Coronavirus: what do employers need to know?
With the World Health Organization (WHO) saying that the world should “do more to prepare for a possible coronavirus pandemic” and cases being reported as near to the UK as Italy, whether we like it or not, we must start to consider how coronavirus could affect us, our families and our lifestyle.
While we can all follow guidance from medical experts and the NHS, what responsibility do employers have when it comes to taking care of their workforce and ensuring employees are kept informed?
Workplace expert for England, Wales and Scotland, Acas, has issued advice on handling coronavirus in the workplace and to clarify the employment rights that exist in relation to handling the coronavirus in the workplace.
Can employees miss work because of fears relating to coronavirus?
Acas’ guidance states that there is no legal obligation for an employer to pay a healthy worker who has been advised by the NHS to self-isolate. However, it does advise that it’s ‘good practice’ for an employer to treat self-quarantine as sick leave, as it would reduce the risk of an employee feeling compelled to come into work and thus potentially spreading the coronavirus and impacting on other members of your workforce.
It’s important to remember that as an employer, you should listen to any concerns staff may have and, if there are genuine concerns, you must try to resolve them to protect the health and safety of staff. For example, offer flexible working, such as homeworking, if possible.
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Does the usual sick leave arrangement apply for coronavirus?
The employer’s usual sick leave and pay entitlements still apply if someone has coronavirus. Employees should let their employer know as soon as possible if they’re not able to go to work.
If an employee is not unwell but you, as an employer, tell them not to come to work, i.e. they’ve just returned from China and you’re concerned about the spread of the virus, they should receive their usual pay.
What steps do employers need to follow to keep employees safe?
In case coronavirus spreads more widely in the UK, employers should follow some simple steps to help protect the health and safety of staff. These include:
- Updating staff on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace
- Ensuring everyone’s emergency contact details are up to date
- Making sure managers know how to spot the symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on the processes around sickness reporting and pay
- Ensuring there is sufficient access to hot water and soap to wash hands regularly
- Consider possible travel disruption (particularly if you’re an international organisation with employees who regularly travel for meetings etc.) and consider the risk of travelling to certain areas
Remember, if you decide to take measures such as asking employees to wear protective masks, you must not single anyone out on the basis of their race or ethnicity.
I need to close the workplace temporarily, what should I consider?
As an employer, you should:
- Ensure staff have access to work laptops and phones so that they can work from home
- Make sure you keep in touch with employees and ensure they communicate regularly with their own line managers
If you do need to close the business for a short time, unless it specifies in the employment contracts or is agreed otherwise, you still need to pay your workforce for this time.
As always, keep staff informed.
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