Coronavirus: Advice for Employers

posted by KeithDaniel

As of 16th March, a total of 1,543 people in the UK have tested positive for the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Based on the World Health Organisation’s declaration that this is a public health emergency of international concern, the UK Chief Medical Officers have raised the risk to the UK from low to moderate.

As public concern around Coronavirus grows, we have seen an increase in queries from employers asking for advice on how they should deal with various employment issues that may arise as a result of the Coronavirus.  We therefore set out a list of frequently asked questions.

How can we reduce the risk to our employees?

We suggest that employers send around 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, we would suggest 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. 

You may also want to consider deep cleaning their area and work station after they have left the premises. 

If the laboratory tests confirm COVID-19 infection was present, your local health protection team will conduct a risk assessment and provide further advice.  Employees who have had close contact with the affected person will also be asked to self-isolate at home for 14 days.

Dealing with staff who need to self-isolate.

Employees are likely to be advised to self-isolate for 14 days in the event of:

  • Recently having close personal contact with a confirmed case of Coronavirus.
  • Recently returning from a specific high-risk country.

What is the position on pay?

The Coronavirus may result in workplace absences for a number of different reasons.

  • Sickness absence for suspected or diagnosed Coronavirus infection

Employees will be entitled to the usual sick leave and pay entitlements including statutory sick pay or contractual sick pay, in the event this is provided in the employment contract or within any policies. Within the past 24 hours the Prime Minister has stated that employees will get statutory sick pay from the first day off work, not the fourth, to help contain Coronavirus.

  • Absence for self-isolation

There is no right to statutory sick pay if not unfit for work.

Despite the above strict legal position, Acas guidance suggests that it is good practice for an employer to treat absence as sick leave and follow the usual sick pay policy or agree for the time to be taken as annual leave.  Employers may therefore want to take a flexible approach to the unexpected absences that the virus may cause.

If the employee is able to work remotely, they should receive their usual pay.  If they are unable to work remotely then, unless there is a contractual right to pay in these circumstances, there is no legal entitlement to pay. 

The Government has made it clear that if NHS 111 or a doctor advises an employee to self-isolate, they’re entitled to statutory sick pay. Entitlement to contractual sick pay would depend on the contractual terms.

The new regulations (The Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020) give Secretary of State and registered public health consultants power to detain people for testing, impose restrictions on travel and activities, or require a person to be kept in isolation. Affected employees would be entitled to statutory sick pay as they are deemed to be incapable of work.  Again, entitlement to contractual sick pay would depend on the contractual terms.

  • Absence from work at employer’s request

The entitlement to usual pay would continue unless there is a contractual right not to pay.  Employers may want to consider if they have contractual provisions for lay off or short time working.

  • Absence from work due to being scared of risk of infection

Check to see whether the ability to work remotely exists and, if so, the employee would be entitled to the usual pay.  There is no entitlement to pay if the employer requires the employee to come into work and they refuse.

  • Absence for childcare

Emergency leave exists to provide employees with a right to reasonable amount of time off work to assist or arrange care for ill dependants (e.g. if a child has the virus), and with unexpected breakdown in care arrangements (e.g. child is quarantined or school is closed). This is unpaid - unless pay is provided in the employer’s contract or policies.

Employers should keep the situation under review and stay alert for further government guidance.

If  you would like more information about any of the issues raised in these articles or any other aspect of employment law, please do not hesitate to contact at 029 2034 5511 or employment@berrysmith.com.