acas website.

Can I claim benefits?

For many, this outbreak has meant they are now in a situation where they need more financial help than before. Things like Universal Credit, Jobseekers Allowance, Working Tax Credits or Employment Support Allowance may be available to you.

The Citizens Advice Bureau offer advice on benefits that may help if you are affected by coronavirus.

Where can I access careers advice?

Skills Development Scotland (SDS) is giving free one-to-one careers advice for anyone worried about their learning or work during coronavirus. This can be accessed through the PACE helpline, call 0800 917 8000 between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday to speak to someone.

For more information you can visit the SDS website or the My World of Work website.

More information from Young Scot on Coronavirus (COVID-19).