Coronavirus and employees: your questions answered
As the situation with COVID-19 – more commonly known as coronavirus – changes daily in the UK, how businesses will have to deal with a potential infection in their workplace is becoming ever more pertinent. Here, Brachers answers some of the key questions around how the coronavirus might affect your employees.
Will an employee continue to be paid if they have to self-isolate?
If an employee develops symptoms of coronavirus and as a result self-isolates, they would be considered sick and would therefore be entitled to the appropriate sick pay they are entitled to under their contract of employment. It has been reported today that the Prime Minister has promised workers will get statutory sick pay from the first day off work, not the fourth, to help contain coronavirus.
The government has indicated that if NHS 111 or a doctor advises an employee or worker to self-isolate, they would be entitled to statutory sick pay. On 26 February, the Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock MP said ‘self-isolation on medical advice is considered sickness for employment purposes’.
However, an employee with no symptoms who has voluntarily gone into self-isolation for example because they are concerned about contracting the virus, will probably not be entitled to sick pay, unless they have a disability within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010 which results in a compromised immune system or a higher risk of developing severe COVID-19.
In these circumstances the employer may have a legal duty under the Equality Act to make reasonable adjustments to the employee’s working arrangements. For other individuals, entitlements will be dependent on the terms of an employee’s contract of employment and the approach taken by the employer. Some employers have already indicated individuals who are self-isolating will be paid.
If an employee is instructed by an employer to remain away from work at times that they were otherwise obliged to work, they are likely to be entitled to be paid for this time off. Where possible many employers have indicated they will support home working, although this is clearly not possible for some jobs.
Self-isolation helpful guidance:
Will an employee be paid if their child’s school has closed due to COVID-19?
Under s57A of the Employment Rights Act 1996 an employee has a right to take leave where there is an unexpected disruption to the arrangements to care for the dependant. However, at present there is no statutory right for an employee to be paid if they do so.
ACAS has suggested that an employer might be willing to make concessions depending on the employee’s contract or alternatively to allow an individual to take holiday during their time off.
What are employers’ obligations?
Employers must bear in mind their ongoing duty to their employees under Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the Equality Act 2010 and common law, to protect the health, safety and welfare of their workforce.
ACAS advises employers to be considerate about any concerns raised by their employees and carefully look at alternative options available. Many employers are choosing to issue specific COVID-19 policies or at the very least, guidance for employees in advance of a wider spread of the virus.
Brachers can assist in providing specific guidance and support for employers on this issue. The discussions within this article are to be used as general guidance regarding coronavirus, if you have a specific query please contact a member of our employment team so we can assist you further.