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Frequently Asked Questions

Last updated: 11 June

Holiday Rights
I had a week’s annual leave booked but I don’t want to take it because I can’t go away. Do I have a right to cancel this and take it at another time?

You might want to change your existing annual leave if you’ve had to cancel your holiday plans, and take it later in the holiday year instead. If you want to do that, then you should speak to your manager as soon as possible, but they don’t have to agree to your request.

Legally, your employer can make you take any leave that was already booked. We would ask employers to be flexible where they can. The most important thing is to speak to your manager as soon as possible.

Don’t forget that some time away from work can be important for your mental and physical health, even if you can’t go on holiday, so it’s worth thinking this through carefully before you try to cancel your annual leave.

Bear in mind that if a lot of your colleagues have cancelled leave now, it might be more difficult for you to rebook your holidays later in the leave year when everyone is trying to book it in. So if you are able to cancel your leave, try to get it booked in for later in the year as soon as you can.

I had annual leave booked, but my employer is telling me I have to cancel it. Can they do this?

We would ask employers to support staff taking their leave where possible, as rest is important, especially where staff have been working in a stressful situation. However, as they are responding to severe pressures, in the current emergency employers may need to take the unusual step of cancelling pre-booked leave.

The law allows them to do this, but they must give you at least the same number of days’ notice as the length of your booked leave. So for example if you have 5 days booked off, they must tell you at least 5 days before the holiday was due to start that it’s cancelled.

You should check your own company’s policy on this if your manager tells you that your leave is cancelled.

I had annual leave booked but I haven’t been able to take it, what will happen to it?

Where possible, your holiday should be rebooked and taken at another point in the holiday year. However, this may not be possible for everyone.

The Government has introduced a temporary new law allowing workers to “carry over” up to four weeks’ leave into the next two leave years.

This can be done where it has not been ‘reasonably practicable’ for you to take some of all of the 4 weeks’ leave due to the effects of the coronavirus.

Some examples of reasons for this might be:
  • You were self-isolating due to Covid-19.
  • Your employer needed you to continue to work due to the crisis, for example because of an increase in demand.
  • Your employer wasn’t able to provide cover for you to take leave, due to the coronavirus.
Whether it is ‘reasonably practicable’ for you to take your leave will also depend on how long was left in the holiday year for you to rearrange your leave.

Your employer should do everything reasonably practicable to make sure that you can take as much of your leave as possible in your current leave year. If you do carry over leave, the Government says it is ‘good practice’ for your employer to then let you take it at the earliest practicable opportunity.

If you leave your job or are dismissed during the carry-over period, any untaken paid holiday must be added to your final pay.

Your employer may also agree to apply the carryover arrangements to additional leave above the four weeks covered by the law. Check your own company’s policy on how this will be implemented.

If you think you’re at risk of losing out on your annual leave entitlement because of coronavirus, then you must speak to your manager as soon as possible and check whether the carryover arrangements will apply. Speak to your local rep or union official if you need any advice on this.

My employer is temporarily closing and is telling me that I have to use some of my annual leave during this period. Is that allowed?

We would encourage employers to pay staff for time off where they are closed without making them use their annual leave, where this is possible. However, they do have a legal right to tell you when to take your holiday. If they decide to do this, they must tell you at least twice as many days before as the amount of days they need you to take. For example, if they want you to take annual leave for 10 days, they should tell you at least 20 days before.

See the section below on “Workplace Closures/Furlough” for information on annual leave if you are on furlough.

What PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) should my employer be providing?
This will vary depending on your job. Much higher levels of PPE are required for healthcare workers dealing with Coronavirus patients than for someone who is working on their own in an office or at home. The primary focus of health and safety provisions should always be to a remove risk wherever possible. So it is important to focus on steps that will protect everybody such as ensuring that people adhere to social distancing measures, wash their hands regularly and that workplaces are cleaned more often.
Your employer should be carrying out risk assessments to identify if there are additional steps that need to be taken in particular workplaces. For example, following discussions with Usdaw, retailers have installed Perspex screens on checkouts, we have seen additional break rooms opened in many workplaces as well as start and finish times being staggered so that people are not queuing at clock machines. 
If you are worried about health and safety provisions in you workplace, please contact your shop steward or health and safety rep in the first instance. Your reps should be able to get hold of copies of risk assessments done for your workplace and help to raise any issues with local managers. If you do not have a rep in your workplace, please contact your local office.
Should I be wearing a mask at work?
Throughout the Coronavirus outbreak, there has been a lot of discussion about whether people should be wearing masks or other face coverings while out in public. So far, there is very little evidence to prove that these offer protection against contracting or spreading the virus. Many fabrics used in such coverings do not trap particles which can carry the virus into the body. The simple message around social distancing and increasing hygiene measures such as regularly washing our hands have a much greater effect on stopping the spread of the illness. 
Masks should never be seen as an alternative to social distancing and hygiene measures. 
In England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, it is now recommended that people use face coverings when they leave their house and enter enclosed spaces. However, all guidance has been clear that physical distancing, hand washing and respiratory hygiene, are the most important and effective measures we can all adopt to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Therefore the wearing of facial coverings must not be used as an alternative to any of these other precautions.
Many employers have now agreed to provide masks for their workforce, but this should not replace or reduce the other social distancing measures. Masks need to be taken off hygienically, preventing any risks of infection when touching the masks with your hands. Masks should also be disposed of safely. Single use masks should not be worn for long periods, should be disposed of when damp and should not be re-used.
Should I be wearing gloves at work?
There is no clear evidence that gloves provide effective protection from transmitting or contracting the virus. Wearing gloves simply means that the outside of the glove would be contaminated and you will still be at risk if you touch your face with your gloved hand. 
Some people may feel more comfortable wearing gloves, but this should not reduce hygiene measures such as regular hand washing and avoiding touching your face, and you should only use them if you are trained in how to use them and dispose of them hygienically.
Social distancing measures

I work in a shop. Does the current lockdown mean I can’t go into work?

This depends on what type of shop you work in. All non-essential shops have been closed from end of trading on Monday 23 March. In England the Government has now announced that outdoor markets and car showrooms will be able to open from 1 June. All other non-essential retail shops and branches are expected to be able to reopen from 15 June, depending on the spread of the virus, and providing they are COVID-19 secure.

The Scottish and Welsh Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive are making separate announcements for plans to reopen non-essential retail. These FAQs will be updated as announcements are made in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The following retail premises have been classed as essential are currently able to open:

Supermarkets and other food shops
Health shops
Pharmacies and chemists
Petrol stations
Bicycle shops
Hardware shops
Homeware shops (in England only)
Veterinary surgeries and pet shops
Corner shops and newsagents
Off-licenses and licensed shops selling alcohol, including those within breweries
Laundrettes and dry cleaners
All Post Offices
Car parks in towns, cities and near to takeaways may remain open, to facilitate essential activity (e.g. where they are supporting hospitals, supermarkets or takeaways)
High street banks, building societies, short-term loan providers, credit unions and cash points
Storage and distribution facilties, including delivery drop off points

If you work in one of these shops, it is likely to be open and you will be expected to go to work if you are well and not self-isolating. If you work in a different type of shop or other workplace that is open to the public, it should be closed.
If your workplace has been forced to close, your employer may now be looking at how to re-open safely. Usdaw is clear that employers have a legal duty of care to their workers and our members should not be put at risk, or face any detrimental impact through plans to re-open workplaces. Tough powers are in place to enforce action if businesses don’t protect their staff and customers, including fines and jail sentences of up to two years.
Re-opening workplaces only be done through a proper risk assessment and once your employer has taken steps to protect the workforce and anyone else that attends your workplace such as customers or visitors. Employers must take the necessary steps to become COVID-19 secure in line with the current Health and Safety legislation before reopening. Where Usdaw is recognised, your employer must involve in the Union in the risk assessment process and all employers should be addressing any concerns from the workforce. Businesses with over 50 employees are expected to publish the safety measures they have put in place on their website.

If, following discussions with your employer, you are worried about plans to reopen the workplace, please contact the Union.

I work in a factory, distribution centre or office which is still open. Do I have to go to work?

In order to ensure that essential supplies continue to be available, manufacturing, distribution and support services for food and pharmaceuticals have typically remained operational. Large sections of online retail have also remained open.
Other types of manufacturing and distribution workplaces may now be looking at how they can re-open safely.  Usdaw is clear that employers have a legal duty of are to their workers and our members should not be put at risk, or face any detrimental impact through plans to re-open workplaces. 
Re-opening workplaces can only be done through a proper risk assessment and once your employer has taken steps to protect the workforce and anyone else that attends your workplace such as customers or visitors. Where Usdaw is recognised, your employer must involve in the Union in the risk assessment process and all employers should be addressing any concerns from the workforce.
If, following discussions with your employer, you are worried about plans to reopen the workplace, please contact your shop steward or health and safety rep in the first instance.

What should my employer be doing to keep me safe?

Each workplace will be different and, as part of the risk assessment, your employer will have to take specific measure to ensure your safety. These exact measures are likely to vary across different workplaces, based on the relevant risks. 
Usdaw has been working with employers since the start of the outbreak and has devised the following list of common measures that should be in place across the workplace.
  • Clear provisions for workers to keep at least 2 metres apart at all times, in line with Government guidance. This means that, for non-essential business, two-man delivery operations must cease with immediate effect.
  • Additional sinks, provision of hand sanitiser for individuals and provision of cleaning equipment for all work stations.
  • Increased hours for cleaning staff.
  • Early shift finishes, and guarantee of overtime payments, where time spent leaving the site has increased due to queues adhering to social distancing.
  • Staggered break times along with extra break rooms with adequate rest facilities and additional smoking areas to ensure social distancing.
  • Flexibility and understanding around childcare issues in light of school closures.
  • If you are office based and able to work from home, your employer should support you to do this.
These are just some examples, and the measures that are needed will vary depending on your workplace. If you are pregnant, over 70 or have an underlying health condition, your employer should have a policy in place to protect you. Speak to your manager and ask your Union rep or local official for advice.
If your employer is not taking steps to implement social distancing or you feel unsafe at work, contact your Union rep or local official. 
Protecting workers from abuse and violence

There has been an increase in abuse and violence against shop staff. What is being done to protect retail workers?

Abuse against retail staff is never acceptable. Usdaw has made it clear to employers that they need to be putting in place additional resources to protect staff during this difficult time. 
This could include:
  • Increased signage around the store making it clear that abuse of shop staff will not be tolerated
  • Regular tannoy annoucements reminding customers to treat staff with respect
  • Supporting staff who suffer abuse, threats or violence from customers

Information on dealing with difficult situations is available here

With customers under more pressure than normal, it is important that you are prepared for difficult situations and know how to handle them. Your employer should give you guidance on company procedures for this, but here are some points to remember:

  • Be polite - It can be hard but remaining polite and helpful is the best way to calm down an abusive person. Remember your customer service training.
  • Be firm - As politely as possible explain any restrictions or company policies that apply and tell a difficult customer that their behaviour is unacceptable.
  • Don’t be afraid to call for help - If you feel threatened call for help, it is not a sign of weakness or failure.
If, despite your best efforts, the situation escalates and the customer starts harassing you
  • Stay calm – do not respond with aggression.
  • Do not tackle the situation on your own – either call for a supervisor/manager to come to you, or go to them and ask them to deal with the customer.
  • The supervisor/manager should explain that harassment of staff will not be tolerated and take appropriate action.
  • Let your Usdaw rep know what has happened and report the customer to management, whether it is inside or outside the store.
  • Always report to management when you see a banned person re-enter the store.
Advice for Pregnant Women at Work
View our Frequently Asked Questions.

Advice for people with underlying health conditions and their carers
View our Frequently Asked Questions.
Workplace closures/furlough

What happens to my pay if my workplace is closed or there is no work for me?

Unless you have a clause in your contract that says you can be laid off with pay, your employer is usually contractually obliged to continue to pay you for your contracted hours when the workplace is closed. However, in some situations, for example where they are not bringing in any income, they may say that that they are unable to do this and your job may be put at risk.
In order to protect jobs and wages during this unprecedented national emergency, the Government has introduced a Job Retention Scheme, which means that your employer can keep you on the payroll and claim back 80% of your wages, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. This would mean that you become a ‘furloughed worker’.

If you have any queries about your employers plans to make you a furloughed worker, or how they are calculating your wages, please contact your Union rep or local official.

My workplace is still open, can I be furloughed?

Individuals have not been given a right to be put on furlough. It is up to employers to decide when and how to use the scheme. Where there is a significant decrease in demand, an employer may choose to look to furlough some workers but keep others in the workplace. In this case, the employer needs to use a fair method of selecting which workers to be placed on furlough.

What if I refuse to be placed on furlough?

You may be at risk of redundancy or termination of employment, depending on the circumstances of your employer. However, this must be in line with normal redundancy rules and protections.
What type of employee can be furloughed?

You must have been on your employee’s PAYE payroll on 19 March 2020. You can be on any type of contract including:  
  • full-time employees
  • part-time employees
  • employees on agency contracts
  • employees on flexible or zero-hour contracts

The Job Retention Scheme will close for new entrants from 30 June. From this point, employers will only be able to furlough employees that they have furloughed for a full three-week period prior to 30 June. Therefore, the final date which an employer can furlough an employee for the first time will be 10 June.

This is with the exception of parents who return from Statutory Maternity, Paternity, Adoption, Shared Parental and Parental Bereavement leave, if you are returning to work from one of these types of leave after 10 June, you will still be eligible to be placed on furlough as long as your employer has previously accessed the scheme. Further details on this are expected to be available from 12 June.

What is the flexible furlough scheme?

From 1 July, employers will be able to bring workers back to work on a part time basis whilst continuing to be able to access the furlough scheme for any hours not worked as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak.

Employers looking to utilise the flexible provision must reach written agreement with the workforce.

Where employers have been utilising the scheme, Usdaw would expect them to operate a flexible furlough provision to assist parents with childcare issues caused by Coronavirus.

Will I always be paid at least 80% of my wages whilst on furlough?

Workers on furlough leave will continue to be paid at least 80% of their wages until the scheme ends at the end of October.

From 1 September, in addition to pension and National Insurance contributions, employers will be required to pay 10% of furloughed employees’ wages, with the Government paying the other 70%.

From 1 October, employers will be required to pay 20% of furloughed employees’ wages, with the Government paying the other 60%.

How long can I be on furlough for?

The furlough scheme will be backdated to 1 March. The Government has confirmed that the scheme will be open in its current form until the end of July. From July, the scheme will allow individuals to work on a part-time basis and be furloughed for their remaining normal hours. The extended scheme will be available until the end of October.
If you are placed on furlough, you will need to retain that status for at least three weeks. You can be furloughed more than once, and one period can follow straight after another as long as the scheme remains open.

What happens to my pension contributions if I am on furlough?

Under the scheme, the Government will subsidise an employer’s basic auto-enrolment contributions on 80% of an employee’s wages while a worker is furloughed. If your employer tops up the 80% payment, the employer will have to also top-up the minimum auto-enrolment contribution. From 1 August, employers will need to pay employer pensions and National Insurance contributions on behalf of furloughed staff.

I am on furlough, will I still accrue annual leave?

Yes. The Government has now confirmed that your annual leave will build up in the normal way.

Can I take annual leave while on furlough?

Yes, Government guidance has now stated that you can take annual leave while on furlough.

If you are taking any of your first 5.6 weeks of holiday in any holiday year, this must be paid at an average of your pay over the last 52 weeks. If you have been furloughed at less than 100% of normal pay, this may be a temporary increase to your earnings. For any leave above the first 5.6 weeks, this should also be paid at the average rate however, with your specific agreement, this can be reduced.

You should be aware that your employer could still refuse your request for annual leave, and they might do this if they are unable to pay your full holiday pay. If this happens and you aren’t able to take your annual leave within your holiday year, you may be able to “carry over” some or all of this untaken leave into the next two holiday years. See the section above on annual leave for more information on this.

I’ve got annual leave booked in for while I’m on furlough, can I cancel them?

If you wish to cancel currently booked annual leave, we would advise you to talk to your employer in the first instance. Once an annual leave request has been accepted, unless there is something specific in your contract, your employer is not under a legal duty to accept a request to cancel it. However, we would ask employers to be flexible about any requests.

While I’m on furlough, can my employer cancel annual leave I’ve already got booked in?

Yes, there may be a specific clause in your contract regarding this. If there is no clause in your contract, then your employer can cancel any booked holidays provided they give you as much notice as the period of leave to be cancelled. For example, if you have a week’s leave booked, your employer must give you at least one week’s notice of cancelling your holidays.

Your employer must allow you to re-book the holiday. Currently, up to four weeks’ holidays can be carried over for the next two holiday years where it has not been reasonably practicable for it to be taken as a result of the effects of coronavirus.

Can my employer require me to take holidays while on furlough?

Under the normal holiday rules an employer can require you to take holidays on certain dates. The Government has stated that these rules will apply while people are on furlough.

However, the Government guidance does state, “If an employer requires a worker to take holiday while on furlough, the employer should consider whether any restrictions the worker is under, such as the need to socially distance or self-isolate, would prevent the worker from resting, relaxing and enjoying leisure time, which is the fundamental purpose of holiday.” So your employer should talk to you before attempting to require you to take holiday.

Where your employer is requiring you to take holidays, unless there is something different written in your contract, your employer has to give you two days' notice for every day they want you to take. So if your employer is asking you to take four days' holiday, they need to give you eight days' notice of this.

Childcare issues

I am struggling to balance childcare responsibilities with work now that the schools have closed. What should my employer to do help?

If you are classed as an essential worker, you should be able to access emergency childcare provision. However, this won’t apply to everyone or be suitable in every situation. We expect employers to show as much flexibility as possible and take into account people’s individual needs. 

There is no legal right to paid time off for childcare reasons. However, where employers are making use of the Job Retention Scheme, the Government has now advised that employees who need to look after children can be furloughed. Again, though, there is no individual right to be furloughed, so your employer is not required to do this. Under the current rules of the furlough scheme, if you are furloughed, then you cannot do any work on behalf of your employer. So if you just need to reduce your hours, this can’t be done under the Job Retention Scheme. This is likely to change in July.
Getting to and from work

Can I still use public transport to get to work? 

Current Government advice is that people should avoid using public transport where possible, and instead try to walk, cycle or drive. If these options aren’t possible, then you can continue to use public transport. You should take extra care when using public transport to maintain as much distance as possible from others and ensure you wash your hands before your journey and as soon as you get to work.

We are aware that public transport provisions have been reduced in many areas of the country. If you are struggling to get to work, we would encourage you to discuss the situation with your employer to see if you can work from a different location or vary your hours of work. We would expect employers to be a flexible as possible in the current situation.
My employer provides transport to and from the workplace. Should this still go ahead?
Some employers and agencies provide transport to and from the workplace, particularly where workplaces are situated away from high population areas. This transport may be a contractual right. We would expect employers to continue to provide transport, however how this transport is provided may have to change. 
Rules around social distancing must still be adhered to. Therefore, whilst travelling, people must be able to stay two meters apart. This may mean that employers may have to put on additional transport to be able to get everyone to the workplace.

Advice for Pregnant Women at Work

View our Frequently Asked Questions.

Advice for people with underlying health conditions and their carers
View our Frequently Asked Questions.

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