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A number of employers have asked us for workplace guidance in light of the coronavirus outbreak. Whilst we are not, of course, medically qualified to give advice on how best to deal with the virus, our friends at Keelys Solicitors have put together the following note which to a large extent reflects ACAS guidance.

 

Get the latest updates

All employers should regularly check the government website for up to date information about the spread of the virus and the risk to the public. This is likely to keep changing and you will need to keep your approach to the virus under review as the situation and Government advice develops. The Department of Health and Social Care will be publishing updated data on this page every day at 2pm until further notice.

 

Should employees be paid for time off?

If an employee actually experiences symptoms of coronavirus, they should go off sick immediately and be paid sick pay as usual.

Employees should follow normal absence reporting procedures if they’re not able to attend work. However, the employer might need to make allowances if, for example, employees are not actually sick but are quarantined, advised to self-isolate or are unable to leave an affected area. An employee might not be able to get a sick note in those circumstances.

 

Employees may not be showing any symptoms but may:

a) have been advised by a Doctor to self-isolate;
b) have been placed in quarantine as a precautionary measure; or
c) be abroad in an affected area and not allowed to travel back to the UK.

In those cases the employee is not actually sick. There is therefore no statutory right to pay if they cannot work for these reasons. However, firstly, it would be harsh not to pay staff in those circumstances where they are only following advice or are physically incapable of attending work. Secondly, saying that you will not pay them may cause staff to come to work instead of self-isolating and risk further spread of the virus.

We suggest that employees absent for these reasons are either treated as off sick or, by agreement with the employee, granted annual leave.

 

What happens if an employee returns from an affected zone and appears to have symptoms?

If an employee becomes unwell in the workplace and has recently come back from an area affected by coronavirus, ACAS guidance is as follows:

  • Get at least 2 metres (7 feet) away from other people
  • Go to a room or area behind a closed door, such as a sickbay or staff office
  • Avoid touching anything
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue and put it into a bin immediately. If they do not have tissues, ensure that they cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow
  • Use a separate bathroom from others, if possible

The unwell person should use their own mobile phone to call either, for NHS advice: 111; for an ambulance, if they’re seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk: 999. They should tell the operator their symptoms and which country they’ve returned from in the last 14 days.

 

How should the employer respond if someone with coronavirus comes into work?

If someone with coronavirus comes to work, the workplace does not necessarily have to close. The local Public Health England (PHE) health protection team will get in contact with the employer to:

  • Discuss the case
  • Identify people who have been in contact with the affected person
  • Carry out a risk assessment
  • Advise on any actions or precautions to take

 

What rights do employers have regarding absence?

If an employee chooses not to attend work due to an outbreak, the starting point is that it is down to the employer’s discretion whether to pay them (for what could be quite a long period). We suggest you listen to your employee’s concerns and, if these are well- founded then, where practicable, you should consider granting home working, annual leave or unpaid leave. If an employee unreasonably refuses to attend work, they could be disciplined for that. Please seek advice before taking any disciplinary action, however.

If the employer has instructed an employee not to attend work, you could lay them off temporarily if you have a right in the contract to do so. They would then be entitled to statutory guarantee pay of £29 per day for the first 5 days. If you do not have the right to lay them off, you would need to continue paying them during this absence.

Employees are entitled to a reasonable amount of unpaid time off to provide assistance to a dependant in an unexpected event or emergency. This could well apply to situations to do with coronavirus. For example, schools may close and alternative arrangements for childcare may need to be made.

 

What can employers do to prevent the virus spreading?

Employers should consider the following steps to help prevent the spread of the virus:

  • Make sure there are clean places for staff to wash hands with hot water and soap and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly
  • Give out hand sanitisers and tissues to staff, and encourage them to use them
  • Consider if any business travel planned to affected areas can be avoided

 

If you are looking for further advice regarding the ongoing issues surrounding coronavirus and its impact on the workplace, please do not hesitate to get in contact.