Coronavirus: your rights at work

We believe that many of our contracted-out staff members do not receive the same benefits as directly employed members, such as holiday and sick pay.

As a result, employees may be forced to continue working if they are feeling unwell.

We would ask you to contact the employers to ensure that their employees are made aware of their rights and responsibilities to our workplace. Employees are able to seek Statutory Sick Pay or Universal Credit from day 1 (not day 4) of this illness.

In the light of this current situation, our union members would urge that any future contracts with external providers should include the rights and conditions of existing employees

 Coronavirus: your rights at work

Updated: 17 March 2020 at 18:00

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?

§  If you live alone and you have symptoms of coronavirus illness (COVID-19), however mild, stay at home for 14 days from when your symptoms started.

§  If you live with others and you or one of them have symptoms of coronavirus, then all household members must stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days. The 14-day period starts from the day when the first person in the house became ill

Staying at home information from NHS UK

Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital.

You do not need to contact 111 to tell them you’re staying at home.

Testing for coronavirus is not needed if you’re staying at home.

Use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service only if:
– you feel you cannot cope with your symptoms at home
– your condition gets worse
– your symptoms do not get better after 7 days

For additional information on COVID-19 see list of resources below.

Can my employer make me self-isolate?

Yes, your employer can instruct you not to attend your workplace.

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.)


What should my employer do if a case of COVID-19 is confirmed in the workplace?

If an employee or anyone else who has visited your workplace is confirmed as having the virus, your employer will be contacted by their local PHE health protection team to discuss the case, identify people who have been in contact with them, and advise on any actions or precautions that should be taken.

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.

Additional advice

General advice for the public on COVID 19, the nature of disease and precautions they should take.

Guidance for vulnerable people.

Further information on pay, terms and conditions

Specific guidance for those working in the NHS.

Advice to local government staff covered by NJC terms and conditions is available at the NJC website. Local government members in Scotland can download advice here.

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 advice from the Welsh government and also advice from advice for members in Northern Ireland.

There is general advice for members in Scotland from the Scottish government.

There is also advice available from Acas.

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