With the UK facing continued uncertainty about how COVID-19 will spread, many employers face a difficult challenge in the event of wide spread infection or enforced restrictions on movement, travel and events. We look at what you need to know.
What should I be doing as an employer?
The Government has not yet implemented significant controls over travel or public mobility, but this is likely to change over the coming weeks. Contingency plans should therefore be in place to deal with local or national lockdowns and preparations for staff to work remotely should be high on the agenda.
Keep your employees updated. This pandemic is unique and unsettling for everyone. Providing information on how to reduce the risk of exposure is essential, alongside providing assistance to your people managers about how to spot the symptoms and follow protocols. .
Review and make available your internal absence management policies. You should ensure that staff are aware of what to do when reporting absence and to what pay they are entitled during any period of self-isolation, school closures or other genuine sickness absence. The Government recommendations are evolving daily and there is the potential for emergency, legislative change, which is worth keeping under close review.
Public health and medical advice should be followed. The World Health Organisation and the NHS are regularly updating their recommendations. They advise regular hand washing so ensure that you have the appropriate hygiene facilities including hand sanitizer and plenty of hand soap.
Use technology to avoid unnecessary contact and group meetings. Video conferencing and email are effective ways of communicating without increasing the risk of avoidable contact.
Allow and encourage staff to work from home wherever possible. This would include following your internal policies to ensure good governance, as well as business and data protection, but will enable your business to continue to function in the event of a domestic ban on travel.
Avoid unnecessary travel, both internationally and domestically. Consider using satellite offices for staff where available, to reduce lengthy journeys on public transport.
What are my obligations to my employees?
You have a duty to ensure that you provide a safe and suitable place of work. This will include ensuring that your employees are not unreasonably exposed to the risk of infection.
If someone goes into self-isolation, the Government’s position is that an employee is entitled to Statutory Sick Pay and that this entitlement starts from the first day of absence. If you pay employees enhanced sick-pay, you should pay your employees accordingly.
If an employee is not sick but you tell them to stay away from work, you will be obliged to pay your staff in the usual way unless you have a contractual right to lay-off or the employee has a “zero hours” contract.
If an employee needs time off to look after someone, there is no statutory obligation to pay them but they may be entitled to take dependency leave.
Where can I find further information?
Guidance has been issued by various agencies, organisations and government departments, and in the context of the workplace, ACAS have published guidance on COVID-19: www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus
With the risk of unprecedented disruption to individuals and businesses, including significant economic impact, you may choose to approach your response to absence, pay and flexible working with a degree of appreciation for the circumstances.
Developments are changing daily, and it is important to keep up to date on your obligations to employees. Wards Solicitors’ specialist Employment Team can help you with effective, practical advice – get in touch with one of our team for further information.