Updated: 24 March 2020
The development of the Coronavirus has been covering news headlines recently, understandably raising general concern. What will its impact be on places of employment? What do employers and employees need to know?
The following is a general guide. Edward Connor has produced a specific policy for employers, which can be purchased for a fixed price (£30 exc VAT). We also have a policy on Homeworking for those considering this. This can also be purchased for a fixed price of £30 exc VAT. Please email email@example.com to request these.
The NHS and Public Health England recommend employing general good hygiene (things we should already be doing!) to help prevent spread of the virus. This includes:
- Covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing
- Immediately throwing used tissues into the bin
- Frequently washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with hot water and soap, or using sanitising hand gel (preferably one containing alcohol)
- Avoiding close contact with those who are unwell
Face masks play an important role in places like hospitals, but there’s little evidence of much benefit for members of the public, and so there’s no recommendation for non-medical employees to wear them.
The government are advising everyone to stop unnecessary contact with other people (‘social distancing’). This extends to the workplace, and so the advice is that where possible all employees should work from home. As of 23rd March the government introduced tighter measures to limit trips outside to food shopping, health reasons and essential work only.
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises British people against all but essential travel worldwide due to unprecedented international border closures and other restrictions.
Employers should reiterate Government guidance concerning travel in the UK, and suitably risk assess any work-related travel.
If you now need to change or cancel your travel plans, contact your airline, travel company, cruise line or other transport and accommodation providers. You should also get in touch with your insurance provider.
Obligations for employers
As an employer, both under common law and the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) you have a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of your workforce at work. With regards to the Coronavirus outbreak, this will look like:
- Publishing up to date information and guidance on the Coronavirus for all employees
- Encouraging good health and hygiene in the workplace
- Reiterating Government advice regarding social distancing, travel and self-isolation
- Risk assessing any operations where appropriate
Other relevant obligations to keep in mind are your duty not to unlawfully discriminate because of a protected characteristics, for example race which would cover denying someone a service or treating them unfavourably (under the Equality Act 2010).
You also need to have regard to the terms of contracts of employment for your employees.
Attendance and sick pay
The Government have set out a plan to support public services, individuals and businesses that may be affected by COVID-19. This includes refunds for SSP during the outbreak.
Employees who’ve been told to stay away
The Government has made it clear that if someone has been advised by NHS 111 or a medical professional to self-isolate, they’re entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP). This is in line with regulation 2 of the Statutory Sick Pay (General) Regulations 1982 which states that under such circumstances a person – even if not physically unwell – is deemed incapable of performing their work. In such a case, it’s important that the employee tell their employer as soon as possible they can’t work. If possible, the employee should also say how long they think they’ll be off. Some employees may be contractually entitled to sick pay in excess of SSP.
Prior to Friday 13 March, choosing to self-isolate without a written notice did not entitle someone to receiving SSP.
On Friday 13 March, new legislation was passed, providing that SSP will now be available to anyone isolating themselves from other people in such a manner as to prevent infection or contamination with Coronavirus, in accordance with guidance published by Public Health England, NHS Scotland or Public Health Wales. It is unlikely that these employees would be contractually entitled to sick pay in excess of SSP as they are not off work because they are unfit to work (but as a precautionary measure)
Due to the circumstances, employers should use their discretion concerning the need for medical evidence for certification for employees who are unwell. This will allow GPs to focus on their patients.
Employees who don’t want to attend
If employees at your place of work still need to come in, people may not want to for fear of catching Coronavirus. Employers first and foremost need to listen to their employees’ concerns. It’s an employer’s responsibility to seek to resolve this. If an employee still doesn’t want to attend work, they may be able to arrange time off as unpaid leave or holiday. Refusing to attend work without discussing it with the employer could result in disciplinary action for the employee.
Employees who need to look after a dependant
People may need to take time of work to help someone dependent on them. This is a statutory entitlement in an unexpected event or emergency. There’s no obligation to pay for this time off, though an employer may do so depending on the contract or workplace policy.
- ACAS – Coronavirus: advice for employers and employees
- UK – COVID-19: Guidance to employers and businesses
This information has been provided by solicitors working for Edward Connor Solicitors. It is designed for the purpose of knowledge sharing only and does not constitute legal advice.