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Frequently Asked Questions

Last updated: 12 November


Social distancing measures

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 maintain adequate social distancing at all times, in line with Government guidance.
  • Clear advice to customers/site visitors on what they need to do to maintain social distancing.
  • If you work in manufacturing or processing measures such as rearranging production lines, adjusting shift patterns (with agreement from staff) and reducing pinch points where workers work more closely together may be considered.
  • 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 or reduced school/childcare provision.
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. 
My workplace is reopening; do I have to go into work?

In order to ensure that essential supplies continue to be available, retail, home delivery, manufacturing, distribution and support services for food and pharmaceuticals have typically remained operational.

Other types of workplaces may have been required to close as a result of the lockdown, but should be re-opening again soon. 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.

All workplaces should have had a proper risk assessment either during the first peak of the crisis or when they re-opened in the summer. This risk assessment should regularly be re-visited.

We would expect that all employers have 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.

The measures detailed above, give an idea of the measures that your employer may put in place to support workers to safely return.

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.

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 announcements 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

As a result of the significant increase in abuse against retail workers, 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.
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?

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.

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

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.

We would ask employers to support staff taking their leave where possible, leave should only be cancelled in exceptional circumstances.

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. Some employers’ policies may require carried over leave to be taken in the following year.

Leave can be carried over 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.

Will I be paid (or get sick pay) if I need to quarantine after my holiday?

You are not automatically entitled to paid leave if you need to quarantine following a holiday abroad. The exact rules will depend on your contract. You should check your company’s policy before you travel, and discuss your options with your manager.

If you can work from home, as many people have done since lockdown began in March, then some employers may be happy for this arrangement to continue.

If you cannot work from home, some employers might agree to extend your annual leave if you have days remaining; or consent to a period of unpaid leave.

You will not be eligible for statutory sick pay if you need to quarantine (unless you or someone in your household develop the symptoms of coronavirus).

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 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.

The Government has announced that the Job Retention Scheme will continue to run until March 2021.

What is the flexible furlough scheme?

From 1 July, employers were 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 their employees.

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 ends in March 2021.

Currently the Government is paying the full 80% of wages for those who are furloughed; employers are only expected to contribute National Insurance and pension contributions for furloughed staff. This will be reviewed in January 2021 and employers may need to contribute more towards furlough pay at that time. However, this will not affect the pay furloughed workers receive – they will continue to receive a minimum of 80% of their wages.

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

From 1 August, employers have been required to pay employer pensions and National Insurance contributions on behalf of furloughed staff. Prior to 1 August, the Government subsidised an employer’s basic auto-enrolment contributions on 80% of an employee’s wages while the worker was furloughed. If the employer topped up the 80% payment, they were also required to top-up the minimum auto-enrolment contribution.

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

Yes, annual leave entitlement builds up in the normal way while on furlough.

Can I take annual leave while on furlough?

Yes, Government guidance states 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?

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.

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

What do I do for childcare if my children’s school/nursery is temporarily closed?

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.

From July, companies are now able to furlough staff on a ‘flexible’ part-time basis. If you have been furloughed in the past, your employer may be able to furlough you on a part-time basis to help with childcare needs.
Getting to and from work

Can I still use public transport to get to work? 

The Government is recommending that people look to walk or cycle. Where this is not possible, people should drive or use public transport. You must wear a mask while travelling on public transport and you should take extra care 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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