With increasing number of confirmed cases and the latest government guidance promoting self-isolation for 14 days, it is becoming necessary for employers to have a strategy in place for dealing with the impact of the Coronavirus
Are Employees Entitled to Sick Pay?
If an employee has suspected or diagnosed Coronavirus, they should follow the company’s normal sickness absence reporting procedure and be paid statutory sick pay (SSP) in the usual way upon presentation of a fit note.
If an employee self-isolates by reason of other written medical notice, such as GP or 111 advice they should be deemed as being incapable of working in these circumstances and should be paid SSP if eligible. Employees who make the decision to self-isolate without a fit note or written notice may not be entitled to sick pay. On 4th March 2020, the Government announced that workers who do self-isolate will be entitled to SSP from the first day off work, not the fourth, to help contain the virus.
Either way, when considering the position on sick pay, employers may decide to act flexibly when it comes to normal sickness policies. Where, for example, the sickness procedure requires an individual to obtain a fit note from a doctor beyond the 5 day self-certification period, but this is not possible due to self-isolation and GP surgery not accepting Coronavirus patients an employer may determine to pay sick pay in any event.
Travelling employees are at an increased risk of being ‘stranded’ overseas due to stringent containment measures and closed borders. Employees who are stranded are not automatically entitled to any sick pay for any period where they are subject to a required quarantine.
Working from Home and Refusals to Attend Work
Employees who do not want to come into work due to concerns about infection should have any requests for home or flexible working properly considered by their employer.
Employees who are not sick but wish to stay away from the workplace can request time off as holiday or as unpaid leave, but there is no legal obligation on an employer to grant any such request if business requirements do not allow. An unreasonable refusal to attend work may be classed as unpaid and unauthorised absence. Conversely, if an employer asks an employee who is not sick to refrain from coming into work the employee should be paid as usual.
Employees continue to be entitled to a reasonable amount of time off work to help dependants in an unexpected event or emergency, such as needing time off to look after a child whose school has closed due to Coronavirus. There is no statutory right to payment for Dependants Leave, although some employers may choose to exercise a discretion to do so.
Reducing the Risk of Infection in the Workplace?
Employers can help to raise awareness of the symptoms of Coronavirus and promote basic hygiene practices across the workplace.
Coronavirus is understood to spread through coughing and sneezing, and by touching a contaminated surface or object and then touching one’s nose or mouth. Individuals with symptoms of the virus which include a cough, a fever or shortness of breath are advised to call NHS 111. Affected individuals are required to self-isolate for 14 days. Self-isolation means remaining at home and not coming into the workplace.
Preventative measures which can be easily implemented in the workplace may include:
-Covering coughs and sneezes with tissues
-Washing hands more frequently with soap and hot water
-Using alcohol based sanitisers
-Avoiding shaking hands
-Routine cleaning of all frequently touched and communal areas
An Employer’s Duty of Care
Employers have a duty of care to all employees under Health and Safety laws. If an employer is aware an individual has been advised to self-isolate but they allow them into the workplace to come into contact with others, this could constitute a breach of their duty of care.
Employers may consider if they have the right to suspend an employee who refuses to self-isolate following advice and who attend the workplace.
Following reports of racism towards those of Chinese origin, employers should also ensure that they take reasonable steps to prevent discrimination or harassment in the workplace.
Immigration Law and Coronavirus
Employers should take advice on specific concerns relating to any immigration issues.
The Home Office has put measures in place to help mitigate against the risks of the spread of Coronavirus and has stated that Chinese nationals in the UK looking to switch from the Tier 2 ICT to the Tier 2 (General) visa route who would ordinarily need to leave the country and apply from China are applied to apply within the UK if their visa is due to expire before 30 March 2020.
Howarths have put together this note to help you to manage and protect your people and your business. Our Advisory and Health & Safety teams, who can be contacted on 01274 864999 are on hand to support you with any Coronavirus related queries which you may have.