With uncertainty over the spread of the coronavirus in the UK, here are some tips for employers and employees to get you up-to-speed.
If someone has coronavirus (COVID-19), the usual workplace sick pay policies apply. Employees should tell their employer as soon as they can if they are ill. But what if it’s the employer telling an employee not to come in, because, say, they’ve just returned from a trip to China? In this case, the employee should be paid their usual pay. If it’s the employee self- isolating themselves, perhaps on medical advice, it’s likely the employer isn’t under a legal duty to pay them if they’re not actually sick. But Acas recommends it’s good practice for the employer to treat it as sick leave and comply with the usual workplace sick pay policy. Another alternative would be for both to agree the time is taken as holiday. Whichever option is taken, this then deals with the risk that the employee comes in to work, so they can get paid, and then potentially spreads the virus.
Employees not wanting to come into work
What if an employee is worried about coming into work, fearing they’ll catch coronavirus? The best thing here is for employers to listen to their genuine worries and offer support, if possible. Some options to put in place could be allowing staff to work flexibly, perhaps at home, or agreeing they can take time off as holiday or unpaid leave. The employer doesn’t have to agree to this, but it may provide a workable solution. If the employee refuses to come into work, this could be a disciplinary matter, depending on the circumstances.
Practical steps employers can take
At the moment, the risk of catching coronavirus in UK workplaces is low, but if it spreads more widely, employers may want to take the following steps:
- Follow NHS guidelines on hygiene and check the NHS and government website for updates. This includes providing clean places to wash hands with soap and water and encouraging frequent hand washing, providing hand sanitisers and tissues and encouraging their use when coughing or sneezing
- Think about whether to issue face masks for staff in particularly vulnerable situations
- Check managers know how to spot coronavirus symptoms and are up to speed on sickness policies and procedures in case someone develops the virus
- Check all personal contact details and emergency contacts are up to date
- Think hard about whether travel to any affected area is really needed
- Put plans in place in case there’s a need to close the workplace temporarily. This could include enabling staff to work at home by providing laptops and making sure lines of communication are clear and well understood. Unless there is agreement or the contract says otherwise, employees should still be paid during the shutdown. Employers should ensure they talk through with employees as soon as possible, if a shutdown seems on the cards