The government advises anyone who’s at high risk of getting a severe illness if they catch coronavirus ('vulnerable people') to take particularly strict social distancing measures.
Employers must be especially careful and take extra steps for anyone in their workforce who is in a vulnerable group.
They include, but are not limited to, those who:
- have a long-term health condition, for example asthma, diabetes, heart disease, hepatitis, Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis (MS)
- have a weakened immune system as the result of medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
- are pregnant
- are aged 70 or over
- are seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)
For more about social distancing and vulnerable people:
- in England, see social distancing guidance on GOV.UK
- in Scotland, see NHS inform Scotland
- in Wales, see Public Health Wales
2. Shielding for extremely vulnerable people
Some people will receive a letter from the NHS to say they should take extra steps to protect (or 'shield') themselves because of an underlying health condition. This is for people who are at higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus.
Employees or workers should talk to their employer as soon as they can if they:
- have been told to start shielding
- think they might get a letter telling them to start shielding
If an employee or worker receives a letter telling them to start shielding, they should stay at home for at least 12 weeks.
If they cannot work from home during this time, they can ask their employer if they can be put on 'furlough'. Furlough is where an employee or worker agrees in writing with their employer that they will not work temporarily but they will still be employed. Find out more about furlough.
Employers should support staff following shielding guidelines. This might be a distressing or difficult time, so it's important for employers to keep in touch during any absence.
Any details about the employee or worker's medical condition must be kept confidential, unless the employee or worker says it can be shared.
For more about shielding and protecting extremely vulnerable people:
- in England, see shielding guidance on GOV.UK
- in Scotland, see NHS inform Scotland
- in Wales, see Public Health Wales
Discrimination and unfair treatment
If an employee or worker is still being asked to go out to work and they believe they're at risk because they're in one of the vulnerable groups, it's important they talk to their employer.
If they cannot follow guidance on social distancing at work or during travel to work, they should tell their employer they need to follow government advice and stay at home.
Unfair treatment and dismissal
An employee or worker is protected by law against unfair treatment and dismissal, if it's because of:
- a health condition that's considered a disability under the Equality Act
It does not matter how long they've worked for the employer.
It could be unlawful discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy, disability or age if an employer either:
- unreasonably tries to pressure someone to go to work
- unreasonably disciplines someone for not going to work
If someone needs time off because a person close to them has died, it's important their employer approaches the matter sensitively. For example:
- giving the person the time they need to deal with the bereavement
- considering the person's physical and emotional wellbeing, including once they've returned to work
A sensitive approach can help keep a good working relationship between the employer and their employee. It can also help keep the workplace productive.
Time off for bereavement is also known as 'bereavement leave' or 'compassionate leave'.
3. Bereavement leave and the law
This time off is for dealing with unexpected issues and emergencies involving the dependant, including leave to arrange or attend a funeral.
How much leave can be taken
The law does not say how much time can be taken off for a dependant. It simply says the amount should be 'reasonable'.
- be compassionate towards a person's individual situation
- remember that everyone deals with bereavement differently (some people may need more time off than others)
Employers can treat time off for bereavement as sick leave or holiday leave, depending on their workplace policy and the individual circumstances.
New leave rights for bereaved parents from 6 April
From 6 April 2020, employees will be entitled to 2 weeks' leave if their child dies under the age of 18. Read about the new right to parental bereavement leave on GOV.UK.
Pay during bereavement
There is no automatic right to paid time off for bereavement.
There are exceptions for agricultural employees – you can call the Acas helpline to find out more.
Many employers do choose to offer pay when someone's been bereaved. The amount they offer is up to them.
If the employee takes the time off as sick leave or holiday leave, their normal sick or holiday pay will apply.
Pay for bereaved parents from 6 April
From 6 April 2020, employees and workers will have the right to 2 weeks' parental bereavement pay if:
- their child dies under the age of 18
- they've worked for their employer for at least 26 weeks
- they earn on average at least £118 per week (before tax)
Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression are common for anyone who's been bereaved.
As certain mental health conditions are treated as disabilities under the law, employers should make sure they:
- do not discriminate against someone with a disability
- make 'reasonable adjustments' for an employee who has a disability
Time off for stillbirth or miscarriage
If someone has a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy, they can get up to 52 weeks of statutory maternity leave or pay.
A miscarriage or stillbirth can be traumatic regardless of the stage of pregnancy.
So employers should also consider:
- what's best for the person or their partner, depending on their specific circumstances and needs
- offering them time off if the miscarriage happened before 24 weeks of pregnancy
The benefits of a bereavement policy
It's a good idea for your workplace to have a policy that covers bereavement absence and pay, to keep things clear.
A policy can also help clarify anything offered at work that's more than what's legally required (for example, paid bereavement leave).
Even if there is a policy, employers should make some allowances (a recently bereaved person may not be in the right frame of mind to check it straight away).
What a bereavement policy should include
A bereavement policy should cover:
- how soon the bereavement should be reported
- who can report it (for example, a member of the employee's family if the employee is not able to do it themselves)
- who it should be reported to (for example, the employee's line manager)
- what happens if the deceased is not a dependant
- how much leave is provided
- what type of leave it is (for example, whether it's treated as sick leave)
- when a sick ('fit') note is needed
- how the employee's return to work is managed, for example whether they can return on reduced hours if they're not ready to return full time
It should also cover pay, including:
- whether or not pay is provided
- how much pay is provided
- the type of pay (for example, sick pay)
If there's no policy
If there's no bereavement policy, the employer must follow the law. They should also try to be as reasonable and consistent as they can.
For example, they can look at how bereavement leave has been managed previously to help decide how it should be managed now or in the future.
Telling others about the bereavement
By law, an employee has the right to keep their bereavement private from work colleagues.
It can be a good idea for the employer to ask their employee what, if anything, they would like their work colleagues to know about the bereavement.
If the employer cannot ask for this information, it's best to say as little as possible (for example, that the absence is for personal reasons).
Keeping in touch while the employee is off
It's important to keep in touch during absence.
Returning to work
Find out about the procedure a workplace should have when someone returns to work.
Supporting the employee over the longer term
Once they've returned to work, the employee might still need extra support or time off.
This might be because of developments following a bereavement, such as:
- depression or another mental health condition
- extra responsibilities, like helping a dependant
How the workplace deals with requests for extra support or time off depends on its bereavement or absence policies.
Even if the employer does not have a policy, they must follow the law by:
- not discriminating, for example if the employee's mental health condition is classed as a disability
- making 'reasonable adjustments' to support an employee who has a disability
The employer should consider what's best for their employee's physical and mental health in the long term.
Doing things proactively, for example encouraging an open and supportive working environment for everyone, can help prevent problems.
It's also likely the employee will be more productive if they feel they're getting the right support.
If you're unhappy about how your employer has dealt with your bereavement
You can raise the problem with your employer.
As of 13 March 2020, employees and workers who self-isolate must receive any Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) due to them from the first day they’re absent from work if it’s because:
- they have coronavirus
- they have coronavirus symptoms, for example a high temperature, a new continuous cough or a loss of, or change in, sense of smell or taste
- someone in their household has coronavirus symptoms
- they’ve been told to 'shield' by the NHS because of an underlying health condition
- they've been told to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111
- they’ve been told to self-isolate by a government 'test and trace' service, because they’ve been in close contact with someone who tested positive ('NHS Test and Trace' in England, 'Test and Protect' in Scotland or 'Test, trace, protect' in Wales)
Some employers can claim back up to 2 weeks’ SSP they’ve paid to anyone because of coronavirus. Find out more about claiming back SSP due to coronavirus on GOV.UK.
Employers might offer more than SSP – 'contractual' sick pay. Find out more about sick pay.
If an employee or worker cannot work, they should tell their employer:
- as soon as possible
- the reason
- how long they're likely to be off for
4. If someone has symptoms
If someone has symptoms and lives alone, they must self-isolate for 7 days.
If someone lives in a household and is the first to have symptoms, they must self-isolate for 7 days. Everyone else in their household must self-isolate for 14 days.
If anyone else in the household starts displaying symptoms, the person with the new symptoms must self-isolate for 7 days. This is regardless of where they are in the 14-day isolation period.
For more about households with coronavirus symptoms:
- in England, see guidance for households with possible coronavirus on GOV.UK
- in Scotland, see NHS Inform Scotland
- in Wales, see Welsh Government guidance
If someone is told to self-isolate by a test and trace service
If a government 'test and trace' service tells someone they’ve been in close recent contact with someone who has tested positive, they must self-isolate for 14 days. If they develop symptoms, everyone else in their household must self-isolate for 14 days.
For more information about test and trace:
- in England, see NHS Test and Trace on GOV.UK
- in Scotland, see Test and Protect on gov.scot
- in Wales, see Test, trace, protect on gov.wales
If the employer needs proof
Employees in self-isolation need to follow their workplace's usual sickness reporting process.
Employees can 'self-certify' for the first 7 days off work. This means following their workplace process but not having to get a note from a doctor or NHS 111.
Those self-isolating due to coronavirus for more than 7 days can get an online self-isolation note from the:
It's a good idea to check your workplace's policy on absence from work. Employers might need to be flexible if asking for self-isolation notes. For example, an employee with severe symptoms might not be able to get a note straight away.
Employers might need to put some or all of their employees on temporary leave ('furlough') during the coronavirus pandemic.
Furlough is where an employee or worker agrees with their employer to stop work temporarily but stay employed. Furlough must be agreed in writing.
This can be a difficult time for both employers and staff. It's a good idea to make sure staff have a way to communicate with the employer and other people they work with.
Who can be furloughed
Any of the following can be put on furlough, whether they work full time or part time:
- agency workers
- those on zero-hours contracts
Employers can also furlough those who are temporarily unable to work because:
- they're 'shielding' (told to stay at home by the NHS because of an underlying health condition)
- someone in their household is shielding
- they have childcare responsibilities
- they're caring for a vulnerable person in their household
Putting staff on furlough
Employers must select people for furlough in a fair way to avoid any discrimination.
- get agreement in writing and be clear how much the employee or worker will get paid during their furlough
- keep furloughed workers on the employer's payroll and continue their employment contracts
- make sure furloughs last at least 3 weeks
If someone disagrees with their employer's decision about being selected for furlough or how much they'll get paid, they should talk to their employer and try to come to an agreement.
Any furlough agreements should be in writing. It's a good idea to include:
- the date furlough starts
- how much the furloughed worker will be paid
- when the furlough will be reviewed
- how to keep in contact during furlough
Furlough can be extended by going through the process of putting someone on furlough again. Any agreement to extend should be put in writing.
Employers should regularly review furlough agreements to decide when to bring furloughed staff back to work.
It can help employers to consider:
- which job roles and skills are needed in the workplace
- if all furloughed staff are needed back at the same time
- if any staff might be kept on furlough because they’re temporarily unable to work, for example if they’re caring for someone or are shielding
To end furlough, employers should give staff notice in writing.
There's no minimum notice period for furlough, but employers should:
- talk to staff about any plans to end furlough as early as possible
- encourage staff to raise any concerns or problems about returning to work
Changing an employment contract
If an employer cannot reach an agreement with an employee or worker, they may want to change the written terms in their contract.
If there are more than 20 people affected, employers will need to consult staff representatives ('collectively consult').
Pay during furlough
Pay during furlough could be less than usual, if agreed between the employer and employee or worker.
The employer may be able to get financial support from HMRC’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
Employers can claim for up to 80% or £2,500 of each furloughed employee or worker's usual wages, whichever is lower.
Topping up wages to 100%
The employer should decide whether they'll top up furloughed employees’ or workers’ wages to 100%, but they do not have to. If the employer decides not to top up the wages, they should explain why.
Minimum wage during furlough
If furloughed staff are paid 80% of their wages through HMRC’s scheme, this might mean they get less than the minimum wage. This is allowed as long as they’re not working.
But if someone does any training for their job during furlough, they must get the current minimum wage for those hours. For example, if an apprentice continues with their apprenticeship while furloughed.
If furloughed staff take paid family-related leave on or after 25 April 2020
Their usual, full pay must be used to work out if they’re eligible for:
- Statutory Maternity Pay
- Statutory Paternity Pay
- Statutory Adoption Pay
- Statutory Shared Parental Pay
- Parental Bereavement Pay
If someone is paid less during furlough, it will not affect their entitlement to statutory pay.
Claiming through HMRC's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
For an employer to claim through the scheme, they must have:
- created and started a PAYE payroll scheme on or before 19 March 2020
- enrolled for PAYE Online
- a UK bank account
The furloughed employee or worker must have been on their PAYE payroll and included in a 'Real Time Information' (RTI) submission to HMRC on or before 19 March.
Claims can be backdated to 1 March 2020.
Changes to the furlough scheme
The government is making changes to the scheme. Employers will need to consider how this affects them.
The changes include:
- 10 June – the last date employers can put people on furlough for the first time
- 1 July – 'flexible furlough' starts, where employers will be able to bring back furloughed employees part time if they need to
From 1 August, employers will need to start paying the employer's national insurance and pension contributions.
From 1 September:
- employers will continue paying the employer's national insurance and pension contributions
- the government will pay 70% of wages
- employers will need to top up to 80% or more, depending on what's been agreed with the employee
From 1 October:
- employers will continue paying the employer's national insurance and pension contributions
- the government's contribution to wages will go down to 60%
- employers will need to top up to 80% or more, depending on what's been agreed with the employee
The furlough scheme will close on 31 October 2020.
If someone was made redundant or left their job on or after 28 February 2020
An employer can decide to re-employ someone who was made redundant or stopped working for them on or after 28 February 2020, then put them on furlough.
This can be done even if the employer does not employ them again until after 19 March 2020.
The employee must have been:
- on the employer's PAYE payroll on 28 February
- included in a 'Real Time Information' (RTI) submission to HMRC on or before 28 February
If someone has more than one job
Each job is treated separately. This means they may be able to either:
- continue to work for their other job
- be furloughed for both jobs
If they’re put on furlough for both jobs, they’ll be eligible for financial support for each job.
More financial support for employers
If employers need short-term cash flow support, they may be eligible for a 'Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan'.
The Acas helpline is not able to advise on this scheme.
Find out more on GOV.UK about:
Financial support if you're self-employed
Financial support will be provided by HMRC's 'Self-employment Income Support Scheme'.
If you’re self-employed, you can receive a taxable grant of 80% of your average monthly income, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.
HMRC will contact you directly if you're eligible for the scheme. The Acas helpline is not able to advise on this scheme.
In most situations, employees and workers should use their paid holiday ('statutory annual leave') in their current leave year. This is 5.6 weeks in the UK.
This is important because taking holiday helps people:
- get enough rest
- keep healthy, both physically and mentally
Being flexible about holiday during coronavirus
Employers, employees and workers should be as flexible as they can about holiday during the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s a good idea to:
- talk about any plans to use or cancel holiday during coronavirus as soon as possible
- discuss why holiday might need to be taken or cancelled
- listen to any concerns, either from staff or the employer
- welcome and suggest ideas for other options
- consider everyone’s physical and mental wellbeing
- be aware that it’s a difficult time for both employers and staff
If you’re a furloughed worker
Employees or workers who are temporarily sent home because there’s no work ('furloughed workers'), can request and take their holiday in the usual way, if their employer agrees. This includes bank holidays.
Furloughed workers must get their usual pay in full, for any holiday they take.
Carrying over holiday
During the coronavirus pandemic, it may not be possible for staff to take all their holiday entitlement during the current holiday year.
Employers should still be encouraging workers and employees to take their paid holiday. Employees and workers should also make requests for paid holiday throughout their holiday year, if possible.
The government has introduced a temporary new law allowing employees and workers to carry over up to 4 weeks’ paid holiday into their next 2 holiday leave years. This law applies for any holiday the employee or worker does not take because of coronavirus, for example if:
- they’re self-isolating or too sick to take holiday before the end of their leave year
- they’ve had to continue working and could not take paid holiday
They may also be able to carry over holiday if they’ve been 'furloughed' and cannot reasonably use it in their holiday year.
Some employers will already have an agreement to carry over paid holiday. This law does not affect any agreements already in place.
If an employee or worker leaves their job or is dismissed and has carried over paid holiday because of coronavirus, any untaken paid holiday must be added to their final pay ('paid in lieu').
Bank holidays are usually part of the legal minimum 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday.
Employers can still require employees and workers to take paid holiday on a bank holiday, unless they’re off sick. They must give employees or workers notice.
Employees and workers can also ask to take a day’s paid holiday on a bank holiday. If the employer agrees, they must get their usual pay in full.
If employees and workers are not sure if bank holidays need to be taken as paid holiday, they should:
- check their contract
- talk to their employer
If bank holidays cannot be taken off due to coronavirus, employees and workers should use the holiday at a later date in their leave year.
If this is not possible, bank holidays can be included in the 4 weeks’ paid holiday that can be carried over. This holiday can be taken at any time over the next 2 holiday leave years.
Agreeing how extra holiday is carried over
If employers do not already have an agreement in place, they can decide whether they’ll allow extra holiday (more than the 4 weeks’ paid holiday) to be carried over.
Extra holiday may include:
- the remaining 1.6 weeks of statutory annual leave
- holiday that’s more than the legal minimum
Employees and workers should check their employment contract or talk to their employer to find out what they’re entitled to.
Reaching an agreement
If the workplace has a recognised trade union, or there are employee representatives who work with the employer on these matters, the employer should involve them in agreeing changes.
If any agreement is made, it’s a good idea for it to be in writing.
Employers should get legal advice if they’re not sure whether to allow extra holiday to be carried over.
Previously booked holidays
An employee may no longer want to take time off they'd previously booked, for example because their hotel cancelled the booking. Their employer can insist they still take the time off, but it’s good practice to get agreement from the employee.
If the employee wants to change when they take this time off, they'll need to get agreement from their employer.
Requiring staff to take or cancel holiday
Employers have the right to tell employees and workers when to take holiday.
An employer could, for example, shut for a week and tell everyone to use their holiday entitlement.
If the employer decides to do this, they must tell staff at least twice as many days before as the amount of days they need people to take.
For example, if they want to close for 5 days, they should tell everyone at least 10 days before.
Employers can also cancel pre-booked paid holiday. If they decide to do this, they must give staff at least the same number of days’ notice as the original holiday request.
For example, if an employee has booked 5 days holiday, the employer must tell them at least 5 days before the holiday starts that it’s cancelled.
This could affect holiday staff have already booked or planned and cause upset. So employers should:
- explain clearly why they need to do this
- try and resolve anyone's worries about how it will affect their holiday entitlement or plans
Employees are entitled to time off work to help someone who depends on them (a 'dependant') in an unexpected event or emergency. This could apply to situations to do with coronavirus.
A dependant does not necessarily live with the person, for example they could be an elderly neighbour or relative who relies on the person for help.
There's no statutory right to pay for this time off, but some employers might offer pay depending on the contract or workplace policy.
The amount of time off an employee takes to look after someone must be reasonable for the situation. For example, they might take 2 days off to start with, and if more time is needed, they can book holiday.
If a dependant such as a partner, child or relative in the same household gets coronavirus symptoms, they should receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) as a minimum for this time.
They’ll also need to follow self-isolation guidance. Find out about self-isolating:
As schools in England, Scotland and Wales are now closed except for teaching some children of key workers, this will have an effect on care and working arrangements. This may be an anxious time for parents, and employers will need to be planning cover at work.
If employees need emergency time off for child care or to make new arrangements, they can use:
- time off to care for someone else ('time off for dependants')
- holiday, if their employer agrees
Employers and employees can consider these steps:
- talking to each other early on about time off that might be needed
- agreeing regular conversations so both can plan ahead
- agreeing flexible working instead of taking longer periods of time off, for example working from home or changing working hours to allow for child care
If any agreement is made, it's a good idea for it to be in writing.
Employers should consider some simple steps to make sure they continue to provide their staff and customers with a ‘duty of care’.
This means they must do all they reasonably can to support their health, safety and wellbeing.
It's good practice for employers to:
- make sure everyone is social distancing if they come into the workplace
- be especially careful and take extra steps for vulnerable groups, including those who are pregnant, aged 70 or over, or who have a long-term health condition
- hold meetings as remote calls and avoid travel as much as possible
- make sure managers know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes, for example sickness reporting and sick pay, and procedures in case someone in the workplace shows symptoms of the virus
- make sure there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap, and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly
- provide hand sanitiser and tissues for staff, and encourage them to use them
- make sure everyone's contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date
- keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace
- keep up to date with the latest government advice
To keep up to date with the latest government coronavirus advice:
- in England, see coronavirus advice on GOV.UK
- in Scotland, see Scottish Government advice
- in Wales, see Welsh Government advice
8. Avoiding discrimination
Employers must not single anyone out unfairly. For example, they must not treat an employee differently because of their race or ethnicity.
They should look out for any bullying, discrimination or harassment happening in their workplace and address it immediately.
For more Acas coronavirus advice, you can:
If you're in England, you can find:
- coronavirus advice on NHS.UK
- coronavirus information and advice on GOV.UK
- guidance for employers and businesses on GOV.UK
If you're in Scotland, you can find:
- coronavirus advice from NHS inform Scotland
- coronavirus advice from the Scottish Government
- advice for businesses from the Scottish Government
If you're in Wales, you can find:
If an informal meeting is set up, it’s a good idea to:
check the Acas website for information about your problem and how it might be dealt with
prepare what you want to say, for example how to explain what you’re unhappy about
think about what you’d like your employer to do
You can ask someone to go with you. The person you choose must be either:
a work colleague
a trade union representative
an official employed by a trade union
You can ask to bring someone else for extra assistance or support, for example a translator or carer.
It’s up to your employer to agree if you want to bring anyone with you. It might say in the written terms of your contract, so it's a good idea to check.
9. At the meeting
At the meeting you can:
explain what the problem is and what you think should happen
show your manager evidence if necessary, for example your payslips and contract if you think your holiday pay was wrong
take notes if you want to remember what was said
Resolving the problem should be a two-way process. Your manager should allow you to explain the problem. You should also listen to what they have to say.
It may not always be possible to solve the problem in the way you’d like, but hopefully you can find a solution that works for both of you.