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Employee Rights During the Covid-19 Pandemic

By Aamina Almaas, LLM student


Employer’s have responded to Covid-19 trying to keep businesses open and running in line with government guidelines.

During the pandemic, those considered as “essential workers” have been required to go into the workplace.

Working during Covid-19

Employers have a duty of care towards their employees, therefore should perform a risk assessment to ensure that the workplace and employees are protected. This includes employers making assessments of their employees and their individual characteristics and their risk of suffering coronavirus. The rationale behind the Covid-19 risk assessment is to offer protection and it should not be seen as a simple formality. Therefore, given the rapidly changing situations, risk assessments should be updated. For example, for those returning to work where business hours are recommencing to operate at normal opening hours, the workplace is likely to become much busier.  Therefore, any amendments should be made according to the situation in order to ensure that employees are protected.

Where employees feel their employer has prioritised commercial interest over their own health and safety in accordance with the government guidelines, then they should raise this with their line manager at the earliest opportunity. If this is not possible, then they should raise a formal grievance.

Given the unprecedented times and the difficulties being faced globally, employers should offer to remain in contact with their employees who are working offsite. Where possible offer support through any programmes such as those which are related to mental health wellbeing.

Where an employee reasonably believes that going into work, including travel, would put them at serious and imminent danger from Covid-19, they may remain home whilst being entitled to full pay (ERA 1996 section 44(d)).

Therefore, where your employer fails to provide a safe work place with the correct and strict precautions in place, so that you feel that going into work will impose serious or imminent danger to you in regards to Covid-19, you are legally entitled to remain home.

Dismissals for this reason will be regarded as unfair (ERA 1996 s. 100). Where you raise a claim for unfair dismissal under the Employment Rights Act 1996 s. 100, you do not need to fulfil a requirement for a qualifying period of employment. The basic requirement is that you must be considered an employee.

Changes to your employment contract

The impact of Covid-19 on businesses may mean that your employer might want to amend some of the terms of your contract, alongside altering your duties. Your employer may apply a new term to your contract without you being aware. Where you continue to work under this new contract, it will be taken that you have accepted the terms and you will become bound by them. Therefore, during these crises you should remain aware of any changes to your contract and communicate with your employer regularly to avoid a situation like this.

When deciding whether to accept the new terms, you should consider whether these changes are temporary or permanent. Where you decide not to agree with the proposed terms you should discuss possible alternatives with your employer.

Where you feel your employer is threatening or pressurising you to accept their new terms, then you should seek legal assistance. SHU Law can offer you expert legal advice in relation to these issues.


During this crisis businesses have been suffering immensely due to the decrease in demand for services. Employers may decide they need to reduce the staff size or close the business altogether. If you face this then you may be made redundant, although your employer should explore all possible alternatives first, such as short time working or a freeze on recruitment. It is also usual for an employer to first seek volunteers for redundancy.

Where there is a risk of redundancy, it is good practice for your employer to discuss this with you and suggest alternatives such as a different role.  In reducing the staff size, the employer should follow a fair procedure in doing so. If you feel that you have been made redundant on grounds of discrimination then you may claim unfair dismissal. However, this is subject to you being  employed for at least two years.

If you have been made redundant, then you can also claim redundancy payment. This is subject to you being in employment for two years or more. The rate of redundancy pay may be prescribed by your employer, therefore you should discuss this with them. For further guidance on your entitlement you may use the redundancy pay calculator on the GOV.UK website. If your employer refuses to pay you, you should write to your employer at the earliest opportunity as your redundancy payment should be made at the latest, before the date of your final pay. In the letter you should state your entitlement and submit evidence to support this. For further guidance on steps you should take if your employer refuses redundancy pay, you can visit www.acas.org.uk/your-rights-during-redundancy.  If you are still unable to receive your redundancy pay and you require further assistance, you may contact SHU Law for advice from one of our experienced employment law solicitors.

Caring responsibilities

If you are unable to go into work due to caring responsibilities then you may request paid leave from your employer.

Taking Legal action

If you feel your employment rights have been breached then you may be able to raise a claim and may be entitled to compensation. You should seek legal assistance to confirm your case and rights prior to this in order to prevent any unexpected costs.

Choosing a law firm can be a difficult decision. The costs of a solicitor can often be a factor why individuals remain silent about any discrimination they have faced or where they have been treated unfairly. SHU Law offers advice and assistance free of cost. The importance of access to justice is central to SHU Law. Therefore, if you feel you have been treated unfairly as an employee during the Covid-19 crises, then please do not hesitate to contact SHU Law for legal assistance on 0114 2256666


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