Employers cannot force vulnerable people, or anyone living with a vulnerable person, to go to work - an employment lawyer has said.

As the lockdown eases, the Government is actively encouraging people to return to work - but to continue to work from home if they can. And many employers will be making plans for how staff can return to the workplace.

But some parents, carers, or at risk workers will understandably be concerned about returning to their places of work.

Alex Monaco, of Monaco Solicitors, has given readers some guidance about their rights during the Covid-19 pandemic if they are vulnerable, ill, or caring for someone:

Can my boss force me to work if I am vulnerable, or if I'm living with someone who is?

Not really. If you are pregnant, old, have a disability or have health conditions, it is hoped your boss will be flexible and allow you to work remotely if possible - or to use the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to put you on furlough.

But if your boss is forcing you to go to work, despite the fact that you are at risk or that you are living with someone vulnerable, they could be breaking the law, says Mr Monaco.

While the law is not yet entirely clear in relation to Covid-19, Mr Monaco suggests employers could be subjecting workers to:

  • constructive dismissal
  • discrimination relating to pregnancy, age or disability
  • or breach of health and safety law

Can my boss dismiss me for self-isolating?

No. Your boss might be allowed to discipline you, but they cannot legally dismiss employees. If they tried to, it would amount to automatic unfair dismissal under Section 100 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, Mr Monaco says.

Ealing Times:

Alex Monaco, employment lawyer says bosses cannot force you to work if you are vulnerable. Photo: Monaco Solicitors

Am I entitled to pay when self-isolating?

Employees are legally entitled to Statutory Sick Pay if they have symptoms, or have been advised to self isolate by a doctor or other medical authority. You can get an isolation note on the NHS 111 website.

But if you want to self-isolate because of coronavirus, and you are not sick, the current legislation does not entitle you to Statutory Sick Pay. In this scenario, if you are vulnerable, you still are not entitled to Statutory Sick Pay - unless you get an isolation note online on the NHS 111 website.

If you are pregnant, your employer must do a risk assessment. If the assessment finds that it is unsafe for you to attend work, your boss will have to suspend you on full pay. If you are within six weeks of your due date, you are entitled to start your maternity leave.

If you are able to work from home, you will of course be entitled to your usual pay.

This latest legislation is contained in The Statutory Sick Pay (General) (Coronavirus Amendment) Regulations 2020.

Am I entitled to pay if my boss tells me to stay off work?

Your boss can ask you not to attend work if there is a good reason: e.g. you have recently returned from a country badly affected by coronavirus, or you were in contact with someone with the virus.

But you will still be entitled to your usual pay.

If your boss reduces your hours of work, or closes your place of work, you are also entitled to your pay as normal, without any reduction.

(See S151 Social Security, Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 and S147-154 Employment Rights Act 1996 for relevant legislation)

What are my rights if I take time off to care for someone?

On April 4, the Government announced it would extend the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to people with childcare responsibilities caused by Covid-19 restrictions. This is great news for parents, but your employer must agree to it because furlough is not an automatic right.

Your automatic rights are set out in Section 57A-57B Employment Rights Act 1996.

According to the legislation, in an "emergency", employees have a right to "reasonable" time off work to care for dependents. The child or person you are caring for could be unwell, or it could be that the usual carers/school/other provider cannot operate because of the pandemic.

However, the time off is unpaid, unless your employment contract or insurance policy provides for payment in such circumstances.

The coronavirus crisis does count as an emergency, and what is "reasonable" is an ongoing period of time for as long as the schools and nurseries are shut, at least.

Can my boss reduce my salary?

Yes, if they are justified in doing so. During the coronavirus crisis, many employers are telling employees to take a pay cut. Is that constructive dismissal? Can employees refuse? If other people are also being asked to take a pay cut too, then it would be easy for them to justify it.

Your boss can also give you another contract of employment with lower pay.

If I am made redundant due to Covid-19, does my boss have to consult me?

Normally, where making over 20 employees redundant, employers have to consult for a period of 90 days before making redundancies.

But with coronavirus, there is probably a defence open to employers due to "special circumstances", which could compress this period, so they may not have to consult for the full 90 days. They would however need to consult for at least 14 days, says Mr Monaco. If you don’t do that it’s procedurally unfair dismissal.

If less than 20 people are being made redundant, bosses still have a duty to consult employees. This duty is not defined by law, but it is generally said to include more than one meeting, and a chance for employees to make some reasonable input into the decision.