As more cases of coronavirus, officially Covid-19, are detected across the UK, employers should prepare now for the potential impact of the virus and take necessary steps to protect their employees where necessary.
We are seeing an increase in queries from employers asking for our advice on how they should deal with the various employment issues that may arise. Below are some of the areas of consideration:
- Your usual sickness leave Policy still applies if someone has coronavirus.
- Employees are required to inform the company, in the manner set out in their staff handbook, that they are absent and unable to attend work
- Employers may need to make temporary changes to some of their sickness processes. For example, someone with the coronavirus will not be able to gain a fit note whilst in isolation, so employers may need to consider making exceptions where no sick note can be produced.
What if employees are not sick but cannot work because of self-isolation or quarantine?
The concern here is that people will come into work even though they have been told to self-isolate because they aren’t sick and therefore have no legal (‘statutory’) right to pay. However, there needs to be a degree of flexibility, if the following circumstances apply:
- employees have been told by a medical expert to self-isolate
- they have had to go into quarantine
- they are abroad in an affected area and are not allowed to travel back to the UK
Employers need to consider how to deal with this…is this sick pay? What if the Company pays SSP only? Could there be an agreement to take the time as a holiday possible by temporarily waiving the notice periods for taking holidays?
What happens if employees need some time off work to look after someone?
All Employees are entitled to time off work to help someone who depends on them (a ‘dependant’) in an unexpected event or emergency. This would apply to situations relating to coronavirus. Whilst there is no statutory right for paid time off, so this would be unpaid, Employers need to consider what constitutes a reasonable amount of time under these circumstances.
Other contingency measures to consider:
In addition to enforcing greater levels of hygiene within their workplace, employers may also need to be thinking of contingency measures that they may need to put in place should the outbreak become a pandemic. This might include:
- Review of alternatives such as home working
- Possibility of enforced holiday and utilising the correct notice periods for this
- Review of workplace technology capabilities and whether they enable remote working, as well as whether staff have access to broadband or appropriate equipment from home.
With the outbreak of coronavirus changing daily, employers need to remain fair and flexible and take the appropriate advice from government and UK health agencies.
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