Here's what you need to know about the new government measures.

As months have gone by, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed modern-day life as we know it. We've dealt with the shocking life changes and fear of the illness itself, not to mention the other worry on our minds: finances. The virus has caused huge turmoil in the UK economy, and the government has continued to respond with emergency measures, such as an extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.

Do you have to go into work during COVID-19?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that England would re-enter lockdown on 5 November. As a result, many non-essential businesses have either closed or are open with heightened restrictions. Employers have been instructed to allow any worker who can effectively work from home to do so.

That said, as things currently stand, that decision is technically down to your employer. That means that if your boss says you have to come into your workplace, you may have to comply with what they say, despite your qualms about it.

If you must go into work ‒ either because you cannot work from home or your employer wants you present ‒  your employer is required to make necessary arrangements to ensure that you can conduct your work safely, including enabling social distancing of at least one metre and frequent cleaning.

What if you become a furloughed worker?

Significant layoffs have been an outcome of the COVID-19 outbreak, and the government is trying to minimise that damage. The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, an emergency relief that is available to all UK businesses with employees, has been extended until 31 March 2021.

The scheme remains as it was at the beginning of the pandemic. Instead of becoming unemployed, workers who would otherwise be laid off become a furloughed worker, meaning that they do not work during this period but will return to their regular position after the outbreak is over. In the meantime, employers can get 80 per cent of a furloughed worker's wages (up to £2,500 per month) covered by the government.

One change is that now, employers will still have to pay employers' National Insurance and pension contributions.

If your boss makes this decision on your behalf and you become a furloughed worker, your manager will notify you and let you know how your payments will be worked out in the coming weeks or months. At this point, you should direct any questions you have to them.

In some circumstances, your boss may decide to cover the extra 20 per cent of your wages, which would mean that you get a full salary each month during the outbreak period. Of course, this decision is entirely at your boss' discretion, and you will have to work out the details with them.

What if you're self-employed and lose your income?

If you work for yourself, you are not entitled to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Instead, there is the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, which offers the same level of support. This is a taxable grant measured at 80 per cent of the average monthly trading profits over three months, capped at £7,500. As the scheme's extension is for six months, there are two of these grants available

What if you get sick due to the coronavirus?

If you are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 or need to self-isolate with someone who is, you should be entitled to the newly updated Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).

To qualify, you need to be currently earning an average of at least £120 per week. If you meet the eligibility requirements, SSP entitles you to £95.85 per week for up to 28 weeks.

You can still qualify for SSP if you are on furlough.

If you will be away from work for seven or more days, you will need some form of fit note. If you are self-isolating because you or someone in your bubble are showing coronavirus symptoms, you can get an 'isolation note' online from NHS 111. If the NHS or public health authorities have contacted you because you've come into contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, the notification can act as your note.

What if you get sick and earn less than £120 per week?

If you currently earn under the £120 per week threshold for SSP, you will not be eligible for payments. In this case, if you get sick, you may be entitled to Universal Credit instead. You can apply for Universal Credit through the government website.

Before doing so, you should check to see whether this application will affect any other benefits you may be claiming right now. For example, if you already claim Tax Credits or Housing Benefits, they may be impacted here. It may be worth speaking to a representative from Citizen's Advice before making a claim.

The takeaway

As the months have passed, the outbreak of COVID-19 has continued to impact workers all across the UK. These uncertain times are difficult for all of us, and it's important to understand your rights. As the situation is rapidly changing, make sure that you keep up to date with the latest government announcements.

TopCV is here to support you too. If the coronavirus fallout pushes you towards a new job search, get a free CV critique for expert feedback on your CV.

This article was updated in November 2020 by Lauren Settembrino.

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