How coronavirus will affect your work, shopping and leisure

I feel fine but I’ve been told to self-isolate – will I still be paid?

There is no requirement on the employer to pay, says Sarah Evans, an employment expert and partner at JMW Solicitors, but in reality most decent employers are paying staff – particularly in the light of comments by the prime minister on Wednesday, who said workers should be paid sick leave from the day they are off.

Evans says in most cases people will come to an arrangement with their employer to work from home, and as such, will be paid as normal. “Increasingly, lots of employees can and will work at home.

However, the problem comes if you work in a shop or a warehouse that requires your presence.

The legal position is that your employer can send you home and is under no obligation to pay you. For a small company, having an unproductive member of staff sitting at home doing nothing on full pay will be a huge burden.”

This week the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said guidance has been sent to UK employers telling them staff who are asked to self-isolate should be entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP). He said medical advice on self-isolation should be considered “sickness for employment purposes”. MB

How much will I get under statutory sick pay?

All employed staff who earn at least £118 a week qualify for statutory sick pay, or whatever your employment contract may provide over and above that. Most employers will allow a certain number of days a year on full pay. After that, employees are entitled to statutory sick pay of £94.25 per week, which will be paid for up to 28 weeks. Until now it has been paid from the fourth day of sickness. A doctor’s note may not be necessary, with employees able to self-certify with symptoms of flu without seeing a doctor, says Evans. Emergency legislation is being rushed through to allow sick pay to start from the first day off instead of the fourth, so claimants should receive it for the entire period they are off work.

Trade unions have warned that up to 2 million workers do not earn enough to qualify for SSP, and could lose out if the virus becomes mainstream in the workplace. The government has said up to 20% of the workforce could be off sick during the peak of an epidemic. MB

toddlers girls playing at home

If the children are sent home from school or nursery, what are my rights? Photograph: Oksana Kuzmina/Alamy

My children have been sent home from school to self-isolate. Can I ask for time off, and will I be paid?

Evans says employees could ask for emergency time off in such a situation. The employer would have to grant this, she says, but would be under no obligation to pay the employee. In reality, most people would just work from home. Most employers would probably allow the person to take the time off as holiday, which in most cases is still paid, says Martha McKinley, an employment specialist at the law firm Stephensons, but they are under no obligation to do so. MB

I’m self-employed, or on a zero hours contract – what do I get?

Nothing, and you are not entitled to SSP either, says McKinley. “One of the biggest downsides of being self-employed is that in most cases you will not be paid if you do not turn up for work. If the virus spirals out of control, those in the gig economy will be adversely affected and face significant loss of wages.”

The unions have called on the government to take action to help the 5 million people in this boat but it has so far resisted. The CIPD, the human resources trade body, has urged the creation of “some sort of compensation or hardship fund” to help individuals who are not eligible for sick pay or paid leave.

Can I claim benefits instead?

Yes, but be prepared for a long wait. The Department for Work and Pensions has confirmed that people who are prevented from working because of a risk to public health are able to claim universal credit. They may also be entitled to contributory employment and support allowance, which helps with living costs for people who cannot work because of a health condition. Universal credit is paid monthly in arrears, so you will have to wait one calendar month from the date you submitted your application before your first payment is made. This is called your “assessment period”. You then have to wait up to seven days for the payment to reach your bank account. MB

Should I get my supermarket to deliver? Are the delivery slots disappearing?

Last week, the delivery giant Ocado advised customers to place their orders early, due to “exceptionally high demand”. It said: “More people than usual seem to be placing particularly large orders. As a result, delivery slots are selling out quicker than expected.”

Generally, shoppers are being told to book a weekday delivery instead of a weekend one. “We’re unusually busy Friday to Saturday at the moment,” Ocado said. In reality, they’re not disappearing that quickly. When the Guardian tested the site this week, we found that delivery slots in the next few days were full, but after that there were plenty of dates after three to four days available. PC

On a roll: making a profit from coronavirus

a toilet roll

Toilet rolls are being offered for hundreds of pounds each. Photograph: Douglas Sacha/Getty Images

Some sellers on Amazon and eBay are cashing in on coronavirus fears, with prices for hand sanitisers at 10 times usual rates.

Amazon said earlier this week it had removed “tens of thousands” of items, adding: “There is no place for price gouging on Amazon.” It said its staff constantly check listings.

But a brief search on Amazon and eBay showed lots of examples of extraordinary asking prices.

For example, on eBay a seller was this week offering two small 50ml Carex Aloe Vera hand sanitisers, adding that they “kill bacteria virus”. Usually they cost £1 each in Boots. The seller’s price? £15.

On Amazon, another seller was offering a pack of 12 Carex Moisture Plus 250ml handwash bottles. Each bottle had a special offer £1.29 price tag. What was the seller asking for? £149.99.

Some of the stranger “offers” were on eBay in Australia, although they may have been tongue-in-cheek. We found a seller offering what they described as a “virus-free” 12-pack of Kleenex toilet paper for A$12,000 (£9,300), or A$1,000 a roll. There were no bids.

To be fair to Amazon, it is keeping its own prices at regular rates. For example, Amazon Fresh is selling 16 rolls of Andrex at £7. A price check on the website CamelCamelCamel shows that the price has been around that level for the past six months.

I pay £70 a month for my gym, but I’m worried about sharing exercise equipment. Can I suspend or cancel my membership?

Man and barbell on gym

What happens if I want to close or pause my gym membership? Photograph: Cultura RM/Alamy Stock Photo/Alamy

You will normally have to pay the full cost of your contract if you want to cancel a gym membership early, though there are some situations where you can cancel without paying, including if you have a serious illness, or a change in circumstances means you can no longer afford it, says Citizens Advice.

However, many gyms allow you to freeze your membership temporarily – often for a small or not-so-small fee – so you can opt out of going for a while.

PureGym allows its “Core” members to apply a freeze for up to three months at a cost of £5.99 a month, while “Plus” members can freeze at no extra cost for up to three months.

The Gym Group will let you freeze your membership for as long as you like for £5 a month.

The London chain Gymbox will allow you to freeze for one to six months, but it will cost you £20 a month (“leniency may be applied” in certain situations). Nuffield Health gyms let people freeze for between one and 12 months, but only in certain circumstances such as pregnancy, serious illness/injury and redundancy. RJ


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