HM Insights

What responsibilities do employers have regarding employees and the Coronavirus?

Since the outbreak of Coronavirus, the UK Government and certain organisations have introduced protective measures to prevent it from spreading further, for example, travel bans to China.

One of the most concerning aspects of the virus is the incubation period of 14 days. During this 14-day period, even though there are no symptoms, the virus can still spread from an infected person to another.

With the amount of cases increasing across the world, and with the increased likelihood that employees will be travelling and returning to the UK during the February half term, what steps should employers take to prevent it from spreading further?

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What can I do today?

There are some simple steps that you can take in the workplace, these include:

  1. Reviewing your policies and procedures, ensuring that they are accessible and communicated to your employees (particularly your absence reporting and sickness procedures).
  2. Ensure there is good hygiene across the business – steps can include providing alcohol- based sanitising gel.
  3. Take proactive measures where you have reason to suspect that someone has travelled to or from an affected area.
  4. If your employees work with vulnerable people, for example working with children or the elderly, then additional protective measures should be put in place and best practice on control of infections should be followed.

Business and personal trips to an affected area

As an employer, you have a duty of care and should carry out a health and safety risk assessments to consider if any business trips to an affected area can be postponed or cancelled. Practical alternatives should be put in place, such as holding meetings via Skype or conference calls.

There is no legal obligation to impose a precautionary suspension of non-symptomatic employees who have returned from an affected area. However, if someone has returned from Wuhan or Hubei Province then the UK Government recommends that they remain at home for 14 days, even if they are willing to work.

If the employee is returning from an affected area, and not the two areas specifically mentioned above, you may still wish to take precautions and consider whether the employee can work from home during the 14-day incubation period. Agreement can be reached with the employees as to how this absence is treated.

Going forward, employers are advised to obtain the necessary information from their employees in relation to their upcoming travel plans and whether they will be (or have been) at risk to being exposed to the virus.

What do I do if an employee displays symptoms?

If an employee presents symptoms then employers should take the appropriate measures to prevent the virus from spreading. The employee must be advised to seek medical attention and remain indoors where possible.

An employer may wish to offer the employee alternative work arrangements, if it is an option allow your employee to work remotely. Otherwise, it is likely that the employee should be treated as being absent through sickness.

What if an employee contracts coronavirus?

If the GP determines that they have the virus and signs the employee off sick then they should be treated the same as having any other illness and you should follow your normal sickness absence procedures.

In summary, given the nature of this outbreak, employers would be advised to be prepared to show a level of flexibility and take steps to consider how any occurrences, or suspected occurrences, would be handled.

Get in touch

If you've any queries about this, or any other employment related matter that could affect your business, our team of specialist employment lawyers can assist. Please contact us on 0131 247 2534 to discuss further.

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