COVID-19: Employers' Guide
Widespread news of workplace closures and staff concerns following the outbreak of COVID-19 will be making many employers apprehensive. So, we have put together a brief guide for employers, explaining the duties owed to their employees in light of the outbreak, as well as the procedures they can begin to implement to combat its spread.
Avoid the spread of infection during day-to-day activities
- Keep staff updated regarding COVID-19 risks at work by advising how to avoid spreading infections in their daily activities and in what instances they should inform their employer, and who should specifically be informed, regarding travel to an infectious country or in respect of contact with someone who has caught the virus.
- Ensure managers know the relevant company policies and how to spot COVID-19 symptoms.
- Obtain everyone’s up to date contact and emergency contact information.
- Encourage washing of hands regularly and provide hand sanitisers and tissues.
- Recommend facemasks to stop the spread of further infection.
- Only permit work-related travel to affected countries and areas if essential.
- Implement a remote working policy for those who operate in infectious areas/countries or who may need to work at home for other related reasons.
- Keep an eye out for workplace harassment related to international COVID-19 hotspots, such as China or Italy, and ensure that your staff are aware of your anti-harassment policy in this regard.
Employee becomes unwell at work
Managers and other employees should be made aware of the following procedures in the event that they, or someone else, becomes ill at work (whether specifically due to COVID-19 or not):
- Get at least 2 metres (7 feet) away from other people.
- Go to a room or area behind a closed door, such as a sick bay or staff office.
- Avoid touching anything.
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue and put it in a bin, or if no tissues available, cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow.
- Use a separate bathroom from others, if possible.
- Use their own mobile to call NHS advice on 111; or an ambulance, if they’re seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk: 999. Informing the operator of their symptoms and from which country (if any) they have returned in the last 14 days.
Please note, pregnant women are particularly at risk from the virus and an employer will have additional responsibility to them from such a risk in the workplace. Accordingly, if such protections are inoperable in the workplace it may be appropriate to move them to different location or allow them to work from home, subject to mutual discussion and their consent.
SICKNESS, ISOLATION & QUARANTINES - PAYMENT & LEAVE ARRANGEMENTS
An employer’s obligations in respect of pay and leave are dependent on the situation
If an employee is ill with COVID-19 and has been advised by a doctor or the NHS ‘111’ number to self-isolate they should receive statutory sick pay (“SSP”). Although it is not compulsory, it is good practice for a business to provide company sick pay in lieu of SSP, if they have such a policy. Further, employers should be aware that emergency legislation is being implemented to require SSP to be paid from the first day of sick leave, rather than the fourth. So, employers should ensure that any self-isolated employees receive sick pay from their first day of isolation.
If an employee is not sick, but has been told by their employer not to come to work, then that employee should receive their usual pay.
Please note, there is no obligation to pay employees who need time off to help a dependent due to COVID-19, for instance looking after children when a school has closed, or helping an ill dependent at home or in hospital. However, in each instance, it would be good practice to provide the usual company policies, such as sick pay or allowing the time to be taken as holiday, so as to prevent infected employees coming to work anyway to avoid losing any pay. Nevertheless, this will depend on the policies in place at your workplace and the particular contracts of the affected employees.
Employee Concerns – Refusal to come to work
Although frustrating for employers, it is good practice for employee concerns regarding workplace infections be addressed and resolved, for example by implementing remote working arrangements or flexible work schedules on a case-by-case basis.
Even though an employer is not obliged to agree to a request to work from home and may dismiss an employee for its refusal to work as contractually obliged. Dismissal despite an employee’s genuine fear of working, for example, in infectious, close-quarters and busy environments, would likely be outside the scope of reasonable responses and could be considered unfair – especially when alternative working arrangements can be made. Although, this will depend on the length of time the employee is refusing to attend work.
It should be stated that, currently, ACAS has informed that it is unlikely that an employer will need to close their workplace. However, in the present climate an employer, its managers and its staff (where relevant) should be aware that the local Public Health England health protection team can be contacted, or will contact the business themselves, to discuss the particular case, identify those people who have been in contact with an affected person or who have been to a hotspot area, carry out a risk assessment and subsequently advice on any action and precautions to take.
If an employer does need to close its offices, it is important for the staff to be informed as early as possible and to address concerns promptly throughout the closure. Further, as mentioned, unless it is contractually agreed otherwise an employer will need to pay their employees as usual throughout the closure. Consequently, the remote working policies set out above can be a saving grace in the event of a workplace closure.
GET IN TOUCH
If your business needs legal support with any issues arising from COVID-19, please get in touch with Millie Kempley.
All information in this document is accurate at the time of writing. It is meant for general information only and is not legal advice.