Supporting your employees during coronavirus

If you are an employer, it's likely that you're supporting employees affected by cancer. We understand that the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis may have resulted in new issues to resolve, as well as questions about how best to support your employees.

We have put together some commonly asked questions below about work and coronavirus that we hope answer some of the questions you might have.

The information on this page is for employers. We also have information about work and coronavirus for employees.

What are my employees' rights at work?

If an employee has or has had cancer, they are protected by law from unfair treatment at work for the rest of their life. The Equality Act 2010 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Northern Ireland) protect an employee from being discriminated against at work because of their cancer.

For example, an employee chosen for redundancy for a reason related to their cancer, such as having more sick leave than their colleagues due to their cancer, is an example of disability discrimination. We have more information on the different types of discrimination.

Employers are required to make reasonable adjustments when the workplace or working practices mean someone is put at a ‘substantial disadvantage’ because they have cancer, compared with colleagues who do not have cancer. The disadvantage has to be ‘more than minor or trivial’.

Examples of reasonable adjustments during the coronavirus outbreak may include:

  • supporting your employee to work from home
  • changing their shift patterns or 
  • providing access to software or equipment. 

There is no fixed definition of what reasonable adjustments should be. We have more information and guidance about reasonable adjustments in the workplace.

You should consult your employee about the adjustment process and involve them at every stage. It will usually benefit both you and your employee to work together to make the adjustments, as they will allow the person to continue working. We have more information for carers below.

Further coronavirus advice for employers can be found on the following websites:

Can I furlough my staff?

If you cannot maintain your current workforce because your operations have been severely affected by coronavirus, you can furlough employees (put on temporary leave) and apply for a grant to the Government’s Job retention scheme.

It is designed to help employers retain their employees and protect the UK economy. Government guidance was updated in June, which means that if your employees were not furloughed for a minimum of three weeks before 1 July 2020, they will no longer be eligible for furlough.

As an employer, you can apply for a grant that covers 80% of your employees' usual monthly wage costs, up to £2,500 a month, assuming they meet the government's criteria. This will continue in its current form until the end of July. From the 1 of August, there is more flexibility to bring employees back part-time, but employers will need to contribute towards employer National Insurance Contributions, pension contributions and some of their employees’ wages. Find out more about these changes.

You may take into consideration your employees’ ability to work due to shielding or caring responsibilities when considering whether to apply for furlough.

You can find further information on furloughing on the following websites:

How do employers decide who they should furlough?

The decisions about who is put on furlough is down to you as the employer. Decisions about who to furlough could be influenced by different factors. These include:

  • the person's ability to do a role in the current situation, for example, if your employees work in a closed restaurant
  • the amount of work available
  • an individual's availability and personal circumstances, for example, child care issues or needing to self-isolate and unable to work from home.

You may wish to have a discussion with your employees to see if their personal situation means they would like to be furloughed. You could also look at options such as rotating staff if you only need to furlough a percentage of your workforce.

Government guidance was updated in June which means that if your employees weren’t furloughed for a minimum of three weeks before 1 July 2020, they will no longer be eligible for furlough.

Are my employees entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP)?

If your employees are affected by cancer and cannot work because of coronavirus, they could get Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if they are ill, self-isolating or shielding. If your employees are receiving SSP because they are shielding only, this will stop from 1 August.

More information about statutory sick pay and whether your employees may be entitled to claim can be found in the government guidance.

Social distancing in your workplace

When employees return to their normal place of work during the coronavirus outbreak, it is important that you as an employer follow Government guidance on social distancing in the workplace. This could be even more important for an employee who feel vulnerable due to their cancer diagnosis or is caring for someone with cancer.

You should speak to any employees who are shielding or self-isolating about their options, which may include furlough.

How can I support my employees with cancer when shielding is paused?

The government has updated its guidance on shielding, which means from 1 August shielding will be paused. This means that in practice any of your employees who were shielding can go to work, if they cannot work from home, as long as the business is COVID-safe. It is important to note this guidance is advisory.

If any of your employees are currently shielding you should discuss their situation with them as their employer and agree a plan for returning to work if they are able to do so. Under the Equality Act and Disability Discrimination Act (Northern Ireland) you have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments to help your employees with cancer to continue to work.

If any of your employees are unable to return to work because the work environment is not COVID-safe, and you as their employer are not able to make reasonable adjustments to allow them to return, you may wish to consider extending their furlough, if applicable.

If any of your employees are receiving SSP because they are shielding only, this will stop from 1 August.

My employee is a carer. What are their rights at work?

Balancing work and caring can be demanding, especially during the coronavirus outbreak. During this time, employees with caring responsibilities may be required to self-isolate or shield in order to protect the person they care for.

Carers have rights at work and there are laws in place to support them to make it easier for them to keep working, and to balance working and caring responsibilities.

These include the right to ask for flexible working or to take time off in case of an emergency. Flexible working could include:

  • working from home
  • compressed working hours (in other words, working normal hours over fewer days)
  • job-sharing
  • working part-time.

Carers who are employees have the legal right to take a reasonable amount of time off to look after someone in an emergency that involves the person they care for. This includes coronavirus related situations. In addition, there are laws that protect carers from being discriminated against at work, because of their connection to a disabled person.

Further information on carer’s rights is also available on the Carers UK website.

Macmillan at Work

If you are an employer, you're likely to face managing employees affected by cancer in the workplace.

Macmillan at Work is designed to help managers and HR professionals feel equipped and confident in supporting employees affected by cancer. You can access this support by signing up to Macmillan at Work, where you will receive a work and cancer toolkit and access to expert training, resources and advice to help you support staff affected by cancer.

Macmillan's Work Support Service

If your employees have any questions about any of this guidance, they may wish to talk to our Work Support Service. The Work Support Service offers advice to people who are employed and are affected by cancer.

Our confidential service is available to anyone who calls the Macmillan Support Line. The service is open Monday-Friday 8am-6pm.

Your employees can call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00.

How we can help

Help with work
We have information and an advice service for anyone who has to cope with cancer while they are working or running a business
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What's going on near you? Find out about support groups, where to get information and how to get involved with Macmillan where you live.