February 26, 2020
The outbreak of the coronavirus poses a threat to many organisations and presents a number of employment issues for UK employers.
Acas has published advice for employers on dealing with the new coronavirus outbreak, including how to handle employees who have the virus and those who do not want to come into work because they are worried about catching it https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus
This article addresses some of the immediate issues which UK employers are facing and our top tips in dealing with the threat.
- Restrict non-essential travel to high risk areas
Employers who have employees who travel overseas for work are urged to monitor the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice in relation to travel and restrict non-essential travel accordingly. Ideally trips to at risk areas should be postponed, or carried out via an alternative media such as video link.
- Self-isolate or quarantine staff who have returned from specified infected zones
Employers may choose to require staff to work remotely from home for a set period following their return from high risk areas as a precaution. If the nature of their role means they are unable to work remotely, employers may choose to suspend employees instead. Where employees are symptomless and are ready and willing to work, this suspension should be on full pay, regardless of whether the travel took place for business purposes or otherwise. This period of suspension should be kept under review and last for as short a period as possible.
- Apply the usual sick leave and pay policies and procedure if an employee has or is suspected to have the virus.
The appropriate sickness absence procedure should be followed, as would be the case for any illness. Employers should ensure that their sickness absence policy is up-to-date and that Managers implement the policy consistently.
Any entitlement to company sick pay will be governed by the contract of employment. Employees without any contractual sick pay may be entitled to statutory sick pay if they meet the conditions.
- Deal appropriately and sensitively with staff who refuse to come to work for fear of infection
Employers should try to reassure employees that there is no need to panic as the risk to the UK population remains low, and advise them where to find further support.
However, some employees might feel they do not want to go to work if they’re afraid of catching coronavirus, particularly if they have genuine health concerns which make them more vulnerable. Employers should listen to concerns staff may have and look to resolve genuine issues constructively. For example, the employer could offer flexible working where possible, such as homeworking or arrange for employees to take time off as holiday or unpaid leave. The employer does not have to agree to this and ultimately, however, employers are entitled to discipline staff who refuse to obey a reasonable management instruction to come to work.
- Minimise disease transmission within the office
Employers should remind staff to maintain good hygiene standards, for example, encourage staff to wash their hands or use hand-sanitiser on arriving in the building after using public transport and after coughing or sneezing.
- Deal with discriminatory behaviours
Employers should monitor complaints or grievances which could indicate discriminatory behaviour towards employees of Asian origin. Employers could be vicariously liable for any harassment or abuse suffered, even if the employer does not know and would disapprove of such behaviour. Employers may therefore also wish to make it clear that inappropriate jokes or ‘banter’ in relation to the issue will not be tolerated.