Over the past week readers have been contacting me about their consumer rights in relation to the Cornonavirus. Most questions have surrounded flight cancellations and employment rights. Here’s what you need to know:
There are two scenarios where you cannot claim compensation for a cancelled flight; 1) when the airline cancels the flight more than 14 days prior to the date of departure and 2) if the reason for the cancellation satisfies the test of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ and there were no reasonable steps the airline could have taken to avoid the cancellation.
It will obviously be clear if your flight was cancelled more than 14 days prior to departure. The extraordinary circumstances defence can be more complicated as the law does not provide an actual definition of this, although the courts have provided useful guidance and decisions on this. However, generally speaking, if the event is outside of the airlines control it is likely that it wall fall within this defence. In relation to cancellations linked to the coronavirus, my firm view is that this does satisfy the test of extraordinary circumstances and given the circumstances here I cannot see what reasonable steps airlines could take to avoid cancelling flights. It is therefore unlikely that a compensation claim would succeed.
Am I entitled to sick pay?
As with any other illness, a person who is off sick with Coronavirus will be entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) under a law known as the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992, provided they meet the qualifying conditions.
SSP is the minimum level of pay employees are entitled to. However, employees may have the right to an enhanced level of sick pay under their employment contract.
To qualify for SSP, employee’s average weekly earnings must be above £118. SSP is payable for a ‘period of incapacity for work’ (PIW). This is any period of four or more days where an employee is incapable, or deemed to be incapable, of working due to illness.
SSP was previously paid from the fourth ‘qualifying day’ within the PIW. However, as a result of the Coronavirus, Government has temporarily changed this so that it is now paid from the first ‘qualifying day’.
SSP is paid at a rate of £94.25 per week.
What if I can’t go to work because I’ve been advised to self-isolate?
Employment lawyers have advised me that if you are advised by NHS 111, or indeed your GP, to self-isolate, you will be ‘deemed to be incapable for work’ and therefore entitled to SSP. I should say that this is still a bit of a grey area.
You will need to provide your employer with evidence of the advice to self-isolate. My understanding is that if you call NHS 111 and they advise you to do this, you can ask them to email confirmation of the advice to you.
If your employer tells you to stay at home, it is likely that you will be entitled to your normal pay, especially if you are instructed to work from home.
What if my employer closes my workplace?
If your employer closes your workplace you will be entitled to full pay during the period of closure. However, your employer will be entitled to ask you to work from home during this period.
Can my employer force me to take holiday for any period of self-isolation?
No, unless there is a contractual right for your employer to do this. You should check your employment contract (or statement of terms if you have no contract) and staff handbook (if your employer has one).
Can i refuse to self-isolate?
You can try but your employer will have good grounds to force you to self-isolate as it has obligations under health and safety laws to safeguard other employees. In this respect, if you refuse you may find that your employer takes steps to suspend you.
What if my child’s school/nursery is closed?
In this situation you will be entitled to parental leave. However, you will not be entitled to be paid.