Coronavirus and Your Employees – FAQs
We are experiencing an unprecedented number of calls regarding the impact of Covid-19 on the workplace and in respect of employer’s obligations and employee’s rights. This note details some of the FAQs our team have been answering.
As always, the guidance we provide should always be used and read in conjunction with specialist advice from a member of our team.
Q: Are employees with no underlying health conditions entitled to SSP if they refuse to come into work on the basis of a text message received from gov.uk advising them to “stay at home”?
A: No. Only employees who are self-isolating due to either having symptoms of coronavirus or sharing a home with another person with symptoms OR those vulnerable employees who have been advised to “shield” for 12 weeks are entitled to SSP.
Q: An employee does not want to remain at work due to ‘perceived’ risk from coronavirus through remaining at work. The role is not suitable for home working. Is the employee entitled to SSP if they go home?
A: No – only if they are required to self-isolate, or are subject to shielding.
Q: Do I have to allow my employees to work from home?
A: Yes, if this is possible. Employers have an obligation to facilitate the government’s social distancing advice to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees.
Q: An employee who presents as fit to work is coughing persistently, do they have to remain in work?
A: No. To be fit to work, not only does an employee have to be able to carry out their role but they must also not be in a position where they may infect others. As such, an employer could send an employee home in this circumstance and pay SSP.
Q. An employee is absent from work with self-reported symptoms of coronavirus but it is suspected they are not genuinely ill. Is there any action that can be taken?
A. No. An employer has to take an employee’s comments at face value. Self-isolation and entitlement to SSP would apply.
Q. Can an employer choose to send an employee home (on full pay) if they believe the employee is in a high-risk category and does not wish them to remain at work even if they don’t display any symptoms?
A. Yes and an employee cannot refuse to be sent home. If they do, disciplinary procedures may be used.
Q: A job offer has been made and accepted. With a downturn in business the role is no longer required. Can the employer withdraw the offer?
A. Yes. There will be a breach of contract if notice pay is not given. However, most employees will not be entitled to any notice within the first month of employment.
Q. A job offer has been made and accepted. However, I now want to delay the start date. Am I allowed to do so?
A. If an employee agrees, that’s fine. If they refuse, you can withdraw the offer however see above.
Q. An employee is currently suspended due to a gross misconduct allegation. They then advise that they now need to self-isolate. Does the employer have to continue to pay full pay during the period of self-isolation?
A. No. The employee is now self-isolating so is only entitled to SSP. Once their period of self-isolation is at an end, normal rules for pay during a period of suspension will apply.
Q. An employee has been invited to a disciplinary hearing. They have let you know that they will be accompanied by a Trade Union representative and wish the meeting to take place face-to-face. Do we have to agree?
A. No. Due to the current pandemic and, in line with social-distancing advice, it is not a reasonable request. Offer to have the meeting via Zoom, Skype, phone or by email. If the employee refuses you can hold the meeting in their absence based on the information available to you at the time.
Social Distancing in the Workplace
Q: Do I have to ensure that employees are able to maintain social distancing whilst at work?
A: Employers should do everything that they can to ensure compliance with the government’s advice on social distancing.
Q: Do I have to allow employees to wear face masks in the office?
A: No. Public Health England has not advised face masks in the workplace are necessary and employees have no right to wear them. However, it is sensible for employers to be flexible when it comes to rules on uniform and appearance during this time and allow employees to wear face masks if this makes them feel more comfortable.