Employment and the coronavirus – What are the facts? What do employers and employees need to know ?
The coronavirus (COVID-19) is currently at the forefront of the worldwide media, and the vast amount of uncertainty it is providing for the masses is causing huge concern.
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (‘ACAS’) has recently issued guidance to both employers and employees in the event the virus becomes widespread across the UK.
Employers are being advised to:
- Keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace
- Make sure all employees’ contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date
- Ensure all managers know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes, for example sickness reporting and sick pay, and procedures in case someone in the workplace develops the virus
- Make sure there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap, and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly
- Provide hand sanitiser and tissues to staff, and encourage them to use them
- Consider if protective face masks might help for people working in particularly vulnerable situations
- Consider if any travel planned to affected areas is essential
Employers must not single anyone out. For example, they must not treat an employee differently because of their race or ethnicity.
If an employee is not sick but as an employer you make the decision to tell them not to come to work, the employee should receive their usual pay. For example, if an employee has returned from an affected country or another affected area, an employer may request that the employee does not come into work for a quarantine period of 14 days.
It is extremely unlikely that you will need to close your place of work. But it would be wise to formulate a plan. Employers may, to minimise the impact, allow people to work from home using laptops or computers or for those employers who are accustomed to paperwork can arrange for paper-based tasks to be completed at home.
Employers may have no option but to close their business for a period of time. Unless it says in the contract or is agreed otherwise, employers still need to pay their employees for this time.
If as an employer you have to close the business temporarily you should discuss this with your employees as early as possible.
As an employee you must tell your employer as soon as possible if you cannot attend work. You should tell your employer the reason for your absence and give an estimate of to how long you will likely to be absent from work.
The workplace’s usual sick leave and pay entitlements apply if someone has coronavirus. Employees should let their employer know as soon as possible if they’re not able to go to work.
Self-isolation – what happens now?
The government has already provided advice in relation to self-isolation. If the NHS 111 or a doctor advises an employee or worker to self-isolate, they will be entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP). Some employers offer contractual sick pay, which is more generous than SSP.
Caring for someone affected
All employees are entitled to time off work to help someone who depends on them in an excepted event or emergency, such as the coronavirus.
- If an employee has children they need to look after or arrange childcare because their school has closed
- To help their child or another dependant if they’re sick, or need to go into isolation or hospital
It is worth remembering that there is no statutory right to pay for this time off, but some employers might offer pay depending on the contract or the general workplace policy.
Employees must remember that the amount of time off you take to care for a dependant must be reasonable. For example, your employer may agree to 5 days off to start with, and if more time is required you may be asked to use some of your annual holiday entitlement.
Too scared to work – where do I stand?
The constant bombardment in the media can cause enormous worry for some, to the point that regardless of medical advice you may not want to go to work in case you contract coronavirus.
Employers should listen to any concerns the staff may have. Employers have a duty to to protect the health and safety of their employees. Employers should consider alternatives to requiring employees to attend the office e.g. working from home.
Alternatively, employers may wish to consider allowing their employees to take unpaid leave, though this would be at the discretion of the individual employer.
If an employee outright refuses to attend work, this could result in disciplinary action being taken which could ultimately result in dismissal.
A colleague becomes unwell with suspected coronavirus!
If a colleague becomes unwell and they have recently returned from an affected area, they should:
- Get at least 2 metres away from other employees
- Go to a room or area behind a closed door
- Avoid touching anything
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue and put it in a bin, or if they do not have tissues, cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow
- Use a separate bathroom from others, if possible
My colleague has coronavirus
If someone comes to work with coronavirus, the workplace does not necessarily have to close.
The local Public Health England protection team will get in contact with the employer to:
- Discuss the case
- Identify people who have been in contact with the affected person
- Carry out a risk assessment
- Advise on any actions or precautions to take
We hope the above information will be of assistance. For more detailed advice, please contact our employment team on 0151 480 5777 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org