With the number of UK coronavirus cases rising day by day, you’ve probably got a lot of questions about how the outbreak will impact your business and what you can do as an employer.
Now that the coronavirus outbreak has been labelled a pandemic by the World Health Organization, you’ve probably got a lot of questions about how it will impact your business and what you can do as an employer. Here we answer some of your complex HR questions…
Q. One of my employees is returning from an affected area and some of my staff are refusing to come into work as a result. Do I have to give these employees time off work with pay?
A. An employee who refuses to work is technically in breach of the terms and conditions of their contract and isn’t entitled to payment for their time off work.
Employees can’t refuse to work as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. But it’s up to you, the employer, to assess the situation if an employee is returning to work from an affected area and make a decision based on the most recent information available.
Q. Do I have to accept working from home requests and what do I do if I don’t have the right equipment for my staff?
A. Your employees have no legal right to work from home because of the spread of the coronavirus. Instead, you should ask employees why they want to work from home so you can assess whether they need any additional support.
If you’re considering letting your staff work from home, you’ll need to think about their health & safety. You might need to carry out risk assessments to make sure your employees are safe to work from home and check that you’ve got enough equipment to allow them to do so.
Q. One of my employees has self-isolated after returning from an affected area. Is the employee right to do this?
A. If your employee has returned from an affected area, it’s likely that they’ve been advised not to visit a GP, pharmacy or hospital in case they have the coronavirus. So check with your employee to confirm this and see what they’ve been advised by the NHS.
If your employee has been advised to self-isolate (stay at home) as a precaution only, you should pay them Statutory Sick Pay even if they don’t have any symptoms. But first, you’ll need to see evidence of their circumstances which will be available from NHS 111.
For companies with fewer than 250 staff, the Government will refund sick pay payments (related to the coronavirus) for two weeks.
Q. One of my employees is off sick because of the coronavirus. Does the normal Statutory Sick Pay rules apply?
A. The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has announced that the normal Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) rules won’t apply to anyone who is off sick because of the coronavirus.
Under normal SSP rules, employees who are off sick must wait three days before the right to SSP kicks in, so they don’t get any pay for these first three days.
But it’s now been announced that SSP will be paid to employees from the first day of the absence, where the absence is because of the coronavirus. New laws will be made to cover this and make it a legal requirement, but it’s uncertain when this new legislation will take effect from.
Q. My employee has plans to travel abroad for personal reasons and I’ve already approved their annual leave, can I stop them from going?
A. As long as there are no travel restrictions in place for the destination they are travelling to, your employee can travel as planned. But you should make sure that your employee is aware of any procedures you have in place and what might happen if travel guidance to and from that destination changes.
While you can justify cancelling business travel, you might put yourself at risk of indirect discrimination claims if you stop employees travelling to a specific location for personal reasons.
Q. My employee is suffering from the symptoms of coronavirus. What should I do?
A. As an employer, you have a duty of care to your employees. So if you notice that someone appears to be unwell, discuss this with them privately and check whether they have sought medical advice.
If not, they should be encouraged to use the NHS 111 service and follow company procedures for absence reporting in the event that they are told to stay at home. Any colleagues who have had contact with the symptomatic employee should be made aware of the symptoms and advised to use the NHS 111 service.
Q. My business is at risk of exposure to coronavirus. If I decide to temporarily close my business, do I still need to pay my staff?
A. If there’s a real risk of exposure to coronavirus, you might decide to temporarily close down your business. In this case, you might be able to lay off staff without pay if you have a specific term in your employee contracts, so check this first.
If your business is temporarily closed and employees are laid off without pay, staff with at least one month’s service are entitled to Statutory Guarantee Pay. This payment is £29 per day for a maximum of five days in any three-month period.
However, if there’s no specific term in your employee contracts that says you can lay off staff without pay, you could try to reach an agreement with your employees to a period of unpaid lay off.
Q. Can I make my employees use hand sanitiser?
A. You can’t force your employees to use hand sanitiser. But it is good practice to promote good hygiene within your workplace.
So make sure that hand sanitisers are readily available to your staff and encourage them to wash their hands regularly.
Q. Some of my employees want to wear masks in the workplace. Should I let them?
A. According to government recommendations, employees do not need to wear facemasks to protect themselves against the virus. So you’re under no obligation to let your employees wear them.
Instead, the government suggests that you make employees aware of good hygiene practices (such as regularly washing hands) and continue to update staff on the current state of the coronavirus.
A final thought…
It’s important to think carefully about any situation linked with the coronavirus outbreak before you make any decisions that impact your staff.
As an employer, you may risk breach of contract claims if your employees are laid off without pay, or if employees are laid off with pay but for longer periods than can be justified.
In all cases, you should talk to your staff first before making a decision. This will give them time to make any appropriate arrangements and should make the process run more smoothly. If you have any doubts, seek employment law advice.
We can put you in touch with a lawyer who can help with this.