Coronavirus – what should I do as an Employer?

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Due to the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19), employers are facing challenges to protect employees and provide the correct up-to-date advice.

The outbreak has led to a number of questions for employers on how they approach issues including handling absences and those working from home.

It is vital that employers keep staff fully up-to-date on their response to the outbreak and absence policy relating to COVID-19.

Here, specialist employment law solicitor at Farnworth Rose, Steve Gee, provides advice on what you can do as an employer to respond to the Coronavirus outbreak.   

How should employers respond to the Coronavirus outbreak?

Given the increasing number of cases of Coronavirus in this country, you as an employer must decide how best to protect your business and workforce from the illness. Then decide what to do should one of your employees contract the virus.

Whilst the COVID-19 variant of Coronavirus has reported symptoms that are mild in the vast majority of cases (little worse than a common cold or mild flu), deaths have occurred predominantly where the sufferer has a pre-existing medical condition.

Therefore, it is likely to be fear-driven behaviour that is the biggest problem rather than the illness itself. In that respect, I would not be surprised to see an increase in requests to work from home and more employees taking precautionary sick days.

Steps employers can take to protect employees

We all know that an employer has a fundamental duty of care to all its employees, in that it must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of its employees are protected. As such, you must consider the risks posed by the virus and any steps which you can properly take to minimise that risk.

In the first instance, you should consider the guidance issued by Public Health England, reiterating it to any employee who has recently travelled to any of the countries identified in the guidance, or anyone who might have been in contact with someone who has been infected.

Where an employee is showing symptoms of the virus, you cannot insist they have a test for the virus and any attempt to force them to undergo a test against their will may lead to a claim for constructive unfair dismissal. 

On the flip side, employees who fail to follow their employer’s instructions to follow medical guidance to prevent the spread of the virus could themselves be subject to disciplinary action.

Handling coronavirus related absences

An employee showing signs of the virus or self-isolating on medical advice should be treated as off sick, in accordance with normal company procedures. It is envisaged there could be as many as one in five workers off sick at once.

Yesterday the government announced that it will bring forward emergency coronavirus legislation, including measures whereby employees who stay at home having been asked to self-isolate, will be allowed payment of statutory sick pay from the very first day of sickness instead of four days under the current rules.

In addition, you must remember that under the Employment Rights Act 1996 an employee has a right to take time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependant. Therefore, should their child’s school be closed because of the virus, then the employee should be allowed to take a short period of unpaid leave to make alternative arrangements.

Whilst it is unclear how quickly and to what extent the COVID-19 outbreak will escalate, it would be advisable for employers to think now about what they might do should the situation escalate further.

Do you have questions on your obligations to employees as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak?

Should you have any queries regarding your obligations toward your employees in light of the Coronavirus outbreak, please contact the specialist employment solicitors at Farnworth Rose.

Our dedicated employment law solicitor, Steve Gee, will be available to answer any questions on the steps your business should take keep your employees informed.

You can talk to Steve Gee today by calling Farnworth Rose on 01282 695 400.

Or, arrange a call-back at a time that suits you by completing our online contact form here.