Coronavirus: your questions answered

These are some of the common questions we have been receiving about coronavirus and working parents.

Young pregnant woman with eyes closed embracing her stomach. Horizontal indoors shot.

 

Below are some of the most common questions we have been receiving at workingmums.co.uk in connection with the coronavirus:

Who should be going out to work given the lockdown?

Kate Ledwidge, senior associate at law firm JMW Solicitors, says: There are anecdotal reports out there about non-critical workers still either being forced or being permitted to travel into work to do their jobs.

It is hard to tell exactly what is “absolutely necessary”, to use Boris Johnson’s words, in terms of work, but the government guidance was clear that if there is any way you can stay at home, and not travel into work, you should not do so for the protection of public health.

Therefore, if employers are forcing workers to come in to perform non-critical roles, this could potentially lead to a legal claim from a health and safety perspective or even a constructive dismissal claim (at a push).

This would be particularly the case for businesses that the government has specifically told to close – e.g. clothes shops, beauty salons, restaurants and gyms. However, the biggest immediate issue is the serious reputational damage if you are seen to be prioritising profits over public safety.

“Part of the problem also seems to be that some industries are genuinely unclear on what they should be expected to do.

For example, in the construction sector, businesses have been told that they can keep sites open if they can work safely with social distancing, but putting this into practice is proving difficult particularly on the commute into work on the tube in London. Also, this makes the guidance for self-employed workers such as plumbers and electricians difficult – what is an essential versus a non-essential plumbing job, for example?”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that people can continue to go into work if they cannot work from home.

On tax credits: Do parents need to inform HMRC and stop tax credits if they are not working due to coronavirus?

Working tax credit can continue for the first 28 weeks you are off work if you are self-employed and you get Employment Support Allowance or would be eligible for it or Statutory Sick Pay if you were an employee.  If not, your tax credits will stop after four weeks.

If you are not working enough hours for more than four weeks, you might also stop getting the childcare element of WTC. Let HMRC know if your circumstances change.

Childcare fees: Do parents have to continue to pay fees if they are not earning due to coronavirus if this may be only temporary due to being off on unpaid parental leave etc?

All childcare settings work in slightly different ways, so check the contract you have with your provider. The Government says it is providing support for childminders and nurseries, such as loans and continued payment of early years funding and asks that they be reasonable with regard to continuing to charge parents who cannot send their children to childcare due to lockdown.

I’m self employed and can’t work due to coronavirus. What can I do?

The Government has announced that self employed people can claim the equivalent of Statutory Sick Pay if they have lost their job or are unable to work due to the coronavirus. They have also waived self assessment until January and VAT for this quarter.

If you are sick with the coronavirus, you can claim Employment and Support Allowance or Universal Credit [bearing in mind that if you are on tax credits UC will replace these. You will need to check if you will be better off under UC or tax credits. www.turn2us.org.uk has an online benefits calculator where you can do this]. If you are already in receipt of UC you may be entitled to more benefits if your wages go down as a result of coronavirus – click here to find out more.

The Chancellor has also announced a new self-employed income support scheme for those whose earnings come mainly from self employment who are affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Government will pay self-employed people a taxable grant based on their earnings over the last three years [or less if they have only been trading for a year or so], worth up to 80% of their average earnings and capped at £2,500 a month. The scheme will run for at least three months. More here.

Can I stay off work if I am pregnant?

If you are an employee, you should have a right to stay at home for health & safety reasons if you are pregnant, especially if you are under greater risk at work than in the normal outside world. They should offer you alternative work or adjust your work to remove risk or otherwise put you on paid leave. If not, you don’t have the right to full pay if you stay at home, but could receive Statutory Sick Pay.

If I am pregnant and have to self isolate during the qualification period, will it affect my SMP?

If you go onto Statutory Sick Pay during your qualifying period [the eight weeks until the end of the 26th week of your pregnancy] you may not earn enough to qualify for SMP.

You should, however, qualify for Maternity Allowance and if your employer isn’t able to pay people due to the coronavirus outbreak, you might be able to agree with them that you should be covered by the Job Retention Scheme when you could get 80% of your pay, depending on certain conditions.

If I cannot work due to underlying health problems can my employer claim compensation? Can I stay off work if I fear for someone in my family who is vulnerable?

Your employer has a duty to protect your health and safety. If you are pregnant or you or one of your ‘dependants’ have a pre-existing condition which would make you or them very vulnerable to coronavirus, you could argue that it would be a breach of your employment contract to force you to come to work.

You don’t, however, have a right to not come to work just because you are worried about coronavirus, although you can try to negotiate working from home if you can with your employer.

Can I be furloughed while on maternity leave?

It was initially unclear whether employees on maternity leave needed to bring that leave to an end before being moved on to furlough, or whether either statutory maternity pay or enhanced maternity could be claimed through the scheme.

However, the latest guidance states that employers can claim for enhanced maternity pay through the furlough scheme, suggesting that employers can furlough employees on maternity leave.

What can I do if my childcare is closed or I use grandparents for childcare and am worried about putting them at risk?

If you or your partner, if you have one, are a key worker, your nursery or school may still be open and if not, contact your local authority. Hours of opening may be altered due to staffing issues. You can take parental leave or time off for dependents, but this is unpaid. If you absolutely cannot work due to childcare issues and shielding you can ask to be furloughed. For full information on childcare, click here.

*If you want to speak to anyone about any of these issues or others to do with work and family life, Working Families runs at legal advice line for parents and carers –  +44 (0) 0300 012 0312. advice@workingfamilies.org.uk

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