Coronavirus – What Should I Do?
According to the latest news reports Coronavirus or COVID-19 is very likely to spread widely in the UK as it has already done so in China, Iran and now Italy. At the time of writing this blog 79 people in Italy had died from the virus and all its schools have been closed. The virus is also likely to bring disruption to businesses in the UK as employees start to become sick and are unable or unwilling to attend work because of the virus. This blog covers some of the key employment issues to be aware of as an employer.
How can I protect my staff?
- Keep everyone updated on what you are doing to reduce the risk in the workplace; it’s also worth emphasising that spread of coronavirus is most likely to happen when there is close contact (within 2 metres or less) with an infected person.
- Encourage employees to be extra vigilant with hand washing and using and disposing of tissues (however sneezing is not one of the symptoms of coronavirus).
- Give out hand sanitisers and tissues, and make sure that there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap. It is possible for someone to become infected by touching a contaminated surface, although current understanding is that the virus does not live on surfaces longer than 72 hours.
- Make sure managers know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus and are fully aware of your sickness policy and procedures if someone develops symptoms at the workplace.
- Should we use protective face masks? There is no evidence that these are of benefit outside the healthcare environment.
Do I have to pay someone who is in quarantine or self-isolation?
Although there is no statutory right to pay in these situations, it is good practice to treat it as sick leave or agree for the time to be taken as holiday. Otherwise there’s a risk your employee will come to work because they want to get paid and then spread the virus, if they have it.
Boris Johnson has announced that workers and employees will receive statutory sick pay from the first day off work, which is a change to the current statutory sick pay procedure, which only allows a worker or employee to claim statutory sick pay from the fourth day of absence. This means that workers and employees will receive nearly another £40.00 in sick pay if they are unwell due to the virus.
What if someone does not want to attend work?
Some employees may be worried about catching coronavirus and are therefore unwilling to come into work. If this is the case, you should consult with them and listen to their concerns. You should consider offering some form of flexible working arrangements such as homeworking.
If an employee refuses to attend work, you are entitled to take disciplinary action. However, at present any dismissal for unauthorised absence or insubordination is likely to amount to an unfair dismissal.
Risk of a discrimination claim
It is sad to note that not just owners of Chinese restaurants have experienced prejudice surrounding coronavirus, but also British Chinese people living in the UK have reported being the target of racist abuse linked to the outbreak. To prevent a race discrimination claim being brought against your business, you should make your staff aware of any equal opportunities policy and that any acts of discrimination will not be tolerated and could lead to disciplinary action and dismissal for gross misconduct.
For further information or advice on complying with your legal obligations in this area of employment law, call Henry Doswell of Doswell Law Solicitors on 01233 722942. Alternatively, email Henry at firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: Whilst every reasonable effort is made to make the information and commentary contained in this blog accurate and up to date, Henry Doswell takes no responsibility for its accuracy and correctness, or for any consequences of relying on it. The information and commentary in this blog does not constitute legal advice to any person on a specific case or matter. You are strongly advised to obtain specific, personal advice from a lawyer about your case or matter.