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Coronavirus survival basics #1: Sick pay and self-isolation employment rights

Coronavirus help1
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Over the coming weeks, the AJ will be publishing a series of practical ‘how-to’ guides to help architects through the coronavirus crisis

The articles will look at a range of issues, from your rights if you fall ill, to business tips and resources. The articles will be updated as government guidance changes.

The articles will also provide a forum for further suggestions and helpful advice from other practitioners and experts in the comment box (at the bottom of each article). We look forward to hearing from our readers about their experiences and their hints on how to cope in these unprecedented times.

Any questions that you’d like us to answer can also be submitted here.

If I am off sick with coronavirus. 
Will I still get paid? How much?

You should check with your practice to see what its sick-pay allowance is – it might be more than the government is offering. If the practice has no enhanced sick-pay policy – and a third of architects told the AJ they did not have this level of benefit – then statutory sick pay is £94.25 a week and can be paid for up to 28 weeks. You should be eligible for sick pay if: you have coronavirus, have coronavirus symptoms, if someone in your household has coronavirus symptoms or you have been told to self-isolate either by a doctor or NHS 111.

Employees can ‘self-certify’ for their first seven days off work. After that, those self-isolating due to coronavirus can get an online self-isolation note here: https://111.nhs.uk/isolation-note/

The chancellor has said that businesses with fewer than 250 employees will be able to claim back from the government two weeks of statutory sick pay paid to staff affected by coronavirus. If you are self-employed you cannot claim statutory sick pay, but you can claim universal credit worth the same each week.

Has the government offered any help to
firms to cope with the costs of staff illness

SME practices (those employing fewer than 250 people as of 28 February) will be able to reclaim the cost of 14 days of statutory sick pay – just under £200 – per employee for those affected by the coronavirus. However, they will have to wait to be reimbursed as the government has yet to set up a repayment mechanism and legislation will be required to do this. In terms of eligibility, employers will need to retain records of staff absences and sick pay but employees will not need to provide a doctor’s note.

I’m not sick but need to look after my
child/someone else. Will I get paid leave?

Employees are entitled to time off work to help someone who depends on them – for example, their children or an elderly relative – in an unexpected event or emergency. This could apply to situations to do with coronavirus.

There’s no statutory right to pay for this time off, but some employers might offer pay depending on the contract or workplace policy. Talk to your practice. If it does not pay, it may agree to let you use your holiday allowance or rearrange hours. Time off for a dependant usually lasts only a couple of days, but according to charity Working Families, this could last for much longer if schools remain closed. The charity also advises checking you’re not in a ‘self-isolation’ situation (see question above) when you would be able to claim statutory sick pay instead. For advice on how coronavirus affects maternity pay and benefits, see Working Families’ site.

I’ve been made redundant while off 
sick/self-isolating. What can I do?

The government has launched its Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which allows businesses to reclaim up to 80 per cent of your wages from public funds for staff it places on ‘furlough’. Your practice could still make you redundant despite this, but they cannot ignore your usual rights.

According to Citizens Advice, the practice will still need to give a fair reason for your dismissal – for example, the business might downsize or fold. In this situation, you should be due a redundancy payout. You can calculate how much you are entitled to here. More advice on redundancies can be found here; and more advice on your employment rights is available at ACAS.

If you’re struggling to manage on redundancy pay, it might be worth checking if you’re eligible for benefits such as universal credit. You can do this through charity Turn2Us’ free benefits calculator.

The Coach: Matthew Turner

I’m well but need to look after someone else/
my kids. How am I going to do my job

This is where that seesaw of work life balance really might temporarily pivot in one direction.

The first thing is to admit to others at work the fact that your attention is divided. Unapologetically explain the situation to your boss. If you are hesitating, feeling like this is going to compromise your future career prospects with this practice, then this unprecedented circumstance might be exposing whether this is an employer worth working for. After all, most activity in architecture is not an emergency service, and most work currently is either off, on hold, or developing longer time frames. You’ll be able to see the true colours of your practices’ management by the way they support you in to your situation. If you are the boss, get others in your team to support you, so you are focused on only the most vital activities.

Of course, you may be desperately wanting to maintain a work so you don’t get subsumed into full time home life. I know it can be hard especially with younger kids, but try to arrive at a schedule and some boundaries, demarking some space for your work area. Then try and identify the parts of the work load that can be done in the time chunks and head space you have, checking in frequently with your colleagues.

Coronavirus survival basics #1: Sick pay and self-isolation employment rights

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