Heading back to work after lockdown? We answer your pressing questions

Working lives across the country have changed beyond recognition since the pandemic. 

Official figures show that one in four working adults has been furloughed, while around half of employees have been doing their jobs from home. 

Now, as many businesses are beginning to re-open, workers are facing fresh uncertainty. Here, FIONA PARKER and AMELIA MURRAY talk you through all you need to know . . .

Back to work: Government advice on social distancing measures in the workplace is not law, but under the Health and Safety at Work Act, employers must ensure workers are safe

1. Can I still work from home if I choose?

The Government said if you can work from home, you should, but legally your employer does not have to let you, so your job could be at risk if you refuse. But always ask the question. 

Many firms have already told staff they will not return until September. If your employer is difficult, you could be able to claim unfair dismissal if you have a good reason for not going back yet. 

If you are shielding because of a medical condition, you may be protected by the Equality Act, which prevents disabled workers from being discriminated against.

2. What if I don’t think it will be safe?

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, employers must ensure workers are safe. If you are concerned about social distancing measures, talk to your boss. 

If you are ignored, contact a trade union or health and safety representative. If you still have concerns, call the Health and Safety Executive on 0300 003 1747.

3. How soon could I have to go back?

There is no legal requirement of how much notice an employer must give you before summoning you back to work. 

But they are expected to be reasonable. Jemma Fairclough-Haynes, an employment law specialist at Orchard Employment Law, says: ‘We advise businesses to give staff at least a week’s notice.’

Many firms have already told staff they will not return until September. If your employer is difficult, you may be able to claim unfair dismissal if you have a good reason for not going back

Many firms have already told staff they will not return until September. If your employer is difficult, you may be able to claim unfair dismissal if you have a good reason for not going back

4. Can furlough be part-time?

From July 1, your employer will be able to furlough you on a pro-rata basis, as long as you’ve been furloughed for at least three weeks between March 1 and June 30. 

So if you normally work five days a week, you could be furloughed for two and work the remaining three. This is also the case if you have a limited company and furloughed yourself.

Will the Government still pay my wages? 

At present the Government is paying 80 per cent of furloughed workers’ wages — up to £2,500 a month.

From August, employers will have to start paying National Insurance and pension contributions again.

Then, from September, the Government will reduce the amount it pays towards workers’ wages to 70 per cent, up to £2,187. 

At this point, employers must top up furlough employees’ pay to 80 per cent.

The scheme is set to finish in October. During this final month, the Government will pay just 60 per cent of workers’ wages. 

Again, employers must top staff members’ pay up to at least 80 per cent. Some firms are paying furloughed staff 100 per cent of their pay.

5. Could my hours be reduced?

A short-time working clause in your contract or furlough agreement will allow your employer to reduce your working hours. 

You will be entitled to statutory guarantee pay for the days you would normally be working. 

This will only be £30 a day for five days over a three-month period, so £150 maximum. 

Check your contract, as your employer may offer a better scheme. You can apply for redundancy if you’ve received less than half a week’s pay for four or more weeks in a row, or six weeks in a 13-week period.

6. Can I apply for another job?

The Government allows furloughed employees to take second jobs, but many employers don’t. 

If you are doing anything that provides revenue or services to your employer while furloughed, it could be committing a criminal offence. 

If this happens, complain to your boss in writing and if you are ignored, complain directly to HMRC. You can still apply for any future permanent jobs while you are furloughed.

7. What happens if I have to self-isolate?

Many employers are paying staff as normal if they are forced to self-isolate and can still work from home. 

If you can’t, you’ll be entitled to statutory sick pay at £95.85 a week, as long as you earn at least £120 a week and are not self-employed. 

‘Many employers also pay occupational sick pay, which is much more generous,’ says Nadia Motraghi, senior barrister at Old Square Chambers.

8. What about the self-employed?

A short-time working clause in your contract or furlough agreement will allow your employer to reduce your working hours

A short-time working clause in your contract or furlough agreement will allow your employer to reduce your working hours

If you are shielding, you can apply for a grant from the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, which has been extended. 

You can claim up to 80 per cent of average trading profits over three months, capped at £7,500.

The money is taxable. You have until July 13 to claim your first payment and can claim a second payment in August if your business is still adversely affected, but it will not be as generous — 70 per cent, capped at £6,570. If you are not eligible, you may be entitled to Universal Credit.

9. Can I get home equipment?

Your employer is not legally obliged to kit you out with a home office. However, it does have to ensure staff are working safely. 

‘This may include providing proper equipment, such as an office chair,’ says Helen Watson, head of employment at law firm Aaron & Partners.

If your employer does not reimburse you for the equipment you need, you may be able to claim back tax relief. 

You’ll need to send a P87 claims form to HMRC. The Government increased the flat-rate tax deduction to cover additional expenses, such as phone calls and energy bills, from £4 to £6 a week in April.

Many employers are paying staff their normal salaries if they are forced to self-isoalte and can still work from home

Many employers are paying staff their normal salaries if they are forced to self-isoalte and can still work from home

10. Has my pension been affected?

Unless your employer has topped up your furlough wages, your pension contributions will drop, because they will be based on four-fifths of your usual salary — or less if you earn more than £30,000.

The Government is covering the cost of at least 3 per cent employer contributions on earnings from £520 to £2,500 a month until August 1, when bosses are expected to begin paying again.

11. What if I’m made redundant?

If you are made redundant while on furlough, your rights are no different. Your employer must consult with you beforehand.

The statutory minimum notice period for redundancy is one week for every year you have been employed, up to 12 weeks.

If you have worked at the company for at least two years, statutory redundancy pay is a week’s wages for every year you have been there, for those aged 22 to 40. 

This increases to a week-and-a-half’s wages once you are 41 or older. Many firms will offer their own redundancy packages.

Redundancy pay is not taxable under £30,000.

Stay home: Many firms have told staff they will not be returning to the office until September at the earliest, or are asking employees to return only if they can avoid public transport

Stay home: Many firms have told staff they will not be returning to the office until September at the earliest, or are asking employees to return only if they can avoid public transport

12. Will I still get Universal Credit?

If you get a new job you must contact the Department for Work and Pensions immediately to inform them. 

Depending on your new wages, your Universal Credit payments will change, but they may not stop completely.

Typically, for every £1 you earn, Universal Credit payments are reduced by 63p. People with children or a partner with disabilities, may have a ‘work allowance’ that protects their benefits.

13. Can I be forced to take holiday?

Your employer can ask you to take annual leave, but should give you notice. 

This is usually double the amount of time they want you to have off, says employment lawyer Danielle Parsons from Slater & Gordon. So you should get two weeks’ notice to take one week off.

If you don’t want to take holiday, you could ask for it to be carried forward. 

Ms Parsons adds: ‘The Government has introduced a temporary law, which allows employees affected by coronavirus to carry over up to four weeks of paid holiday into the next two years.’

14. What if I can’t get childcare?

If you cannot organise childcare, your employer can ask you to take unpaid or annual leave. 

But Ms Parsons says it may not be reasonable for employers to insist on your return if you have childcare issues. 

The first step is to see if you can come to a solution with your employer. If that fails, she says you could have a potential employment tribunal claim for discrimination, depending on the circumstances.

moneymail@dailymail.co.uk

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