The current Covid-19 outbreak is causing lots of people to ask about their employment rights. Our main page on your rights at work during this time deals with sick-pay and what happens if you need to self isolate.
Below is more detailed information in the event your employer wants to initiate temporary lay-offs or short-term working.
What do I do if my employer tells me I’m going to be laid-off, short-term working, or even made redundant?
First things first, make sure you contact your local UNISON rep, or UNISON branch straight away.
What is a lay-off?
Circumstances, like the Covid-19 pandemic, could potentially lead to some employers temporarily reducing available work. A lay-off is where employees are not provided with work by their employer and the situation is expected to be temporary.
Similar to this is what’s known as short-time working, where employees are laid off for a number (but not all) of their contractual days each week, or for a number of hours during a working day.
How can an employer do that?
It’s all about your contract. Employers can lay someone off where there is a written contractual right, so the first thing you need to do is find your contract and see what is says about this.
On rare occasions, there may be an agreement covering lay-offs between an employer and a trade union (like UNISON), or an agreement made by a national body (like the NHS Staff Council). Such an agreement has contractual force, but only if it is in the individual employee’s contract of employment.
What if it’s not in my contract?
The ability of your employer to force lay-offs may also be possible if they can show that they’ve been using these over a long period of time and it’s their normal practice. You would almost certainly be aware of this practice already in your workplace if this was the case.
But my employer’s now saying they want to change my contract?
This could be done by individual agreement with you. But you don’t need to agree a change just because your employer asks you!
A change could also happen with the collective agreement of a recognised trade union, or through a process known as dismissal and re-engagement. Either of these would require significant consultation with you and your colleagues first.
Will I be paid during a lay-off?
Again, it’s all about your contract. Employees can be laid off without pay where there is a specific term in their contract which allows the employer to do this.
If you are laid-off without pay, you might be entitled to what’s called a ‘statutory guarantee payment’ from your employer. Unfortunately, this isn’t very much.
The current maximum payment is just £25 a day for five days in any three months (ie. £125). If you usually earn less than £25 a day, you should receive your usual daily rate. However, if you’re part-time, this may be reduced and worked out proportionally.
On days when a guarantee payment isn’t payable, it may be possible to claim Jobseekers Allowance through your local Jobcentre Plus office.
What if the lay-off goes on for a long time?
You can claim a redundancy payment from your employer if the lay-off or short-time working, runs for a long period. A long period means:
- four or more weeks in a row
- six or more weeks in a thirteen week period (where no more than three are in a row)
In order to claim this, you must give your employer written notice in advance that you want to make a claim. This can be a fairly basic letter. Contact your UNISON rep or UNISON branch if you want advice on this.
My employer’s saying they won’t do anything from this UNISON advice?
If your employer refuses to make guaranteed payments or follow your contract, then you have a potential employment tribunal claim. Contact your UNISON branch or local rep straight away as there are strict time limits on this.
At some stage you will need to fill in a UNISON case form, which you can find below.
My employer’s now saying they need to make me redundant
You can find all UNISON’s advice on redundancy on our national website: