Many of our clients have spoken to us about what they should be doing and measures they should take in relation to their employees following the recent outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19). Although specific legal advice should be sought as the situation is changing daily, we have set out in this article some general issues to consider.
• Employers should be mindful of the duties that they owe employees under health and safety legislation and the duty to provide a safe place of work. Employers should be aware of this blanket duty, and also be mindful to those who may be more vulnerable, for example pregnant employees, or employees that have pre-existing conditions.
• Make sure managers and HR know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus and are kept up to date as the situation progresses.
• Whether as employers you can take any steps to facilitate home working;
• Ensuring employees are aware of the actions that are being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace and anything that they can do to help reduce the risk (encouraging employees to wash their hands regularly, giving out sanitisers and face masks for people working with the vulnerable); and
• Making sure everyone's contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date.
• To be mindful that you, or any other employee, do not single any individual employee out based on their race or ethnicity (in line with your Equal Opportunities Policy).
Sick Pay and Leave
The companies normal sickness policies and contractual sick pay entitlement should apply to employees who are off work due to coronavirus but employer's should consider that those who are quarantined may not be able to get a sick note in the usual way.
If someone is not incapacitated (sick), but has been informed that they should self-isolate or had to go into quarantine (for example because they have travelled to an affected area) there is no legal entitlement to sick pay (unless the employer has told them not to come into work when they are not sick- in which case they should be paid in the usual way). If the employee was diagnosed with coronavirus, or otherwise became too unwell to work, then the position would, of course, be different.
However, it is good practice and recommended to treat any such period as sickness leave in the normal way in order to not encourage the employee to attend work in order to not face financial hardship. The other option is to allow the employee to work from home if they feel well enough to do (see above). This is likely to depend on whether the employee has symptoms (in which case they are likely to be on sick leave) and whether the company has the resources in place/the job role is such that the employee is able to work from home.
Time off for dependents
Employees (subject to certain conditions) have a statutory right to reasonable time off to care for someone who depends on them in an unexpected event or emergency. This may apply to situations to do with coronavirus, for example if schools close affecting childcare or to care for someone who has caught the virus.
What if an employee refuses to self-isolate?
Suspension may be an option where an individual who has been advised to self-isolate refuses to do so, however we would strongly consider seeking legal advice before going down this route.
The information contained in this article is for information purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice. For advice on HR/employment law issues arising out of coronavirus, sickness absence or employment law generally or HR contact our team at firstname.lastname@example.org or use our online 'get a quote' service.