The Covid-19 situation is causing disruption to working patterns, requiring employers to consider various obligations to employees. There is a duty to protect the health and safety of all employees, which means protecting against the spread of the virus. There is a duty to act reasonably towards all employees and to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees. Poor handling of a situation could result in legal claims for unfair constructive dismissal and in some circumstances, discrimination
What if you suspect that an employee may have been exposed to the coronavirus?
If you decide that an employee poses a risk, provided that the matter is dealt with proportionately and sensitively, you can require that employee to stay at home until the risk has passed.
Can you insist on them staying away from work?
If you decide that an employee poses a risk, provided that the matter is dealt with proportionately and sensitively, you can require that employee to stay at home for 14 days.
If the employee is showing signs of illness, ordinary sickness absence rules apply and they are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and any additional sick pay offered under the contract. SSP is £94.25 per week and is paid from the fourth day of sickness.
What pay might they be entitled to?
Normally, there is no legal right to sick pay if an employee is not unwell. However, The Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 mean that an employee who has been told to self-isolate by the NHS 111 service or has a written certificate from a GP is now deemed to be “incapable of work”. Under the sick pay regulations they will be entitled to statutory sick pay (if eligible).
Where the employer has decided to send an apparently well employee home as a precaution – rather than in response to official advice, it would be prudent to pay normal salary. Failing that, pay sick pay in accordance with their employment contract and SSP rules. If it is only SSP that is due – rather than full pay – the employee may agree to home working or even taking holiday to keep normal income flowing.
What if their child’s school closes?
If the child of an employee is sent home from school, requiring them to take care of that child, there is a legal right to emergency parental leave but there is no obligation to pay the employee for that. Again, using annual leave or allowing home working are possible compromises here.
What if an employee does not want to go to work because they are worried about Covid-19?
If it is the employee who does not wish to attend work – for example, because of pregnancy, age or due to having an underlying health condition – employers should consider their concerns in the light of the duty to provide a safe working environment.
A disability that puts an employee at greater risk from Covid-19 can require an employer to make reasonable adjustments to their working arrangements under the Equality Act. Homeworking, adjusted hours, using annual leave or unpaid leave can all be discussed.
Finally, employers should ensure that health and safety is paramount and hygiene rules are enforced. Any employee who does not comply with reasonable guidance on enhanced hygiene, for example, can be disciplined under the relevant company policy.
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Author: Sue Glover
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