The current outbreak of Coronavirus is raising a whole host of concerns for many and not least for employers. We have been contacted by some clients for advice in relation to specific situations that have arisen in their businesses so are taking the opportunity in this blog post to give some general advice that we hope is helpful.
With the situation changing on a daily basis, it can be difficult to keep abreast of current best practice. There is both a lack of clear information and an overabundance of sometimes speculative advice to sift through.
Sources of advice for Employers
The current advice is similar throughout all regions of the UK and Ireland. The Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland, and Its partner agencies such as Public Health England, are updating information daily on their websites.
A good source of advice for businesses and employers is found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/guidance-for-employers-and-businesses-on-covid-19
This includes both general advice on preventing the spread of this type of infection, and specific advice relevant to the workplace. Advice on what to do if a member of staff or visitor to the workplace has a confirmed case will not currently be relevant but is there to be consulted should it become necessary.
If someone becomes unwell in the workplace and has travelled to affected areas, they should be moved to an area which is at least 2 metres away from other people, and if possible find a room where they can be isolated behind a closed door.
The individual who is unwell should call NHS 111 from their mobile, or 999 if an emergency (if they are seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk) and explain which country they have returned from in the last 14 days and outline their current symptoms.
Employers should keep employees informed of hygiene requirements of public health advice, and monitor to ensure the measures are followed.
Employees who are not sick but quarantined or self-isolated
A main concern of employers is how to handle the situation where an employee is not actually sick, and therefore entitled to sick pay, but is unable to come to work under advice to self-isolate. This would include employees who have returned from travel to affected areas. Where it is possible to work from home, or to take annual leave, these options should be considered in consultation with the employee. Where neither is possible, it would be advisable to pay sick pay in these cases. Not to do so could risk the person returning to work because they want to be paid and possibly spreading the virus.
Employees who do not want to come to work
Some employees who have no reason under current advice to stay away from work may nevertheless want to remain away for fear of catching the virus. Employers are advised to deal with these concerns sensitively and offer the possibility of working from home or taking paid or unpaid leave where possible. However, there is no obligation to do this and where an employer believes there is no genuine reason for an employee to be away from work there could be grounds for disciplinary action. However, caution should be exercised, particularly if the situation here worsens, and a dismissal is unlikely to be considered fair in these circumstances.
As always, for more information or advice on this or anything else to do with employment law, please get in touch.