Trade Union support for interpreters during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

By NUBSLI | Published on 13 March 2020

Last updated on March 18th, 2020 at 12:24 pm

Related: Coronavirus Covid-19 freelance interpreter

The Covid 19 virus

NUBSLI has been contacted by many members (and non-members) about working during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.  Interpreters should follow advice provided by the UK Government and Scottish Government, as well as the NHS.

Below are the most commonly asked questions we have received, and they are answered to the best of our ability at this time.

I’m an employed interpreter, what should I do?

Employers should be monitoring and acting in accordance with government and NHS guidance.  Employed interpreters should, therefore, be guided by this, and their employers, when determining working patterns, strategies, etc.

Self Employed Interpreters

My booking has been cancelled because my client is self-isolating/place of work is closed because of quarantine measures, what can I do?

If a client cancels a booking due to the coronavirus within the timeframe laid out in your terms and conditions, then you are within your rights to charge a cancellation fee as you would with any other cancellation.

The agency who booked me is pressuring me to work in an environment with known cases of the Coronavirus, can I refuse?

If you are asked to work in an environment where it is known that someone is infectious or at high risk, you should be advised of that beforehand so you might make an informed decision whether to take (or proceed with) the assignment or not.

If you agree to the assignment, you should be given the same precautions as others you will be in attendance with.

 You could also suggest that under the current circumstances Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) would be more appropriate, whether that be provided by yourself onsite via laptop or tablet, or via a VRI service provider.

Should you feel that your health is at risk and are not prepared to accept that, you have the right to withdraw as you do with any assignment.  Agencies and clients have a responsibility to take your concerns seriously and should not penalise you.

It is unlikely that you would be remunerated in such an instance as you have chosen to withdraw from the assignment.

I have been advised that I should self-isolate – I can’t afford to take 2 weeks off work, what should I do?

If you have a high temperature and/or a continuous cough, or if you have been exposed to the Coronavirus then you should seek advice on whether to self-isolate.

Self-isolation has been an effective technique in curbing the rise of the Coronavirus, therefore any recommendations to do so should be respected.

Unfortunately there is currently no Statutory Sick Pay for self-employed workers in the UK; the current Government concession is that ESA can be applied from day 1 rather than day 8 as it was previously.

However, this puts freelancers in the precarious situation of deciding between following health guidelines and earning a living. If you feel this is unfair we urge you to support a petition asking the government to expand SSP to include self-employed workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Agencies and Organisations are sending conflicting advice – I don’t know what to do!

As long as you are following the advice provided by the governments, the World Health Organisation , Public Health England  and Health Protection Scotland, NUBSLI will be able to support you to challenge any unfair working practices expected from you.

I don’t want to catch the Coronavirus but as an interpreter I work in many different domains so feel vulnerable, what can I do?

The best way to avoid the spread of the coronavirus is to follow the NHS advice to avoid catching colds and flus.

I don’t want to put myself at risk but realise that Deaf people still need access to services and information.  What should I do?

Governments, public organisations and private service providers have a statutory duty to ensure information and services are accessible to the Deaf Community.  By keeping abreast of the latest advice and guidance issued by governments and the NHS, interpreters will be able to make informed decisions as to what services they are able to provide, as well as the best ways in which they can deliver these.

Support from NUBSLI

We cannot know the full extent of the affect the Coronavirus will have on our profession, but rest assured that NUBSLI is here to support you. If you require support with work related issues that fall within NUBSLI’s remit, e.g., payment and terms and conditions, contact us at

Stay safe.