Coronavirus: Wages, sick pay and time off explained

Female delivery driverImage source, Getty Images

Millions of workers are receiving a smaller pay packet as the economic realities of coronavirus bite.

Struggling companies and self-employed workers have been offered financial help by the government, to help keep their businesses afloat and staff paid during the coronavirus outbreak.

But, with millions on reduced wages, who is affected and what happens when workers fall ill?

Will my salary be paid?

If you work in the private sector, and pay tax through the pay-as-you-earn (PAYE) system, your employer can put you on furlough - essentially, lay you off temporarily - by applying for a government grant to pay 80% of your gross salary up to a limit of £2,500 per month.

More than eight million workers have been furloughed since March, at a cost of billions of pounds to the government. Full and part-time employees are eligible, as are those on agency, flexible or zero-hour contracts.

The typical full-time worker is paid £585 a week, about £2,340 a month, using a median average - the middle point of all workers.

It has been hoped the grants, available through Revenue & Customs (HMRC) by the end of April, will stop big redundancy announcements.

The money was backdated to March and the scheme will last until the end of October. New rules will apply over the summer that will see employers sharing some of the burden of these costs.

Employers will be able to bring back furloughed employees part-time from July - although they will be expected to share the cost of paying people's salaries.

An employer still pays their staff, and can decide whether to pay in full or only the 80% that has been covered.

'It is a relief to be paid'

Ria Fortin only started her job as a coordinator with Morepour, a cellar and bar installation and maintenance company, four months ago. Now, she has been furloughed.

"There was an intake of breath when I was paid. It was not as much as I have been used to," says the 34-year-old, who has just bought a home with her self-employed partner.

"But it is a relief just to be paid. At least it is something. Other people are in a much worse situation."

Image source, Ria Fortin
Image caption,
Ria Fortin says she feels lucky to still have her job

The company she works for is small, so she feels grateful to have been furloughed, rather than laid off, given that the hospitality industry may be one of the last to reopen.

The couple have organised payment holidays on regular bills, but know these will eventually have to be paid, so Ria - a former NHS worker - says they are very conscious of budgeting.

What if I'm self-employed?

If you are self-employed and have had a loss of income, you can receive a taxable grant of 80% of your average monthly profits over the past three years - up to a cap of £2,500 per month.

Initially, this has been available for three months in one lump-sum payment. A "second and final" payment, covering another three months and representing 70% of profits up to a cap of £2,190 a month will be available from August.

You can access the Coronavirus Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) as long as you traded in the past financial year, are still trading now and plan to continue doing so.

Most of your income needs to come from self-employment and your average trading profit needs to have been less than £50,000 a year.

If you became self-employed since April 2019, you will not receive any help under this scheme. This is because you haven't yet have filed a tax return, which is needed to help calculate financial support.

HMRC will contact those who are eligible.

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What if the self-employed support scheme doesn't cover me?

You will have to try to claim benefits - such as universal credit and/or contribution-based employment and support allowance (ESA).

In his Budget, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said claimants could apply for ESA straight away, rather than waiting a week. He also temporarily removed the minimum income floor criteria for self-employed people - which looked at how much people could expect to earn in a month to calculate universal credit levels.

Self-employed people not covered by the SEISS can now access universal credit in full, potentially allowing them to receive a payment equivalent to statutory sick pay (SSP).

However, this does depend on your household's financial situation. If you are already in receipt of other benefits, these could stop when applying for universal credit, so it may be worth getting some advice.

You can now apply on the phone or online, instead of having to attend a job centre.

Benefit levels have also been increased temporarily.

What if I work in the public sector?

You should continue to work and have your wages paid as normal, even if you are home-working or have been told to work at another location temporarily.

What if I'm working from home?

If you can work from home, you should do so. Working hours can still be clearly defined.

Employers still have a duty of care and are responsible for any equipment they give you. The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service has set out guidance.

Image source, Getty Images

What if I need to look after my children or a sick relative?

If you are an employee, your employer must give you time off in an emergency. But you might not get paid - it depends on the terms of your work contract.

However, many bosses during this period are allowing parents to work flexibly, to try to manage both work and childcare.

Will I be paid if I have to self-isolate or I am sick?

If you are an employee, any sick pay you may receive will depend on where you work.

Some workers' contracts offer full pay to those off ill - albeit for a limited time.

If that time runs out, or if you don't get paid sick leave in the first place, you should receive SSP.

The money - set at £95.85 a week - is paid by employers for up to 28 weeks. So if you are self-employed, you will not be eligible - but if you are a casual or agency worker, you will be.

Image source, Getty Images

To receive SSP you need to be earning at least £120 a week. The ONS estimates there are 1,766,000 adult jobs in the UK that pay less than that amount - although some people will earn money from several jobs over the course of a week.

SSP can now be claimed from a person's first day away from work, rather than the fourth day as before.

Anyone claiming should be able to get a sick note from the NHS's 111 service rather than their GP. There have been concerns about whether SSP is sufficient, especially for those who must self-isolate more than once following the introduction of the various test and trace systems.