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Ipswich lawyer explains government advice on working during coronavirus

PUBLISHED: 07:26 02 April 2020 | UPDATED: 07:40 02 April 2020

People wait outside the co-operative bank on day seven of lockdown Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

People wait outside the co-operative bank on day seven of lockdown Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Archant

With government guidance frequently changing throughout the coronavirus pandemic, a Suffolk lawyer has explained who should and should not be working.

Jeanette Wheeler, partner at Birketts law firm, has outlined the legal position on going to work.

She said: “Most of us are clear that if we develop symptoms of Covid-19 then we should self-isolate for at least seven days. Those living with others in the same household should self-isolate for at least 14 days.

“In these situations the person with symptoms is entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and any company sick pay. Those who are also self-isolating will likewise be entitled to SSP – but probably not company/enhanced sick pay unless they fall ill.”

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The government advice also states that everyone who can work from home should be working from home.

If a company’s work has dried up due to coronavirus, then its employees can be furloughed. Ms Wheeler said: “If somebody’s employer has no work for them then they should ask to be ‘furloughed’ under the government’s new Job Retention Scheme, whereby they could receive up to 80% of their pay – subject to a £2,500 cap.”

However, the guidance is different for those who are classed as extremely vulnerable to coronavirus. She said: “The extremely vulnerable should be self-shielding for 12 weeks. That is that they are strongly advised by government to stay at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact with anyone where possible.

“Such extremely vulnerable individuals should seek to agree home working where possible with their employers, in which case they are entitled to their usual pay and benefits.

“If an extremely vulnerable employee cannot work from home and their employer has plenty of work, then the position is less clear but an employer may still be able to furlough those who are self-shielding.”

But there may be other legal reasons for an extremely vulnerable person not to go in to work.

Ms Wheeler said: “It’s also worth noting that an extremely vulnerable person is likely to be covered by the disability provisions of the Equality Act 2010 and will of course enjoy the usual health and safety protections which apply to all employers and employees in the workplace.

“An employer will not, in the current situation, be able to demonstrate that its workplace is safe for the extremely vulnerable.”

Find all of our coronavirus coverage here.

But there is no legal right for people living with an extremely vulnerable person not to go into work.

“The government’s guidance says you should do what you can to help an extremely vulnerable person shield themselves and avoid social contact in the home and, of course, follow the usual government guidance not to leave the house unless for one of the four permitted reasons,” Ms Wheeler said.

“Again this may not be problematic if you can agree to work from home or indeed if you are eligible to be furloughed.”

Those who are pregnant have separate rights as well, she said.

“If you are pregnant and unable to work from home, you should now be home on full pay with few if any exceptions, as it is clear most workplaces will not be safe for a pregnant woman,” Ms Wheeler said.

“In these circumstances, employers are under a statutory duty to suspend a pregnant employee on full pay.”

For those who still have to travel in to work, employers should be taking special measures.

“The government has published a list of businesses that must close and a list of exceptions. If your employer is still able to operate, then it should facilitate you working from home where possible and where this is not possible, then it must ensure that you are able to follow Public Health England guidelines on maintaining a two metre distance from others at work and regular handwashing with soap and hot water or hand sanitiser.

“In addition, your employer must observe all of the other general duties relating to its health and safety obligations.

“Any employee in this situation who feels that their health is compromised should raise this with their employer and can do so as a formal grievance if necessary.”

Ms Wheeler did warn that: “In theory an employer can discipline and not pay an employee who fails to present themselves for work where they are not ill or self-isolating in accordance with government guidance.

“However, employers in this situation will need to investigate carefully the reasons for an employee’s refusal to work and act fairly in the circumstances.”

More information on the government guidelines can be found here.

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