As the number of cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) increases in the UK, employers should consider some simple steps to help protect the health and safety of staff.
It’s good practice for employers to:
• Update all staff on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace
• Ensure all staff’s contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date
• Ensure managers know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on process
• Ensure there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap, and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly
• Provide hand sanitiser and tissues for 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
• Consider setting up as many staff as possible to be able to work from home
It goes without saying that employers must not single anyone out and must not treat an employee differently because of their race or ethnicity.
If an employee is sick
If an employee has coronavirus they should inform their employer immediately. The workplace’s usual sick leave and sick pay entitlement will apply. An employer may have to relax some aspects of sickness policy as an employee may not be able to get a sick note if they have been told to self-isolate for 14 days.
If an employee is not sick but cannot work because they’re in self-isolation or quarantine
If an employee does not have coronavirus but cannot work because they:
• have been told by a medical expert to self-isolate
• have had to go into quarantine
• are abroad in an affected area and are not allowed to travel back to the UK
the employer is not obliged by law to pay that employee.
However, it is good practice for the employer to treat it as sick leave and follow their usual sick pay policy. Alternatively, they can take the time off as holiday. Whilst there is no statutory right to pay, the advice to employers is to pay employees in this situation – firstly it is not their fault and paying them would be an act of good faith, secondly, the risk otherwise is the employee will return to work in order to get paid thus increasing the risk of the virus spreading, if they have it.
Remember, if they can work from home they can be paid as usual.
If an employee is not sick but the employer tells them not to come to work
If an employee is not sick but their employer tells them not to come to work, because they have returned from one of the affected areas, they should get their usual pay.
If an employee needs time off work to look their children because their school has closed
Employees are entitled to time off work to help someone who depends on them in an unexpected event or emergency as follows:
• if they have children they need to look after or arrange childcare for because their school has closed
• to help their child or another dependant if they’re sick, or need to go into isolation or hospital
There’s no statutory right to pay for this time off, but some employers might offer pay depending on the contract or workplace policy. They may offer say two days off to begin with and if more time is required they may ask the employee to book holiday.
What 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. It is important, as an employer, to 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.
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 they are able to work from home that is something that can be considered.
If an employee is unable to work from home and refuses to attend work, it could result in disciplinary action.
Working from home
Employers should start thinking about whether they need to take any steps to facilitate home working, and to consider whether they want to encourage employees to ensure that they have the correct set-up at home to be able to work there if required to do so. This may include ensuring that all employees have a way of logging on to secure systems from home.
Employers may want to make it clear that an employee’s failure to take certain actions – ie. requesting particular log-ins – which would prevent them from working from home may result in those employees being subjected to disciplinary proceedings.
What to do if someone becomes unwell at work
If someone becomes unwell in the workplace and has recently come back from an area affected by coronavirus, they should:
• get at least 2 metres (7 feet) away from other people
• go to a room or area behind a closed door, such as a sick bay or staff office
• avoid touching anything
• cough or sneeze into a tissue and put it in a bin, or if they do not have tissues, cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow
• use a separate bathroom from others, if possible
The unwell person should use their own mobile phone to call either:
• for NHS advice: 111
• for an ambulance, if they’re seriously ill: 999
They should tell the operator:
• their symptoms
• which country they’ve returned from in the last 14 days
Keep an eye on this for regular updates: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-the-public
If you need further assistance, please email mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 (0)7917 878384