Coronavirus (COVID-19): Employment and Finances

01 November 2020

Many people with Crohn's or Colitis are concerned about their situation at work or their finances changing because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The most important thing is to seek help as soon as you are able. We specialise in Crohn's and Colitis, but we will try to help you find the information you need and the organisations that can help you.

For more information about COVID-19 risk levels, see our information on risk.
 

Working

My employer needs proof that I'm at higher risk
Is it safe for me to return to work?
I'm worried about people I live with going to work
I work in healthcare - am I at risk?

I work in a school - am I at risk?
Will I get sick pay if I have to stay at home and can’t work?
I’m self-isolating – how do I get a sick note/isolation note?
I've been put on furlough
I’ve lost my job / I've been made redundant
What’s the law on unfair treatment or dismissal?
I’m self-employed. What help is there for me?​
What can employers do to prepare for the return of shielding or moderate risk staff?

Benefits and Finances

Can I claim any benefits?
Will I have to attend a medical assessment to claim my benefit?
I’m getting into debt / struggling to pay my bills and don’t know what to do


Other organisations and support


For the top 5 things to do if you're struggling with your finances, see our fact sheet:


Click to enlarge


My employer needs proof that I'm higher risk 

We understand that IBD Teams and GPs may be unavailable to provide evidence of an increased risk of complications from COVID-19 at the moment. Crohn's & Colitis UK have drafted a letter of support you can use to help talk to your employer about the extra precautions you should be taking. This will not be counted as official evidence, but may help you to explain your circumstances. 


Is it safe for me to return to work?

My Colitis is well controlled with azathioprine and mesalazine. When I tested positive for coronavirus, my symptoms were mild with some fatigue. I did have a chesty loose cough which is still lingering. After self-isolating I have returned to work as a teaching assistant in a school and am continuing to work throughout the current national restrictions.

Jo
Living with Colitis

We are all exposed to different levels of risk, depending on where in the country you live, the people in your household and the type of work you do, amongst others. Everyone, including those with no underlying health conditions, is exposed to a certain degree of risk from coronavirus, and the level of risk will depend on individual circumstances. Absolute safety can never be guaranteed, and returning to work in the current climate is a very personal decision for individuals to make.

The government has produced detailed guidance for each industry about staying safe during the coronavirus pandemic. All employers will have to meet certain safety standards to ensure their workplace is COVID-secure, which means it is fit for both staff and customers. Check the guidance for your industry to make sure your employer is following the recommendations to keep you as safe as possible.


Click to enlarge the Working Safely fact sheet

We also have information for employers on precautions to take when welcoming staff back to the workplace. If your employer is following the guidelines, you are able to return to work as long as your local authority is not currently advising you to shield.

We understand this can be a concerning time, but the majority of people who catch coronavirus, including those who are on immunosuppressants for Crohn's or Colitis, make full recoveries. You might find our blog and this article from two high risk people living with Crohn's or Colitis who got COVID-19 reassuring.

If you are in the moderate risk group (clinically vulnerable), government and NHS guidance states you are able to return to the workplace if you can't work from home, as long as your employer is following COVID-secure guidelines for your industry. The guidance states that moderate risk (clinically vulnerable) people should be offered the safest available on-site roles. Discuss with your employer whether they can make adjustments to your role to accomodate your increased risk, e.g. continuing to work from home, or reducing customer contact and instead performing more administrative duties. Speak to your IBD Team or arrange an Occupational Health Assessment with your employer to assess your individual risk and receive recommendations on what adjustments could be considered to ensure a safe working environment for you - see our information for employers for more detail about risk assessments. 

If you are in the high risk group (clinically extremely vulnerable), national shielding has now paused. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland you are now able to return to your workplace if:

  • you cannot work from home
  • your employer is following the government's COVID-secure guidelines. The guidance states that clinically vulnerable people should be offered the safest available on-site roles.
  • your employer has conducted a risk assessment for you - see our information for employers for details

If you live in England, the government is advising that you do not go to work between Thursday 5 November and Wednesday 2 December, even if your workplace is COVID-secure. You may be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or Employment Support Allowance (ESA), and the furlough scheme has also been extended to support you, if you are eligible. 

We have created a letter of support you may find useful to help explain to your employer why a return to the workplace could put you at risk.  

If you cannot work from home, discuss with your employer whether they can make adjustments to your role to accomodate your increased risk, e.g. reducing customer contact and instead performing more administrative duties. You may be able to apply for Access to Work, which can provide support for the disabilty-related extra costs of working (either at home or in the workplace) that are not covered by the standard reasonable adjustments an employer must provide. This could include special adaptations or equipment to help you do your job, or could pay for help getting to and from work. See the government website for details on Access to Work.

Check your risk level using our decision tree
 

If you're concerned that your employer is not taking all practical steps to promote social distancing and a safe workplace, then you can raise a concern in the following ways: 

  • report this to your local authority
  • contact your employee representative
  • contact your trade union if you have one
  • use the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) contact form
  • contact HSE by phone on 0300 003 1647

The Health and Safety Executive can then take a range of action, including where appropriate requiring your employer to take additional steps.

If you are not comfortable going into work even with strict social distancing measures in place, you may be able to arrange to take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave. Your employer does not have to agree to this. If you refuse to attend work without a valid reason, it could result in disciplinary action. If you need advice, you should contact ACAS for impartial advice about work disputes.

This is naturally a very concerning time for people with Crohn's and Colitis, and we encourage you to have an open and honest conversation with your employer about your worries. We have a guide for employers to help them understand Crohn's and Colitis and how they can affect people. This may be the first time you've had to talk to your boss about your condition, which can feel daunting. Our personalised Talking Toolkit can help you find the words to explain your condition, depending on what you want your employer to know. The more information they have about your condition, the better they will be able to support you.

Disability Discrimination
If you think you are being discriminated against at work, there are organisations that can help - Citizens Advice, ACAS, and the Equality Advisory Service all have advice on their websites and telephone helplines.


I’m worried about people I live with going to work

If you are at increased risk of complications from coronavirus, it is understandable that you may be worried about the people you live with returning to the workplace. In addition to the hand washing and social distancing measures that are applicable to everyone, there are extra precautions they may wish to take to reduce the risk of bringing coronavirus home, such as:

  • Wearing a face covering when outside the house
  • Changing out of clothes immediately after re-entering the home. Put clothes straight into the washing machine, not the laundry basket 
  • Using wipes or a soapy cloth to wipe down items that have been outside, such as bag, keys, phone, wallet and shoes
  • Disinfect all surfaces touched after coming home, such as door handles
  • Limiting close contact with those who are at increased risk from coronavirus

The government has produced detailed guidance to help ensure workplaces are as safe as possible during the coronavirus pandemic. It may help you to read the industry-specific guidance to see the comprehensive measures employers will be taking to ensure everyone is as safe as possible. If you're concerned that the employer is not taking all practical steps to promote social distancing then you can report this to your local authority or the Health and Safety Executive who can take a range of action, including where appropriate requiring the employer to take additional steps.

If the person you live with does not feel comfortable returning to work even with strict social distancing measures in place, they may be able to arrange to take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave. Their employer does not have to agree to this. If they refuse to attend work without a valid reason, it could result in disciplinary action.


I work in healthcare – am I at risk?

If you work in healthcare, you may be worried about whether you’re putting yourself at risk when you go to work. We’re working with the British Society of Gastroenterology (BSG), who have put together specific guidance for healthcare workers with Crohn’s and Colitis.

Please read our latest advice to check your risk.
 

I’m a healthcare worker with a high risk

The national shielding programme has paused. Healthcare workers in the high risk group (clinically extremely vulnerable) in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales should follow the guidance for healthcare workers with a moderate risk (below) - unless asked to shield again by your healthcare professional or you receive a government letter asking you to shield again. Your employer should support you to return to the workplace safely if you are unable to work from home. You should be offered a risk assessment through your workplace Occupational Health service.

In England (from 5 Nov) people at high risk should not attend their workplace and should work from home if this is possible.

If you're in the high risk group but unable to work from home
If you've been asked to shield, or local restrictions advise you not to attend your workplace, your employer should follow the latest NHS Staff Council guidance on pay during shielding - and they should ensure you still receive full pay.
 

I’m a healthcare worker with a moderate risk

Healthcare workers in the moderate risk group (clinically vulnerable) should follow strict social distancing to reduce their risk of getting coronavirus. Strict social distancing means you should minimise your contact with people and stay at least 2 meters away. It is recommended that you should:

  • Not have direct contact with patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
  • Continue to work in a virtual or administrative role. For example, doing telephone triage, telephone clinics, helpline calls, and similar duties.
  • Be supported in working from home, where possible.
  • If in a hospital, work in a “clean” office space that does not have multiple members of staff moving through it, in particular, those who are meeting patients.

You may be able to do some low risk patient facing duties, if patients have been screened for COVID-19 first. If you work in a patient facing role, request additional PPE (such as FFP3 masks) and wear at all times if you feel this would reduce your overall risk.

These are recommendations only - speak to your IBD Team or arrange an Occupational Health Assessment with your employer to assess your individual risk and receive recommendations on what adjustments could be considered to ensure a safe working environment for you.
 

Support for healthcare workers with a high or moderate risk

The NHS has also created some guidance for staff working during the COVID-19 pandemic, including information on health, safety and wellbeing and how to support staff returning to work.

Support is also available through the BMA for members (call 0300 123 1233) and the RCN for nurse members (call 020 7409 3333).
 

I’m a healthcare worker with a low risk

All low risk healthcare workers should be able to work as normal, but should follow the government advice on social distancing as for the general population.


I work in a school - am I at risk?

If you're considered to be at high (extremely clinically vulnerable) or moderate (clinically vulnerable) risk of complications from coronavirus, you may be concerned about returning to work at a school. The national shielding programme has now paused and the government has produced detailed guidance for schools, and advises that staff can return to work safely if extra measures have been put in place (Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) - although teacher unions are advising that high risk staff should continue to be supported to work from home. If you are asked to shield by your healthcare professional or you receive a government letter asking you to shield, you should not attend your workplace. Your school employer must carry out a risk assessment for all high and moderate risk staff members and they should involve you in this process. They should consider your individual situation and put appropriate protective measures in place to keep you safe at school - such as moving you to a role where you can maintain a good level of social distancing or wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). See our information on how employers can prepare for the return of high or moderate risk staff.

If you work in England, from 5 November, all people at higher risk are advised not to attend their workplace in person and should work from home if possible.

Talk to your employer about what measures are being taken at your school, and if you're still worried you may be able to access support through your union representative or Acas.

You may also find it helpful to read the National Education Union return to work guidance for higher risk staff.


Will I get sick pay if I have to stay at home and can’t work?

If you can’t work because you need to stay at home (self-isolate) you should receive Statutory Sick Pay, if you’re usually entitled to this. This will now be paid on day 1 of your being away from work instead of day 4.

This includes people who:

  • are self-isolating for 14 days because they live with someone who has coronavirus symptoms or has tested positive for coronavirus
  • are self-isolating for 10 days because they have coronavirus symptoms or have tested positive for coronavirus
  • are self-isolating because they have been asked to do so by the NHS Test and Trace system

People who were shielding because they are extremely clinically vulnerable will no longer be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay when shielding is paused (1 August in England NI and Scotland, 16 August in Wales). If there's a local outbreak and you're asked to shield again, you may be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay or other benefits again.

Statutory Sick Pay is £95.85 per week and is paid by your employer for up to 28 weeks. You cannot get less than this amount - but you can get more if your company has a sick pay scheme (or ‘occupational scheme’) so you should check your employment contract.

If you’re not eligible to receive Statutory Sick Pay or you’re worried it isn’t enough to support you, you may be able to claim Universal Credit and/or contributory Employment and Support Allowance. See the Citizens Advice website for information on claiming benefits.

I have a low income

If you are on a low income and you receive benefits, you may be eligible for a payment of £500 if you have the virus or are asked to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace. This will be on top of your other benefits, including Universal Credit or Working Tax Credit. To find out more, see this government annoucement.

I have a zero hours contract

You may be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay so check with your employer. If not, you may be able to apply for Universal Credit or Employment and Support Allowance. Please see the Citizens Advice website for information on claiming benefits.

What if all the family needs to stay at home and there’s no money coming in?

If no one is getting Statutory Sick Pay, the family can apply for Universal Credit.

If you’re already claiming Universal Credit, it will automatically adjust depending on your income.

Please see the Citizens Advice website for information on claiming benefits.


I’m self-isolating – how do I get a sick note/isolation note?

If your employer is asking you for evidence (a sick note, or isolation note) because you’re self-isolating due to coronavirus, you can now get this online. You do not need to contact your doctor to get this.

You can get an isolation note from the online NHS 111 service.

The isolation note will be emailed to you. If you don’t have an email address, the note sent to a trusted family member or friend, or directly to your employer. The service can also be used to generate an isolation note for someone else.

If you need a sick note because you're unwell for another reason:

  • For the first 7 days off work, you can self-certify and you don’t need to give your employer any evidence of why you’ve been off work due to sickness.
  • After the first 7 days off work, your employer may ask you for evidence. If you’re self-isolating because you have coronavirus symptoms, or live with someone who does, you can give your employer an isolation note.

I've been put on furlough

If your employer can’t cover staff costs due to COVID-19, they may be able to access support to cover some of your wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. You will remain on payroll (as an employee) but you'll be put on furlough - a flexible temporary absence from work. You will receive 80% of your salary for your hours not worked.

Your employer can also put you on furlough if you're unable to work because you:

  • have been asked to shield or are at risk of serious illness from coronavirus
  • have caring responsibilities, such as needing to look after your children

You can find out more about furlough on the government website.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough) has been extended until March 2021.


I’ve lost my job / I've been made redundant

If you are on a low income or out of work, you may qualify for benefits – such as Universal Credit or Employment Support Allowance. See Can I claim any benefits?

If you are at risk of redundancy, or you've been made redundant, your employer should have been through a process to make sure you were selected for redundancy in a fair way. You can find detailed information on what is considered fair from Citizens Advice.

Your employer also must not discriminate against you because you have a health condition. Acas provide more information on the redundancy process and guidance on how to appeal a redundancy decision if you think you've been treated unfairly.

Read our top 5 things to do if you're struggling with your finances.


What’s the law on unfair treatment or dismissal?

As an employee you are protected by law against unfair treatment and dismissal, if it's because of:

  • pregnancy
  • age
  • a health condition that's considered a disability under the Equality Act – some people with Crohn’s or Colitis may fall into this category
     

It doesn’t matter how long you've worked for your employer. It could be unlawful discrimination on these grounds, if an employer either:

  • unreasonably tries to force someone to go to work
  • unreasonably disciplines someone for not going to work

You can contact ACAS for more information on employment rights and unfair dismissal.


I’m self-employed. What help is there for me?

The government announced the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme to help those who are self-employed and have lost income due to the pandemic.

Self-Employment Income Support Scheme Grant Extension
The scheme has been extended for 6 months from 1 November. If you've previously been eligible to claim through the Self-Employment Support Scheme, you will likely be eligible to claim again through the Self-Employment Support Scheme Grant Extension (even if you did not previously claim).

The extension will provide two grants that will be paid as two lump sums, each covering a 3 month period. The first grant will be worth a total of 80% of your average monthly profits up to a maximum of £7500 for November to January.

​See the government website to find out more about the scheme and other help available for self-employed workers.

You may also be eligible to claim Universal Credit. You can check what benefits you may be able to claim on the Citizens Advice website.

Read our top 5 things to do if you're struggling with your finances.
 


What can employers do to prepare for the return of high risk (shielding) or moderate risk staff?

Employers must do everything reasonably possible to keep staff safe at work. You need to put extra measures in place for staff with Crohn's or Colitis who have an increased risk of serious illness from the coronavirus - this could include staff who are high risk and have been shielding (extremely clinically vulnerable) and those who are considered moderate risk (clinically vulnerable) as well as those with other risk factors, such as age and ethnicity. Employers should:

1. Find out how to make your workplace COVID-secure
Read your government's sector-specific guidance:

2. Identify staff at higher risk
Staff at higher risk include those on the shielding list, those at moderate risk (clinically vulnerable), pregnant women, older males, people who have a high body mass index (BMI), and those from some Black, Asian or minority ethnicity (BAME) backgrounds. Not everyone with Crohn's or Colitis will have an increased risk, and some people at risk may not have received a shielding letter.

3. Carry out a risk assessment for the workplace, including staff at higher risk
Employers must carry out a risk assessment and put steps in place to manage risk during the coronavirus pandemic - it's the law.

4. Talk to your staff
You must talk to your staff about returning to work. Discuss their personal risk and how they can work safely, and explain the changes being made and why. Ask staff for their ideas about making the workplace safe and reducing their own risk. You should also consider the emotional impacts of a return to work - higher risk staff may have spent most of their time at home with little contact with others, and may be very anxious about getting back to work.

5. Make changes to protect staff at higher risk
Higher risk staff should be offered working from home if they can - whether that's in their current role or an alternative role. If higher risk staff can't work from home, they should be offered the option of the safest possible on-site roles, with strict social distancing and hygiene measures in place. For example, reducing face-to-face contact with the public and instead carrying out administrative tasks, or changing working hours to avoid public transport during peak travel times. Occupational health or human resources may be able to help, if available at your workplace. If strict social distancing can't be followed, consider whether a return to work is possible at this stage.

For more information, see:

6. Find out more about Crohn's and Colitis
Everyone experiences Crohn's and Colitis differently, but the more informed you are, the better able you'll be to support your staff with the conditions.

Read our:


Can I claim any benefits?

You may be able to claim benefits or increase your current benefits if your income or work has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

What you can claim will depend on your own personal situation. You can check what benefits you may be able to claim on the Citizens Advice website.

You can also find more information on benefits and how to apply on the government website.


Will I have to attend a medical assessment to claim my benefit?

Face-to-face assessments for all sickness and disability benefits have been temporarily suspended. This is to protect people from the unnecessary risk of coronavirus.

You do not need to do anything. If you’ve applied for PIP (or any other of the listed benefits) the DWP will get in touch with you to make other arrangements. This may include telephone interviews or paper-based assessments.


I’m getting into debt / struggling to pay my bills and don’t know what to do

If you are finding it difficult to pay your bills – such as your rent, mortgage, water or energy bills – you should call your landlord or providers and explain your situation. Many have extra measures they can take to help people who are struggling to make payments due to coronavirus. See Citizens Advice for lots of advice about what you can do if you're struggling to pay your bills.

If you're getting into debt and you're struggling to cope, you must get help as soon as possible. You can access free expert advice based on your individual financial situation from StepChange or the National Debtline. They can help you find solutions and get you started on the next steps you can take to manage your debts.


Other organisations and support

See our information on Finances for general financial support for people with Crohn's and Colitis.

ACAS - for free impartial, confidential advice on workplace rights, rules and best practice.
Helpline: 0300 123 1100

Citizens Advice - for help with work, money, housing and benefits.
You can find details of your nearest office at on their website, however if you want to get in touch you should try to do this over the phone through their online chat service.

Coronavirus Advice Scotland
Advice for those living in Scotland on employment, housing and personal finance, as well as cancellations and consumer rights.
Helpline: 0808 800 9060

Disability Rights UK
Personal Budgets Helpline: 0330 995 0404
Email: enquiries@disabilityrightsuk.org

DWP - Employment and Benefits Support
Information about the changes the government has brought in to support people who are already claiming benefits, need to claim benefits, or are at risk of losing their job as a result of coronavirus.

Equality Advisory Service - for help with equality and discrimination

Money Advice Service - for help with money
Tel. 0800 138 7777
Email: enquiries@maps.org.uk
Web chat service also available on website

National Debtline - for practical help managing debt
Tel. 0808 808 4000
Live chat service available on website

StepChange - for practical help managing debt
Tel. 0800 138 1111
Live chat and message service available on website

Turn2us
Organisation helping people in financial need gain access to welfare benefits, charitable grants and other financial help.