Following the coronavirus outbreak, employers are exploring ways in which they can prepare to meet the challenges likely to emerge over the coming weeks. Here, Victoria Cook provides a concise summary of how employers can respond to this ongoing issue.
As an employer, you have a duty to take steps that are reasonably necessary to ensure the health and safety and welfare of all your employees. This includes any employees who may be particularly vulnerable, such as pregnant employees, or anyone with pre-existing medical conditions.
It’s essential to keep abreast of official recommendations. Implementing the advice to avoid infection is a must – for example, providing good access to hand washing facilities and hand sanitisers. You’ll also need to advise your people on the question of travel plans and consider the impact on any work visas. At all times, take care not to cause unnecessary alarm.
You should also consider the privacy implications of collecting information from individuals about their recent travels and health. For example, asking whether an individual has flu-like symptoms (which some organisations may opt to do before permitting access to premises or to an event) will elicit health data which is subject to particular safeguards under data privacy law.
Your employees also have a duty to look after their own health and safety and that of their colleagues. This includes following self-isolation advice and cooperating with the employer to ensure a safe workplace.
Employees also have a duty to look after their own health and safety and that of their colleagues, which includes following self-isolation advice and cooperating with the employer to ensure a safe workplace.
For employees who are unwell with symptoms of coronavirus, your organisation’s sickness absence and pay policies will apply. The government has confirmed that employees will be entitled to statutory sick pay from the first day of absence. Where an employee has been advised to self-isolate, employers should facilitate working from home wherever possible. If this isn’t possible, we would advise you consider following your sick pay policy, or continuing to pay the employee during the period of self-isolation. Not paying an employee for a period of self-isolation may lead to employees returning to work, which could present a health and safety risk to the wider workforce.
Where employees are unable to return from a holiday, you could choose to pay the employee as a one-off discretionary payment – or advise the employee to take holiday or unpaid leave. If an employee is abroad for work, it is likely to be reasonable to continue to pay them. If an employee is refusing to come to work, even when your organisation’s policy is it would be fine for them to do so, you should take all circumstances into account. Is it possible to facilitate remote working? Can the employee take holiday?
The situation is changing frequently. it is crucial to keep the situation under review, in the process undertaking appropriate risk assessments. We’d also advise taking care to be consistent in your approach and to not single out any employees to avoid the risk of allegations of discrimination.