ACAS issues advice for employers on how to deal with the Coronavirus outbreak
The spread of the Coronavirus has made headline news. Now ACAS has issued Coronavirus advice for employers outlining the steps they can take to deal with concerns and risks related to the outbreak. The guidance can be found here.
The government publishes daily updates at 2pm with the latest stats and advice.
In the coming weeks or months employers could face some of the below scenarios. It is worth considering ways in which you can deal with these now, so that you can establish a clear policy on the matter:
Applying coronavirus for employers to different scenarios
The current guidance from Public Health England is that people who have travelled to specific zones of countries where the Coronavirus is known to have spread (listed here) should self-quarantine for a period of two weeks. This applies whether or not they have experienced symptoms.
As an employer you have a duty to provide a safe working environment for all employees. Therefore, to protect the wellbeing of other employees, you should inform the employee to follow the advice from Public Health England and self-quarantine for two weeks. This means that they cannot attend the workplace.
The employee will not have a right to be paid their normal salary during this period. However, Employers should consider the risk of claims for constructive unfair dismissal on the basis that by choosing not to pay someone who has self-isolated – you have breached the implied term of trust and confidence.
Although an employee would not normally be entitled to statutory sick pay unless they are ill, the Health Secretary has said that those in self-isolation on medical advice should be treated as on sick leave and may be eligible for statutory sick pay. This would only apply where someone who self isolates does so because they are given a written notice, typically issued by a GP or by 111, then they are deemed in accordance with the Regulations to be incapable of work, and so are entitled to statutory sick pay.
Clearly, this is something that the employee will be unhappy about. The employer could therefore consider offering the following alternatives:
1. Pay the employee as normal. Although this could result in issues if the outbreak becomes more widespread i.e. a number of employees could end up being on full pay.
2. The employer could pay a reduced rate during the self-quarantine period.
3. The employee could take holiday, therefore remaining on full pay.
4. Make arrangements for the employee to work from home for the period.
If the employee attends work, despite the employer’s instructions to remain away, then the employer may have grounds to take disciplinary action for failing to follow a reasonable management instruction.
What if the employee has visited a country where the Coronavirus is known to have spread but is not listed on Public Health England as a lockdown zone?
The current guidance from Public Health England does not require self-quarantine unless the individual is experiencing symptoms.
Again, the employer should consider the risks in light of their duty to provide a safe working environment. However, in this scenario, because there is no publically issued advice to self-quarantine, the employer should take a more cautious approach.
An employee is afraid of going to work for fear of catching Coronavirus.
If the employee’s concerns are justified then the employer should try and address them and offer solutions to alleviate these concerns, such as:
1. Ensuring all steps are taken to prevent the spread of Coronavirus (e.g. hand sanitisers being provided, keeping anyone who has travelled to an affected country away from the workplace)
2. Consider whether the employee could work from home for a short period of time
3. Offer the employee the opportunity to take unpaid leave or holiday.
If an employee refuses to attend work (and will not consider any of the above alternatives) they will not be entitled to be paid statutory sick pay and you are entitled to take disciplinary action. However, dismissal is likely to be outside the range of reasonable responses, at least for now.
An employee wants to take time off because their child’s school has closed due to Coronavirus.
Employees have the right to take that time off to help their dependants. This would encompass a situation where there has been an unexpected disruption to the arrangements to care for the dependant e.g. the closure of a school.
The employee must inform their employer as soon as reasonably practicable of the reason for their absence and where they are able to inform their employer in advance of their absence how long they expect to be absent. Typically this type of leave is intended for short periods.
There is no statutory right to be paid during dependant’s leave. As with the above examples, employers may wish to make an exception due to the unusual nature of this matter.
All employers should consider putting in place a policy to cover how they are dealing with this outbreak and their expectations of staff.