As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to worsen and the Government’s position on the measures needed to address its spread hardens, employers are now presented with fresh challenges never experienced before.

These are indeed strange times and we have set out below the essential information, with links to regularly updated resources, to help you and your business get through this period of uncertainty.

Government and ACAS guidance

The COVID-19 pandemic is continually changing and the government and ACAS advice for employers is being updated as the situation develops. Employers should keep track of the guidance for employers from the following sources:

  • Public Health England and BEIS: COVID-19: guidance for employees, employers and businesses (applicable in England):-

  • Acas: Coronavirus: advice for employers and employees (relevant to employers throughout the UK):-

For information on the circumstances in which individuals should self-isolate see the following sources:

  • Public Health England: COVID-19: stay at home guidance (applicable in England):-

Employer good practice tips:-

  • Monitor and follow advice from government and relevant authorities
  • Assess risks faced by employees and visitors – undertake Risk Assessment?
  • Keep staff updated on actions being taken to reduce risks
  • Review policies governing business travel, holidays, sickness, caring for dependants and home working to ensure a reasonable and consistent approach, taking account of risk assessment and government guidance
  • Review relevant insurance policies and guidance issued by your insurers
  • Ensure everyone’s contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date
  • Make sure there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap, and encourage staff to wash their hands regularly
  • Provide hand sanitiser and tissues for staff, and encourage them to use them

Employer’s duty of care – what does the law in the UK say?

Employers in the UK have a legal duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees and anyone else who may be affected by the employer’s business, including visitors and members of the public.

Employers should therefore consider whether their existing arrangements for protecting staff and visitors take account of the risks arising from CoVID-19 and they should regularly re-assess those risks as the situation develops or new guidance is issued by the government, Public Health England or the WHO. This would include conducting risk assessments to identify the likelihood of staff contracting CoVID-19 whilst at work and appropriate measures to control that risk.

Employers may also consider implementing measures to screen visitors to their premises, for example requiring them to certify that they have not recently visited a high risk area.

If an employer fails to implement appropriate measures then it will potentially leave itself exposed to employees asserting that they have grounds for refusing to attend work, on the basis that doing so would place them in “serious and imminent danger”.

In summary, employers should consider, and where appropriate implement, appropriate measures; explain those measures to their employees; and explain the steps they are taking to monitor the situation.

Sick Pay

If employee or worker (‘Staff’ hereinafter) must be paid SSP (or company sick pay, if applicable) where:-

  • Have Coronavirus;
  • Coronavirus symptoms (high temperature and/or continuous cough);
  • Told to self-isolate by doctor or 111 and cannot work

SSP for Coronavirus-related absence payable from day one and employers with less than 250 staff will be reimbursed for any SSP paid to staff for first 14 days of sickness related to Coronavirus.

Employers expected to be flexible – e.g. staff may not be able to provide a sick note if they’ve been told to self—isolate for more than 7 days.

Other situations

1. Unwilling to attend because concerned about Coronavirus:-

  • Listen to concerns and try and find resolution (e.g. work from home) or suggest take time as holiday or unpaid leave
  • If agreed resolution cannot be found and staff refuse to attend without good cause, disciplinary action could be taken – if absence unauthorised not entitled to pay as not willing to attend work
  • Be careful of any discrimination angle

2. Caring for dependants/schools shut down/transport disrupted:-

3. Lack of work / decreased requirement for staff due to Coronavirus:-

  • If staff not sick but we tell them not to come into work – entitled to usual pay
  • We can designate dates on which staff must take holiday i.e. in case of shutdown, but must give 2 x as much notice as holiday for e.g. 10 days’ notice for holiday of 5 days;
  • Lay-off (temporary measure);
  • Salary reductions; or
  • Redundancies (longer term).

Please contact Attwells Solicitors for further advice and a full list of options.

4. Can we send someone home to self-isolate (e.g. is exhibiting symptoms, think exposed to Coronavirus etc.?

  • Yes. suggest remote working first but if not achievable, H&S risk in protecting other staff would outweigh employment law risk in suspending them – continue to pay them normally and no right for worker to be given work (albeit could offer remote working
  • Where staff member working from home still entitled to usual pay
  • Medical suspension legislation very narrow and unlikely to applied to Coronavirus

5. At what point should an employer close the workplace?

Acas guidance advises that if someone with COVID-19 comes into a workplace, the workplace does not necessarily have to close.

In England, the local Public Health England Health Protection Team (HPT) 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.

A risk assessment of each setting will be undertaken by the HPT with the lead responsible person. Advice on the management of staff and members of the public will be based on this assessment.

The HPT will also be in contact with the case directly to advise on isolation and identifying other contacts and will be in touch with any contacts of the case to provide them with appropriate advice.

Advice on cleaning of communal areas such as offices or toilets will also be given by the HPT.

If you or your business are affected in anyway by the Coronavirus or any other employment law issue please contact Lloyd Clarke on 01206 239761 or for a free consultation.