Employment and HR: A Practical Guide to COVID-19

Year Published: 2020

ACAS has released a guidance note providing advice for employers and employees in relation to the current COVID-19 situation. We provide a summary of the advice below.

Good Practice

It is advisable for employers to implement, amongst other things they consider suitable, the following:

  • keep all staff updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace;
  • make sure everyone’s contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date;
  • consider extra precautions for staff who might be more vulnerable, for example if someone is pregnant, aged 70 or over, or has a pre-existing health condition;
  • make sure managers know how to spot symptoms of COVID-19 and are clear on any relevant processes, for example sickness reporting and sick pay, and procedures in case someone in the workplace shows symptoms of the virus;
  • reconsider any travel to affected areas;
  • encourage everyone to regularly wash their hands with warm water and soap; and
  • provide hand sanitiser and tissues for staff.

Sick Pay

The Government has announced that employees and workers must receive any Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if they need to self-isolate because:

  • they have coronavirus
  • they have coronavirus symptoms, for example a high temperature or new continuous cough
  • someone in their household has coronavirus symptoms
  • they’ve been told to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111

If someone has symptoms, everyone in their household must self-isolate for 14 days. Staff are entitled to statutory sick pay from day one of absence (as opposed to day four under the current rules). ACAS also recommends that it is good practice for employers to continue providing contractual sick pay, if they offer it.

Self-isolation

If someone chooses to self-isolate, without medical advice and if they are not ill, then they are not entitled to statutory sick pay at all.

Statutory sick pay only becomes payable if somebody is sick and/or where a doctor or NHS 111 advises people to self-isolate and provides a written notice confirming the same. If that is the case, then the employee is entitled to SSP from day one.

Furthermore, an employee may not be able to provide a fit note following the normal seven day period if they have been advised to self-isolate and therefore employers may have to wait to receive a fit note until the self-isolation period has concluded.

Pay in Circumstances Where the Employee Instructs Employees/Workers Not to Attend Work

In certain circumstances, such as when an employee/worker returns from holiday from an affected area, an employer may instruct the employee/worker to remain absent. This effectively amounts to a medical suspension therefore the employee/worker should receive their normal pay.

If an Employee Needs Time off Work to Look after Someone

This could amount to dependency leave if, for example, an employee needs to take care of their child. There is no statutory right to pay for this time off but employers should check if they provide any contractual pay under a workplace policy.

The amount of time off an employee takes to look after someone must be reasonable for the situation. For example, they might take 2 days off to start with, and if more time is needed, they can book holiday.

What If Staff Don’t Want to Attend Work Due to Fear of Catching COVID-19?

Employers should listen to their concerns and try and resolve them to protect their health and safety.

Solutions could range from offering flexible working or agreeing to staff members taking time off as annual or unpaid leave, although employers are not obliged to agree to this.

If staff refuse to attend work and are absent without the employer’s consent, disciplinary action could be taken.

If Someone Becomes Unwell at Work

The person in question should:

  • get at least two metres (seven feet) away from other people;
  • go to a room or area behind a closed door;
  • avoid touching anything;
  • cough or sneeze into a tissue and put it in a bin, or alternatively cough or sneeze into the crook of their elbow; and
  • use a separate bathroom from others, if possible.

The person should then use their mobile to call 111 or 999 and tell the operator their symptoms and which country they have returned from in the last 14 days.

If Someone with COVID-19 Comes into Work

Employers do not necessarily have to close their workplace. The local Public Health England health protection team will contact the employer to:

  • discuss the case;
  • identify people who have been in contact with the affected person;
  • carry out a risk assessment; and
  • advise on any actions or precautions to take.

If an Employer Needs to Close Its Workplace

Currently this seems unlikely although it is prudent for employers to have a plan in case it is necessary. Employers could ask staff members to work from home where possible. If an employer needs to close the workplace, unless the contract of employment says otherwise, staff will need to be paid as normal.

Employers have the right to tell employees and workers when to take holiday if they need to. If the employer does decide to do this, they must tell staff at least twice as many days before as the amount of days they need people to take. For example, if they want to close for 5 days, they should tell everyone at least 10 days before.

It is advisable for employers to liaise with staff as early as possible if closure becomes a possibility.

For further information on COVID-19 in the workplace or any other employment law or HR matter, please contact Karen Barker, Head of our Employment Law & HR team, on 0161 475 7667.

Last updated: 20th March 2020 (14:47)

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