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Frequently Asked Questions

Last updated: 2 April

I had holiday 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 holiday booked but am unable 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 over a two-year period. This law applies if you haven’t been able to take your holiday because of coronavirus, for example if:
  • You’re self-isolating or too sick to take holiday before the end of your leave year.
  • You’ve been temporarily sent home as there’s no work (‘laid off’ or ‘put on furlough’).
  • You’ve had to continue working and could not take paid holiday before the end of your leave year.
If you leave your job or are dismissed during the 2-year 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. Check your own company’s policy on how this will be implemented.

I had a week’s holiday 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?
Your employer can legally still make you take the time off but we would ask them to be flexible where possible. If you want to change it you would need to get your manager’s agreement.

My employer is 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 to close for 10 days, they should tell everyone at least 20 days before.

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.

The following retail premises can remain open:

Supermarkets and other food shops
Health shops
Pharmacies and chemists
Petrol stations
Bicycle shops
Hardware shops
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 stay 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.

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, we would expect that manufacturing, distribution and support services for food and pharmaceuticals will need to remain operational throughout the outbreak.
For other types of manufacturing and distribution, the picture is less clear. The Government’s announcement that non-essential retail shops must close does not extend to online and home delivery. In fact, they have actually said that “online retail is still open and encouraged and postal and delivery service will run as normal”.
We are very concerned about this, because expecting people to go into work to support the delivery of non-essential items does not fit with Government advice to stay at home unless it is essential. Usdaw is clear that our members should not be put at risk, or face any detrimental impact, as a result of the Government advice. The Union has raised this with the Government and will continue to do so.
Businesses need to ask themselves whether it is really necessary and essential for their business to work normally. The Union is raising this question with employers.  If your workplace is working normally then it needs to follow public health advice around social distancing.
I work in a non-retail workplace. What should my employer be doing to keep me safe?
Whether or not you are in a public facing role, if you are expected to be in work your employer should be adapting their procedures to keep you safe. We have been working with employers on this and calling on them to do the following:
  • 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.

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 been employed (or engaged by an employment business) for a full twelve months prior to the claim, your employer can claim for the higher of either:
  • the same month’s earning from the previous year
  • average monthly earnings from the 2019-20 tax year
If you have been employed for less than a year, the employer can claim for an average of your monthly earnings since they started work. If you only started in February 2020, the claim would be based on your pro-rata earnings so far.
Moving you to furloughed status requires your employer to get your agreement if they are going to reduce your pay. Where workers do move to furloughed status, we would call on employers to top up your pay to your normal wages, so that you’re not left out of pocket.  
You need to consider your circumstances and options carefully before agreeing or disagreeing to furloughed worker status. Contact your Union rep or local official if you need help with this.

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 28 February 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
How long can I be on furlough for?
The furlough scheme will be backdated to 1 March and is initially open for 3 months. 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.

My employer has said that I’m a furloughed worker and I won’t get paid until the Government money comes through.
If this happens, report it to the Union immediately.

My workplace is open as an essential retailer. What should my employer be doing to keep me safe?
If you are still going into work and dealing with the public, we expect employers to do everything they can to protect you. This includes, but is not limited to, ensuring a clean workplace, providing access to hand washing facilities, enforcing safe distances and increasing security measures where this is needed to keep you safe.
The Government has said that retail and public premises which are expected  to remain open must ensure a distance of two metres between customers and shop assistants and let people enter the shop only in small groups to ensure that spaces are not crowded.  Queue control is required outside of shops and other essential premises that remain open. We are urgently seeking clarification from government and employers as to how this will be implemented.
If you are pregnant, over 70 years old or have an underlying health condition, there should be a policy in place to protect you. Ask your manager and speak to your union rep for advice. The same applies to extremely vulnerable people who have received a confirmation letter from the NHS and must go through a period of isolation/absence of 12 weeks.
Can I still use public transport to get to work?
If you are able to avoid using public transport, you should. If you have to go to work and do not have access to a car, 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 as soon as you get to work.

Should I be wearing a mask and gloves at work?
Social distancing and regular handwashing are the most effective ways to prevent the spreading of the virus. The wearing of masks and gloves is not currently recommended by Public Health England, the NHS or the World Health Organisation in most work settings.
There is no clear evidence that masks or gloves are effective in protecting the wearer against infection. If they are used incorrectly they may increase the risk of infection. Wearing gloves simply means the outside of the glove would be contaminated and you would still be at risk if you touched your face with the gloved hand.
If your employer is providing masks and/or gloves, you should only use them if you are properly trained in how to put them on and how to take them off hygienically and dispose of them safely. Single-use disposable masks should not be worn for long periods, should be disposed of when damp and should not be re-used. See World Health Organisation guidance here for more information.

Advice for Pregnant Women at Work
View our Frequently Asked Questions.

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