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Coronavirus: Working from home

Written by Salman Haqqi, Senior Personal Finance Writer

20 March 2020

Working from home has quickly become a new reality for many office-based workers in the UK. In this new climate it's useful to know what rights you are entitled to as a home worker and what options you have if you can't work from home.

smiling female freelancer working at home

As things change rapidly during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, this guide will be updated regularly to reflect changes in rules and regulations.

According to the strict new measures taken by the UK Government to stem the spread of coronavirus, everybody who can, should work from home. 

For many people who may have to self isolate themselves for 14 days under the guidelines set out by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, working from home is not possible as they work in retail, food or other service industries. 

Although the recent Budget addresses those concerns by making changes to the sick pay system, there is a concern that many people who are at risk may spread the virus if they aren’t given the financial support to stay at home. 

With schools closing, parents will face a further challenge having to manage their responsibilities of work along with taking care of their children.

Do you need to work from home?

Going by what the UK Government has suggested, anyone who can work from home should do so. This has practical implications for employees and employers, as to what rights workers have. Employers are responsible for setting clear guidelines on equipment, working conditions, working hours and pay associated with home working. 

If you need to take care of your children due to the closure of schools, or your need to take care of a family member who is ill, your employer should give you time off to do so.

What if you can’t work from home?

The new measures put in place by the government have had a massive financial impact on business around the UK. Many businesses have decided to shut down for a period of time, and asked employees to take unpaid leave. 

While businesses have a legal right to ask workers to take leave during the period of a shut down, they do have a legal obligation to give workers a length of notice that is twice as long as the period of the shut down. 

It is important to know that if you, or anyone in your household, has a persistent cough or fever, they must stay home for 14 days. 

Do you get paid while you self isolate?

Sick pay policies will vary from company to company. Many employees have contracts that offer regular pay if you are off sick. If you work in a job that does not have paid sick leave or  doesn’t offer contractual sick pay, you may be able to receive statutory sick pay.

What is statutory sick pay?

Statutory sick pay (SSP) is the minimum amount of money your employer can pay you while you cannot work due to illness. This applies to full-time and contract workers, but those who are self employed are not eligible.

New rule changes have made it possible for SSP to be paid out to those who have been told to self isolate. The new rules also allow workers to be paid from their first day off work, as opposed to having to wait till the fourth day.

How much is statutory sick pay?

It is set at £94.25 a week for 28 weeks, although employers can pay more if they want to. In order to be eligible for SSP you need to be earning at least £118 per week. 

This can be problematic for those on zero-hours contracts, who don’t have set working hours for every week and may earn less than the £118 threshold. According to the Office of National Statistics over 1.7 million people may be earning below that, although the actual number may be lower as many people work multiple jobs that put them over the mark. 

What about people who are self employed?

If you are self employed people, or earning less than £118 per week, you are not entitled to sick pay. However if you have contracted coronavirus or are advised to stay at home, the government has made it easier to make a claim for Universal Credit or new style Employment and Support Allowance.

If you are eligible for new style Employment and Support Allowance, it will now be payable from day 1 of sickness, rather than day eight, if you have COVID-19 or are advised to stay at home.

The UK Government has also removed the minimum income requirement for universal credit. In normal situations, the entitlement to universal credit would be calculated based on how much you earn in a month. You can read more about how the government is helping the self employed

What is universal credit?

Universal Credit was introduced in 2010, with the aim to simplify the process of claiming benefits. It is a benefit for working people, and replaces six benefits by combining them into a single payment. 

The benefits it includes are:

  • housing benefit

  • child tax credit

  • working tax credit

  • income support

  • income-based jobseeker's allowance

  • income-related employment and support allowance.

Those claiming any, or all, of these benefits receive a single universal credit payment directly into their bank account. Find out more about how universal credit works.

During the coronavirus pandemic, those seeking to apply for universal credit will not be required to visit a job centre and can apply by phone or online instead.

What if you are a furloughed worker?

On 20 March Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to cover the salaries of furloughed workers.

The scheme is a package of government grants that will reimburse employers for 80% of furloughed workers wages and will be capped at £2,500 per month.

The scheme will be backdated to 1 March and will initially last for three months, but can extended if necessary. The total funding pot for this scheme was not revealed but the chancellor said that grants would be there to support "as many jobs as necessary.”

Find out more about the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and what it means for you

Who is eligible for the scheme?

All UK businesses are eligible for this scheme, which will be administered by the HMRC.

The HMRC is working on setting up a new portal for employers to submit information on earnings of those employees that have been designated as furloughed workers.

It's important to remember that the grant is a reimbursement to the employer. This means that the employer will pay the furloughed workers and then be reimbursed by the HMRC

What is a furloughed worker?

Furloughed workers are being defined as anyone in the workforce that remains on the payroll but are temporarily not working during the coronavirus outbreak.

Check your insurance

Given that many people are working from home to keep the virus from spreading, you might need to check your home insurance policy to make sure you are covered under its terms. Often home contents insurance policies don't provide cover for items in your house that are being used for business or professional purposes.

This might include computers and laptops as well as hi-tech design equipment, printing equipment, printers and photocopiers.

You may find that insurers refer to cover for those who work from home as ‘home worker insurance’.

Will I need to get additional insurance?

If you're a business owner and are now operating it from your home, you should inform your insurance, especially if you are storing stock or product samples at home. That's because those items may not be covered as part of your contents insurance policy, which may require you to take out a separate business insurance policy to cover your business related items.

What about car insurance?

Due to the restrictions on using public transport during the coronavirus crisis, you may be using car for business purposes. You may need to make adjustments to your car insurance policy to cover you for the miles you drive for business purposes.

Tips for working from home

As we self isolate and practice social distancing by working home, there are a few simple things you can do to make the home working experience easier to manage. These include:

Set up a good working space

Being set up in a practical environment for your meeting is key to ensuring you communicate effectively. Try and find a quiet space, where you can be on your own. If this is not possible, be sure to let the others you’re living with know when you have a call.

It is also important that you have a background within the video that you're comfortable showing to others, meaning there is nothing in view which may be distracting when you are speaking. Have your background as clear as possible, and if there isn’t a space where it can be, potentially try out using a virtual background.

Set the rules of engagement

Setting the ‘rules of engagement’ ahead of a call gives your fellow video callers the time to prepare for your call they could include things like:

Mute on arrival - mute as you enter a call so you don’t interrupt any conversations that have already started

Question time - If the meeting involves a presentation make sure you ask any questions at the end of the meeting or post them in the chat function to avoid presentations being interrupted 

Encourage interaction - it’s a video call not a phone call, so make sure everyone has time to engage with each other, it may be the only time they get to do so in the day, even if it’s just to say hi or introduce themselves.

Follow an agenda

When setting up a video meeting, always share an agenda ahead of time. This gives you structure and allows participants to understand the flow of the meeting and what will be expected from them

If you are leading a meeting, send the agenda across at least an hour before (longer if possible), to be sure you make the most of the time, and have as little questions left unanswered as possible. 

Alternatively, if you are not leading on the meeting, do write a list of the points you need to make prior to the call. Always ensure you prioritise what is most important, and save the points which you can ask or share via email or message app.

Ensure your equipment is set up well

Make sure you have all the necessary equipment set up prior to the call. This includes testing out your webcam, making sure it is not too high or low. Aim to place your camera at eye level- also saving you from any potential neck pain.

Additionally, test your microphone before the call, especially if you’re in a new environment or using equipment for the first time. If you have an echoing microphone, be cautious of this and mute it before the call- the last thing you want is to be a victim of a “who’s bleeping in the background?” complaint.

Also, make sure the lighting in the room you are in is good, the other participants on the call want to see you, so make sure they can.

Over Communicate

As you don’t have as many opportunities to verbally communicate when you aren’t in the office, be sure to get verbal acknowledgement from the people you are speaking to, that they have understood what you are saying. This may mean repeating yourself until you get the answer needed. 

Additionally, ensure you are informing everyone who needs to about your schedule and  availability, and don’t be shy to ask a question at the end that you may have forgotten to discuss earlier on in the call.

Dress the part

Whilst it may be tempting to roll out of bed five minutes before a meeting, it is important to ensure you dress appropriately. This means aiming to follow the company dress code for video calls, for example, if you dress in a suit everyday, go for a smart look, although there is no need for the full blazer and suit trousers. 

It is also important to be well groomed; this does not particularly mean a full face of makeup, but ensure you present a reasonably put together appearance.

Maintain regular hours

Set yourself a clear schedule for when to start working and when to stop, with regular breaks in between. Working remotely often leads to over working, often due to guilt for stepping away from their computer for a break. 

Exercise

When you’re no longer commuting to work or walking from one meeting room to another, it’s easy to get stuck to your working space. Take a few minutes every couple of hours to stand, stretch and walk around. Sitting at your desk for hours can have untold lasting effects on your health. For more information on the impact COVID-19 may have on your finances, please visit our Coronavirus hub.

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