Legal experts on rights of shop staff concerned about COVID-19 impact

Shoppers at Tesco in Martlesham Picture: ARCHANT

Shoppers at Tesco in Martlesham Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Charlotte Bond

As supermarkets serve a critical role in the COVID-19 crisis, we explore the rights of workers fearful of turning up to work and being exposed to the virus.

Shops allowed to stay open include supermarkets, pharmacies, petrol stations, newsagents and banks.

If an employee contracts the virus, they are entitled to sick pay.

Ashtons Legal Solicitors, which has offices across the region, said those with symptoms warranting self-isolation will be entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) of £94.25 a week, or £95.85 from April 6, while those self-isolating due to a member of the household having symptoms would be entitled to SSP under amended regulations.

Claire Sleep, partner at the Cambridge office, and Jessica Piper, Norwich office solicitor, said employees required to take care of dependants can take unpaid leave or unpaid parental leave, but requests for paid holiday could be refused.

Those who believe they fall into the group of people at increased risk of severe illness, due to age, pregnancy or underlying health condition, can ask for special arrangements including changing shift patterns, special protective equipment, or, in severe cases, being furloughed – an option allowing employers to send home staff not needed in the short-term and pay 80% of their salary (up to £2,500 net per month), which can be later reclaimed from HMRC.

If an employee simply does not show up, an employer does not have to pay them and the absence could lead to disciplinary action, which must be reasonable in the circumstances, say the experts.

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“What may make matters more complex is where an employer is not following government guidance, for example, keeping a clothing shop open and demanding employees attend work during the ‘lockdown’ announced by the Prime Minister.

“If an employee makes a protected disclosure in the interests of their health and safety (whistle-blowing), they may be protected from disciplinary action. All employers have a duty to provide their employees with a healthy and safe working environment and should to take into account their employees’ concerns during this time.

“If employees have particular concerns regarding why they feel their employer is not complying with guidance, or is not protecting their health and safety, they might consider raising a grievance and explaining what should be changed in their opinion.”

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