28 February 2020 by

Coronavirus – guidance for employers and employees

ACAS published guidance last week on dealing with coronavirus in the workplace which provides useful advice for both employers and employees alike.  So how should employers and employees deal with the issues that may arise in dealing with the coronavirus?

What if someone becomes unwell at work?

If someone becomes unwell in the workplace and has recently come back from an area affected by coronavirus, ACAS advise that 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
  • use their own mobile phone to call either 111 for NHS advice or 999 for an ambulance, if they’re seriously ill
  • tell the operator their symptom and which country they have returned from in the last 14 days
What if someone with coronavirus comes to your workplace?

If someone with coronavirus comes to your workplace, the workplace does not necessarily have to close.  Employers should contact their local Public Health England (PHE) health protection team to seek advice.

What if your workplace needs to close?

Employers should have a disaster recovery plan which can be implemented. If not, employers should implement a plan to enable staff to work remotely where possible and ensure staff have a way to communicate with the employer and other people they work with.

Where work can be done at home, the employer could:

  • ask staff who have work laptops or mobile phones to take them home so they can carry on working
  • arrange paperwork tasks that can be done at home for staff who do not work on computers
If your workplace needs to close, do you need to pay your employees?

Yes – unless the employment contract says otherwise, employers still need to pay their employees for this time. If an employer thinks they will need to do this, it is important to communicate with staff as early as possible and maintain regular communication throughout the closure.

What if an employer tells its employees not to come to work?

If an employee is not sick but their employer tells them not to come to work, they should get their usual pay, unless they employment contract provides otherwise.

Can an employer require an employee not to come to work?

This depends on the reason for the request. If, for example, the reason for asking the employee not to come to work is because s/he has been in recent close or physical contact with a sick relative, then this is likely to be a reasonable request.  However, as above, the employee should get their normal pay, unless they are sick.

What about sick pay if someone is off sick?

An employer’s usual sick leave and pay entitlements apply if someone has coronavirus.  Similarly, an employer’s sickness absence policy will apply.  However, employers should be pragmatic and flexible in implementing their sick pay policy.  For example, the usual requirement to provide a sick / fit note should be applied flexibly as employees might not be able to get a sick / fit note if they have been told to self-isolate for 14 days.

If an employer’s sick pay policy is only to pay statutory sick pay, it should consider whether it should exercise its discretion to pay full or half pay for the absence.  Otherwise, there is a risk the employee may feel the need to come back to work before they have recovered.

What if someone isn’t sick but is in self-isolation or quarantine?

There is no statutory right to pay if someone is not sick but cannot work because they have been told by a medical expert to self-isolate, have had to go into quarantine or they are abroad in an affected area and are not allowed to travel back to the UK.

If the employee cannot work from home for practical reasons, it is good practice for their employer to treat it as sick leave and follow their usual sick pay policy or agree for the time to be taken as holiday.

What if employees do not want to come to work?

Some people might feel they do not want to go to work if they are afraid of catching coronavirus either at work or travelling to work.  If an employee unreasonably refuses to attend work an employer could commence disciplinary action. However, in the event of a coronavirus pandemic, employers should be compassionate and pragmatic and listen to any concerns staff may have.

It may be possible to deal with issues by allowing home working.  That said, employers should be mindful about setting a precedent and give thought to the minimum levels of staffing required in the workplace.

If an employee still does not want to come to work, they may be able to arrange with their employer to take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave. However, the employer does not have to agree to this.

What if an employee needs to take time off to care for a dependent?

If an employee has a relative who is ill, or their child’s school is closed, or another situation arises where they must look after a dependent at short notice, the employer must give them time off to do so.  However, the usual rules apply – there is no statutory right to be paid for that time off. Some employers may agree that the time off can be taken out of the employee’s holiday allowance.

Health and safety tips for your workplace

ACAS advice is that employers should:

  • implement a regular communications policy to keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure of catching the coronavirus in the workplace
  • ensure that the contact numbers and emergency contact details for all staff are up to date
  • make sure there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap, and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly
  • provide hand sanitisers and tissues to staff, and encourage them to use them
  • consider if protective face masks might help for people working in particularly vulnerable situations
  • re-consider whether travel planned to affected areas is essential
  • ensure that the office, particularly communal areas and areas with lots of hand contact (door handles, toilet facilities, kitchen facilities etc.), are regularly cleaned and sanitised

Everyone at work should practice simple hygiene rules including:

  • washing hands thoroughly with hot water and soap
  • using tissues when sneezing or coughing and throwing them away in a bin

Good communications will be key for managing the workplace issues that may arise in dealing with the coronavirus.  It is good practice, if your workplace is shut, for the employer to provide daily updates to the employees. Similarly, if an employee is off sick, in quarantine or self isolation they should maintain regular contact with their employer.

Further help

Let’s hope that the coronavirus does not spread as predicted.  If it does affect your workplace and you would like to discuss any of the issues that you face further, please do not hesitate to contact our Employment team.

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