Employment law guidance on Coronavirus

Whilst cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19) remain low in the UK, all employers, especially those with workforces travelling across the globe, need to be mindful of their responsibility in looking after their employees. The following FAQs have been produced for general guidance. Please contact Andrew Macmillan, Head of Employment for specific advice.

What is the current travel advice?

As of 26 February, the UK government has advised anyone who has travelled to the UK from mainland China, Thailand, Japan, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia or Macau in the past 14 days to stay indoors and call NHS 111 if they are experiencing even mild flu-like symptoms. The same applies to those who have travelled from northern Italy, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar since 19 February.

Those who have travelled to the UK from Hubei province, Iran and specific parts of Italy and South Korea since 19 February should stay indoors, call NHS 111 and avoid contact with other people even if they are not experiencing symptoms.

If you have employees who have travelled to these places either through work or holidays, you may wish to consider and put in place the ability for homeworking where possible; facilitating business continuity whilst also protecting other employees in the office.

How can we reduce the risk to our employees?

The risk level is currently identified as moderate. Employers should circulate guidance encouraging employees to be extra-vigilant with washing their hands, using and disposing of tissues, covering their mouth when coughing etc. If you have the capacity to do so, it may be worth designating an ‘isolation room’ where an employee who feels ill can go and sit away from the rest of the company and privately call ‘111’ before taking any further necessary action.

Can we enforce employees to self-isolate if they have travelled to a specific area?

If the employee is experiencing symptoms, the likely case is that they should be on sick leave and therefore not working. If they have no symptoms, you would also need to consider whether the employee is able to work from home and continue their normal duties and your contractual obligations around that period of leave.

Can we stop employees from entering the workplace after travelling?

Under UK health and safety law, employers have a duty to all employees. Allowing an employee to work in the office when it is known they have travelled to an area of concern could be a breach of that duty. It may be possible to suspend the employee for the period of self-isolation, but this should be considered carefully and preferably with legal advice on the contractual rights to do so.

If an employee is not sick but is in quarantine or self-isolation, do we have to pay them sick pay?

There is no legal right to sick pay in these circumstances, but it would be good practice. Otherwise you run the risk of them coming into work and potentially spreading the virus to the rest of the workforce.

What if employees do not want to come to work?

Some people may be worried about catching Coronavirus and therefore unwilling to come into work. If this is the case you should listen carefully to the concerns of your employees and if possible, offer flexible working arrangements such as homeworking. Employees can also request time off as holiday or unpaid leave but there is no obligation on employers to agree to this. If an employee refuses to attend work, you may be entitled to take disciplinary action.

The Government provides a daily update on Coronavirus (COVID-19) at 2pm every day.

If you have any specific questions please contact Andrew Macmillan, Head of Employment.

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