Posted on 13.3.20
News reports are rolling in about the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation, presenting many people with uncertain times ahead. Now officially a Pandemic according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the UK has now moved from ‘containment’ to ‘delay phase’ nationwide.
I’ve put together some guidance for employers in relation to rights of employees and the options available at the current time (Updated as of 9AM 16.03.20).
- If employers have a staff member who has been advised to self-isolate, they would be best advised to allow that person to stay at home. They not only have to think about the health and safety of that one individual, but the rest of their employees too.
- If an individual is not requesting to remain out of work but has recently returned from an area where COVID-19 is known to be present, the same advice as before should be followed. An employer can instruct an individual not to come into the workplace – the employee’s contract may contain an express provision that the employer can oblige them to stay out of the workplace (such as a garden leave clause), or if they have the health and safety of that individual or their workforce in mind.
- Any absence from work by an employee who self-isolates should be treated as any other type of sick leave. They should adhere to sickness absence procedures and receive the amount of pay stated within their contract (whether contractual sick pay or statutory sick pay). Likewise, any employer who sends an individual home as they think they should be self-isolating should be treated in the same way.
- If an employer obliges the employee to stay away from work, this would be seen as a form of suspension from work, and in those circumstances, the employee would be entitled to receive their normal pay for any such period. The Employer may want the employee to continue to work in any event, so long as they are set up for home working.
- In circumstances where an employee has children and their school has been closed due to COVID-19, employees may need to take time off work. In those circumstances, they can do so by taking dependant’s leave (unless the employer agrees otherwise). This is intended to be utilised where there is a need to take time off work to care for dependants, in emergency situations which includes school closure. It is normally for short periods of time and the employee should try and make alternative arrangements, where possible, so that they are not off for a long period. Dependent’s leave is usually unpaid, unless there is a contractual entitlement to pay.
Whilst this situation poses many difficulties for both employers and employees it does offer the potential for a positive outcome in the future. Putting the infrastructure and contingency in place for homeworking is providing a great opportunity for employers to get their ducks in a row and give them food for thought.
Although it doesn’t mean that employers necessarily need to allow people to work from home, it will obviously give them the opportunity to do so, when needed and opens the door for more flexible working options in the future.