Tens of millions of workers all around the world are being asked to stay home as we speak, in the attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus. At the same time, millions of others have no choice but to keep going to work. No matter where you stand in the two groups right now, we’re all asking ourselves the same question: if my agency or office closes for business, can I get fired because of Coronavirus?
Can I lose my job due to COVID-19?
The short answer is: yes, you may lose your job due to the pandemic. Though you should keep in mind that all employers work differently, and every context may have different challenges.
In the UK, the government has announced a package designed to help employers retain staff during the pandemic. This is called Job Retention Scheme, and it was conceived to help businesses keep their employees in the events of business closure. It works as follows:
- Employers can apply for the scheme and receive a grant from the government paying up to 80% of workers’ wages, up to a total of £2,500 per worker each month.
- The scheme will initially operate for three months with a possible extension. It was backdated to the 1st of March.
- Only furloughed employees are eligible for the scheme. This means employees who are still employed but are not undertaking any work at all for their company. It does not cover work-from-home employees.
- The scheme does not apply to freelancers or self-employed workers.
- It also does not apply to those who have had their hours reduced but are still working.
- It remains unclear whether sick and self-isolating employees are covered by the scheme.
If your employer is still not aware of the scheme, we strongly recommend letting them know.
The scheme applies throughout all sectors of employment, including the creative industries. It ensures that those employees or teams whose pay has been temporarily laid off are covered and supported by the government grant, to avoid job losses in the light of the pandemic.
If your employer is still not aware of the scheme, we strongly recommend letting them know as soon as possible. Employers should, however, keep in mind that there must be a valid reason to apply for the scheme, such as contractual lay-off clauses or similar.
The situation is slightly different in the US. Every country has different policies in place, and it looks like some US companies are even offering bonuses and extra pay for certain employees willing to keep their offices running. WeWork US and Canada is an example.
In any case, all governments are either putting or already have different measures in place to prevent job losses. In the US, for instance, an employer forcing employees to show up while sick may be violating Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations. But an employee not showing up despite not being sick is still at risk of losing his job, unless the employer has agreed to work-from-home policies.
My employer doesn’t want me to stay home – what to do?
If you are afraid of catching COVID-19, you should share that concern with your employer.
Unfortunately, every employer will reason in accordance to its business’ needs in these trying times. But all employers should listen to any concerns staff may have and take steps to protect everyone.
If that is not possible, you could agree with your employer to grant you time off as holiday or unpaid leave. However, please note that the employer is not obliged to agree to this at this stage.
If you refuse to attend work without a valid reason (e.g. self-isolation, virus symptoms), your employer is still justified to take disciplinary action.
Please note that, in the UK, this especially applies to key workers. If your business’ work is critical to the COVID-19 response, you may be required to keep working as usual.
The creative industries as a whole should be excluded from the list of key workers in the UK.
The list includes health and social care workers, education and childcare, local and national government, public safety and national security, transport and more.
Whenever possible, you should stay home with your loved ones and your children, practising social distancing as instructed by the government to protect them from the pandemic. However, please note that your loved ones may be in the list of key workers.
You can find the full list of key workers on the UK government’s website.
What if I’m a freelancer or self-employed?
Unfortunately, the UK job retention scheme does not cover freelancers or self-employed – which means a huge chunk of the UK creative industries may be practically cut out from the support scheme.
There has been increasing pressure on governments to introduce measures for freelancers and self-employed workers as well. To face that pressure, UK chancellor Rishi Sunak has made an official announcement entirely dedicated to freelancers and self-employed. The idea is to pay freelancers in dire straits a lump sum at the start of June that will represent a grant of up to £2,500 per month for work lost during the crisis. You can read more about it in our article on the announcement.
Other countries have already acted in giving freelancers a safety net. Denmark and Norway have promised to pay contractors a proportion of their income, calculated by using their earnings over the past few years. France is offering a flat payment for anyone whose earnings drop more than 70%.
Are you in a bad place financially because of coronavirus?
Maybe. We can't sugar-coat this: there's no guarantee that things are going to get better soon, and this pandemic will heavily impact on the creative industries in the next few months. On the other hand, governments all over the world are introducing measures to tackle the pandemic and soften the economic impact of COVID-19, which means you may be able to keep your job, one way or another, wherever you live.
Do keep in mind that all employers will adopt different measures and that there are no definite answers when it comes to this pandemic. Which means you may be forced to reinvent yourself and your business before all of this is over.
How to reinvent yourself in times of need
If you do find yourself with the need to reinvent yourself as a creative, there are things you can do to stay ahead of the game.
It may be wise to take a step back and see which of your transferable skills can be applied to a freelance life. This global pandemic may well leave us all in bad shape, but it doesn't hurt to stay positive and think of new ways to expand your skills.
A number of online services, such as Udemy or Skillshare, are offering free courses or crazy discounts on their services. Even Unity has made its Learn Premium free for three months, for all the game artists and developers out there.
Creatives all around the world can take this time to hone their skills and become even better at what they do, or gain more exposure for their art by spending time self-promoting on social media. Whatever your career path, the technology is most likely out there. And it can help you get ready for when all of this will be over.
There has never been a better time to up your skills
If you haven't done so yet, this is the right time to up your freelance game and unveil skills you never knew you had. It is also a good time to show some love to your Creativepool profile and start scouting for opportunities in our community. You may find something suitable for your skills even in these trying times.
And if all of this doesn't work, at least you'll know you will be ready to start anew when the lockdown ends.
Image credit: A Single Life from Job Joris & Marieke, by Jelly London.