ACAS has published advice for employers on a possible widespread outbreak of Coronavirus.
We’ve been here before of course, but something does feel altogether more threatening about the current risk….so what is the long and short of the employer’s situation in the event of an outbreak or indeed a nervous employee who doesn’t want to come to work? Our Q&A covers the key issues, and we have published ACAS’s full unadulterated article below.
My employee is refusing to come to work, what should I do?
Well, assess the actual risk to start with and take it from there. If you are in a higher risk area (cities/airports/other activities with lots of public contact) and outbreaks have been confirmed it would seem sensible to see whether the risk can be minimised e.g. granting additional holiday, looking at whether homeworking can be implemented or offering unpaid leave, but if there is no particular risk evident then an employee’s absence may be regarded as being ‘unauthorised.’ There is no obligation to pay an unauthorised absent employee and disciplinary action may also apply. As ever before deciding on a disciplinary route, TALK to your employee first, see if you can agree a way forward and try to be sensitive to the employee’s fears – the fear may be greater than the actual risk but it doesn’t change the fact that the employee might be genuinely afraid.
What steps should I take to minimise risk to my employees?
In the event of an outbreak sensible steps would include introducing hygiene rules & facilities (handwashing & sanitiser points etc. near entrances and exits, outside toilets etc.) but also considering how your business can minimise staff attendance e.g. working from laptops and mobiles at home.
Do I have to pay people if I require them to stay away from the workplace?
Some employment contracts will have ‘lay off and short time working’ clauses, though in our experience of drafting these many employers ask us to remove them. If you do have these clauses then pay could be reduced or suspended for certain periods, but if you don’t you will have to pay employees you send home.
If an employee gets the virus or is quarantined, what do I do?
Treat it as any other sickness absence – if the employee is entitled to company sick pay, pay them CSP, if they are only entitled to statutory, SSP will apply. Stay in touch with your employee and recognise that medical certificates may not be possible – GP surgeries do not want Coronavirus sufferers coming in to obtain medical notes – be sensible, sensitive and inquisitive – not a bad mantra for any employer.
Coronavirus: advice for employers and employees
The risk of catching coronavirus (COVID-19) in workplaces is currently low.
It’s still good practice to make sure everyone at work follows simple hygiene rules, such as:
- washing hands thoroughly with hot water and soap
- using tissues when sneezing or coughing and throwing them away in a bin
If employees do not want to go to work
Some people might feel they do not want to go to work if they’re afraid of catching coronavirus.
An employer should listen to any concerns staff may have.
If there are genuine concerns, the employer must try to resolve them to protect the health and safety of their staff. For example, the employer could offer flexible working where possible, such as homeworking.
If an employee still does not want to go in, they may be able to arrange with their employer to take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave. The employer does not have to agree to this.
If an employee refuses to attend work, it could result in disciplinary action.
The workplace’s usual sick leave and pay entitlements 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 sick but their employer tells them not to come to work, they should get their usual pay. For example, if someone has returned from China since the virus started and their employer asks them not to come in, just in case.
If someone cannot work because they’re in self-isolation or quarantine
There’s no legal (‘statutory’) right to pay if someone is not sick but cannot work because they’ve:
- been told by a medical expert to self-isolate
- had to go into quarantine
But it’s good practice for their employer to treat it as sick leave and follow their usual sick pay policy or agree for the time to be taken as holiday. Otherwise there’s a risk the employee will come to work because they want to get paid. They could then spread the virus, if they have it.
Steps for employers
In case coronavirus spreads more widely in the UK, employers should consider some simple steps to help protect the health and safety of staff.
- keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace
- make sure everyone’s contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date
- make sure managers know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes, for example sickness reporting and sick pay, and procedures in case someone in the workplace develops the virus
- make sure there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap, and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly
- give out hand sanitisers and tissues to staff, and encourage them to use them
- consider if protective face masks might help for people working in particularly vulnerable situations
- consider if any travel planned to affected areas is essential
If the employer takes measures such as asking staff to wear protective face masks, they must not single anyone out, for example based on their race or ethnicity.
If the employer needs to close the workplace
The employer should plan in case they need to close the workplace temporarily. For example:
- asking staff who have work laptops or mobile phones to take them home so they can work from home
- arranging paperwork tasks that can be done at home for staff who do not work on computers
- making sure staff have a way to communicate with the employer and other people they work with
In some situations, an employer might need to close down their business for a short time. Unless it says in the contract or is agreed otherwise, they still need to pay their employees for this time.
If the employer thinks they’ll need to do this, it’s important to talk with staff as early as possible and throughout the closure.