With coronavirus being top of the news right now, it would be helpful to post some guidance on how to deal with the employment aspect of this potential concern.
Boris Johnson has just confirmed that the statistics are very likely to increase but at present, we should keep “going about our business as usual”. This is despite reports of potentially up to 20% of the workplace going off sick with the virus in the near future.
Acas has produced workplace specific guidance which sets out the steps employers should be taking. https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus
If your industry has been affected by coronavirus and you have a downturn in work, you may also find this guidance on short time working and lay-offs useful.
How can we reduce the risk to our employees?
The risk level is currently identified as moderate. Employers should send round an email/guidance encouraging employees to be extra-vigilant with washing their hands, using and disposing of tissues etc. If you have the capacity to do so, it may be worth designating an ‘isolation room’ where an employee who feels ill can go and sit away from the rest of the company and privately call ‘111’ before taking any further necessary action.
If an employee is not sick but is in quarantine or self-isolation, do employers have to pay them sick pay?
There is no legal right to sick pay in these circumstances, but it may be good practice. Otherwise there is a risk of them coming into work and potentially spreading the virus to the rest of the workforce. There is also a risk of an argument that – by choosing not to pay someone who has self-isolated – the employer may have breached the implied term of trust and confidence and hence constructively dismissed them. But I think such an argument is weak, for all sorts of reasons.
What if employees do not want to come to work?
Some people may be worried about catching coronavirus and therefore unwilling to come into work. If this is the case you should listen carefully to the concerns of your employees and if possible, offer flexible working arrangements such as homeworking. Employees can also request time off as holiday or unpaid leave but there is no obligation on employers to agree to this. If an employee refuses to attend work, you are entitled to take disciplinary action. However, my view is that dismissal is likely to be outside the range of reasonable responses, at least for now. If someone refuses to come into work and the COVID-19 issues continue into the medium term, my view might change.