27 February 2020

Coronavirus: What employers need to know

By Anissa Hallworth, Director, Hayes + Storr.

UK Chief Medical Officers have raised the risk of the public catching coronavirus (COVID-19) from low to moderate. It is therefore important that employers know their legal rights and how to respond if the virus continues to spread. If you wish to keep up to date with the situation as it develops, the government publishes daily updates at 2pm with the latest advice and statistics.

What if employees do not want to come to work?

Some employees may not want to come to work if they feel they are at risk of catching coronavirus. An employer should of course listen to any concerns that their employees may have, however, if the employee chooses not to come into work simply because they fear catching the virus then they are not entitled to paid time off. If the employee refuses to attend work then it could result in disciplinary action. You as the employer may wish to discuss with the employee taking time off as holiday or unpaid leave, although there is no requirement on you to agree to do so.

Sick pay

The workplace’s usual sick pay and pay entitlements apply if someone has coronavirus. Employees should let their employer know as soon as possible if they are not able to go to work. If an employee is not sick but you as their employer tell them not to come to work then they should get the usual pay. For example, if someone has returned from China or another affected area and you ask them not to come in, just to be on the safe side, then they are entitled to be get paid.

If someone cannot work because they are in self-isolation or quarantine

There is no legal (statutory) right to pay someone if they are not sick but cannot work because they have:

1. Been told by medical experts to self-isolate;

2. Have had to go into quarantine.

There is no right for an employee to be paid during this time. It may however be reasonable for you to consider the employee taking holiday or unpaid leave.

Steps for employers

Employers should consider some simple steps to help protect the health and safety of their employees by:

1. Keeping everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace.

2. Checking everyone’s emergency contact details are up to date.

3. Making sure managers know how to spot the symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on any relevant procedures, for example sickness reporting and sick pay, and procedures in case someone in the workplace develops the virus.

4. Ensuring there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap, and encouraging everyone to wash their hands regularly.

5. Giving out hand sanitisers and tissues to staff and encouraging them to use them.

6. Considering if protective facemasks might help for people, particularly those working in vulnerable situations.

7. Considering if any travel planned to affected areas is essential.

If the employer takes measures such as asking staff to wear protective facemasks, they must not single out any particular person, for example based on their race or ethnicity.

If the employer needs to close the workplace

The employer should plan in case they need to close the workplace temporarily. They could for example:

1. Ask staff who have work laptops or mobile phones to take them home so they can work from home.

2. Arrange paperwork tasks that can be done from home for staff who do not work on computers.

3. Make sure staff have a way to communicate with the employer and other people they might work with.

In some situations an employer may need to close down their business for a short time. They still need to pay their employees for this time, unless it states otherwise in their contracts or in other arrangements agreed separately. If the employer thinks they need to do this, it is important to talk with staff as early as possible and throughout the closure.

If you would like further advice on how to deal with the impact of coronavirus on your business, please contact Anissa Hallworth, Gerald Bloye or Abigail Reynolds on 01553 778900 or 01328 863231.

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