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Coronavirus: ''I'm self-isolating but won't get paid'

Alex Image copyright Alex
Image caption Alex is not being paid while self-isolating

"It's quite hard, even after two days. Cabin fever sets in, and not knowing whether you'll start to get symptoms is stressful."

Alex, who is on a work placement with an ecological consultancy, is self-isolating after a trip to Tenerife, even though it will leave him out of pocket.

He was on the north of the island when reports started to come out about the coronavirus being detected in a Tenerife hotel.

Although Alex, and the people he was with, had not been to the hotel, they felt there was a possibility they could have come into contact with someone who had.

So when they got home, they decided to keep themselves apart from everyone else for at least two weeks.

Alex, who is studying natural sciences at Nottingham University, is on a work placement at an ecological consultancy. He is missing out on about £600 of pay by self-isolating.

That is quite a chunk of money for Alex, who has to save up, for example, to pay rent.

"I'm lucky - my work are on board with it," he says. "I'm losing out massively. I don't earn a lot of money. It's going to bring me very close to financial difficulties."

Alex is currently staying at his parents' house, but he says: "I want to go home and see my partner."

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Guests were quarantined at a hotel in Tenerife after some tourists tested positive for the virus

So why do it? Even though Alex is aware that a relatively small number of coronavirus cases have become critical, he wants to help cut down the risk of spreading the disease to those people who it could affect severely.

His girlfriend works with vulnerable people, and he doesn't want to take the risk of passing the virus to her, if he has it, and so on to them.

Alex recognises that he is "in a unique position with a flexible job" but he thinks it is very important to try to limit the spread of the disease.

Out of pocket

The Trades Union Congress wants the rules on sick pay to be changed so that anyone who has to self-isolate over the coronavirus is guaranteed they will be paid.

It estimates that nearly two million workers do not earn enough to qualify for statutory sick pay.

Companies have started setting out their policies to staff. Pub chain Wetherspoons has said workers will be subject to the regular statutory sick pay rules, which state that an employee is not paid for the first three days of absence.

Sarah Chilton, a partner at employment law firm CM Murray, says statutory sick pay rules "can leave a number of employees out of pocket".

"I think the broader problem though is that a number of employers only pay statutory sick pay, which won't necessarily be as much as the contractual pay," she says.

Image copyright Getty Images

But if employees choose to self-isolate, they are not entitled to sick pay under the law, she says.

"I think the risk is, that if someone knows that if they self-isolate they won't be entitled to sick pay, and they don't have any symptoms - they are not sick - they may be inclined not to self-isolate.

"Businesses would have to think about the broader risk - pay someone a little bit more money for a period of self-isolation, or have someone potentially bring a really disruptive and damaging - on an economic and on a people-level - virus into the workplace."

Guidance from Acas says employers should think about paying people who have to self-isolate, Ms Chilton says, and that is what the government guidance says as well.

"So I think there's a strong message coming from government that that's what should be done."

Employers also have a duty of care to staff to look after their health and safety, she says.

If necessary, and possible, the most "economically viable situation" is to let people work from home, she adds.

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