Partner and Head of Employment, Mark Fellows, recently spoke on BBC3 Counties Radio about how employers can take steps now to mitigate risks against Coronavirus (Covid-19), you can listen by clicking here (skip to 2:10:30 to hear Mark’s 5 minute slot).
With the number of people infected with Coronavirus in the UK on the increase, this issue is undoubtedly going to have an impact on workplaces. Whilst wanting to avoid inducing any panic, there are steps that employers ought to consider implementing now to mitigate against any potential risks due to Covid-19, or indeed any contagious illness, Wealso highlight pay implications for staff who either are unwell or unable to attend work.
What can employers do to reduce the risk?
Below are five simple steps to both mitigate the risks that your staff may become infected by the virus and to minimise disruption to your business in the case someone becomes infected:
- Undertake a risk assessment in your organisation to establish where you may be more exposed to risk and implement measures to mitigate that risk. This might mean curtailing any non-essential overseas travel to high risk areas or simply providing staff with hand sanitiser stations!
- Communicate to staff what measures you are taking, and why, and reassure everybody that you are monitoring the situation and the ongoing Government guidance. Clearly you want to strike a balance of not causing undue concern, but at the same time demonstrating that you are taking the matter seriously.
- Brief your managers as to the signs of the condition and make sure they are familiar with the company’s sick pay procedure and sick pay entitlement.
- Consider practical steps like reminding staff of the importance of washing their hands (apparently for as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice!) and ensuring you have a sufficient supply of hand sanitiser, tissues etc.
- As recommended by ACAS, ensure contact details of all staff (including emergency contact details) are up-to-date.
What if my employee is diagnosed with the virus?
If an employee is diagnosed with coronavirus, they are unfit for work and should remain isolated. In such circumstances, your normal sickness absence procedure will apply, and the employee is likely to be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and if you have a contractual sick pay scheme, they may well be eligible for that.
It is worth bearing in mind that in most sick absence procedures an employee is required to produce a medical certificate (known as a ‘Fit Note’) if the absence exceeds 7 days but clearly in this scenario, they may well not be able to obtain a certificate and we would recommend you consider relaxing this requirement.
What if my employee is not sick but is self-isolating?
This is a little more complicated.
Matt Hancock, the Health Minister has said that those employees in self-isolation on medical advice should be treated as on sick leave and may therefore be eligible for statutory sick pay. The key point here is the wording on ‘medical advice’ – if an employee is self-isolating on medical advice, either from a GP or the NHS 111 service, then this is straightforward.
However, if an employee is self-isolating through choice and in the absence of any medical guidance, then they are not entitled to be paid, and their absence is technically unauthorised unless it is approved as holiday, for instance. In such circumstances, we would recommend a discussion with the employee concerned to understand and address their concerns.
What if my employee is well, but unable to return to work due to being quarantined or isolated?
This depends upon whether the employee needs to be able to attend work to perform their duties. In many organisations, the ability to work remotely is such that the employee can still perform their role and in those circumstances, they remain entitled to normal pay.
If however, the employee cannot work remotely, then although they are technically not entitled to be paid, we envisage that most employers will consider exercising discretion either treating the absence as holiday, paid leave or even sick leave.
The reality is that the approach will depend upon the size of the company, and the nature of the business it operates.
Overall, it may be that the worst-case scenario never materialises however we believe it is worth putting contingency plans in place now, in order to reduce the impact that Coronavirus (Covid-19) may have in the workplace.
And finally, we believe the words of Lance Corporal Jones in Dad’s Army are particularly pertinent here – “Don’t Panic Mr. Mainwaring”.
If you have any questions in relation to this article or Employment law generally, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Employment team at Sherrards Solicitors, who will be happy to assist you.