Furloughed but asked to work, starting work at 5am, prevented from working from home despite living with vulnerable parents – these are some of the shocking stories to emerge from a survey of junior legal aid lawyers.
The Young Legal Aid Lawyers Group received 309 responses in a week to its Covid-19 survey, publishing the findings today.
One in 10 respondents were furloughed. However, one respondent said: ‘Some of us are being told to continue to work although we have been furloughed. We are worried to tell the firm that this is against the government guidelines, due to the potential effect it may have to our career and roles. I feel partners/directors are taking advantage of trainees and young newly qualified solicitors. In addition, we are being told to contact clients via our personal mobile phones.’
Dozens of respondents said their employers were not allowing flexible working. One said: ‘Working hours remain the same, 9-5. This is problematic as it is taking a long time to do basic food shopping with long queues.’
Being required to attend the police station was the main Covid-19 risk for a quarter of respondents. Health risks also arose from seeing clients in person to sign up for legal aid, attending psychiatric hospitals, and going to the office to receive or send post or bill files. Although police and legal chiefs have agreed an interview protocol, YLAL is receiving anecdotal evidence that some forces are unaware of the protocol or unable to comply.
Some employers are making their staff take risks. One said they were expected to be in the office twice a week. Another said they were not allowed to work from home despite living with vulnerable parents.
However, the survey also highlights examples of good practice.
One respondent can do 50% less work per day due to caring commitments. Coronavirus-related leave is being classed as special leave and so it is paid. Another respondent’s firm has regular group chats.
Several positive comments were made about supervisors. One said: ‘My supervisor asked us to work from home 4 weeks ago pre pandemic. She brought us all personal hand sanitiser anti bac wipes etc to use when travelling on public transport. She asked us to text her every morning to let her know if we were okay or had any symptoms. She began remote supervision for those of use working from home. She was excellent.’
Another said: ‘My supervisor emails, telephones and video calls. He is trying to keep me involved in his own work and keep me busy.’
The committee makes several recommendations. Employers are told to ensure junior members are not required to attend the office unless absolutely necessary. Employers should top up the salaries of furloughed staff. The Legal Aid Agency should pay providers based on their usual income over a three-month period.
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.