What responsibilities do employers have regarding employees and the Coronavirus?
Updated on 27 March 2020
Since the outbreak of Coronavirus we have provided various blogs on the employment law considerations associated with the outbreak. Our first blog on 12 February 2020 considered the responsibilities of employers regarding employees and the Coronavirus; this has now been updated to take account of latest guidance issued by the UK Government on 23 March 2020.
What can I do today?
The UK Government is now requiring that all individuals regardless of whether or not they are symptomatic should stay at home the reason for leaving is one of four set reasons. One of those reasons is travelling to and from work but only where this cannot be done from home. Employers therefore should insist that all employees work from home if that is at all possible. If not the Police will soon be given powers to enforce these new restrictions including fining individuals perceived to be flouting the rules.
For those who remain in the workplace the Government advice is that individuals should ensure they socially distance from one another by staying a distance of at least two metres from others. This advice should be followed by those who remain in the workplace and employers should take appropriate steps to facilitate this.
Previously we identified some simple steps that you can take in the workplace, these would still apply where it is still a requirement that people attend the workplace including:
- Reviewing your policies and procedures, ensuring that they are accessible and communicated to your employees (particularly your absence reporting and sickness procedures).
- Ensure there is good hygiene across the business – steps can include providing alcohol-based sanitising gel.
- Ensure that social distancing is observed – steps could include modifying the ways of working to ensure employees are a safe distance from one another.
- Take proactive measures where you have reason to suspect that someone has symptoms or has come into contact with someone with symptoms.
- 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.
The Government advice remains that 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 should 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.
The UK Government has introduced emergency legislation to expand the eligibility of Statutory Sick Pay. This meant that in addition to those who contracted the virus those who were self-isolating were entitled to SSP, as per our previous update on SSP eligibility.
As schools are now shut across the UK many employers may also have staff that require time off to look after children or other dependents. Employees have a statutory right to time off for dependents so employers will need to allow employees time off. There are certain key legal points to have regard to when making decisions and setting policy in relation to this.
Staff also have the right to take Emergency Volunteer Leave (EVL) to help in the national effort to combat coronavirus. These new rights were included in the new Coronavirus Act 2020. Employees will have a right to take leave from work for either 2, 3 or 4 weeks in a sixteen week period, subject to appropriate certification for the appropriate authorities. Full guidance on EVL can be found here.
The Chancellor announced on Friday 20th March the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. The detail on how the scheme will work in practice and the specific rules applicable to the scheme was published on 26th March 2020.
Full guidance on the scheme and what it means for employers is available here.
The Chancellor has also announced unprecedented measures to support the self-employed. Full details of the Self-employed income support scheme are yet to be published (as of 26 March) but it has been promised that the UK Government would pay up to 80% of self-employed individuals’ profits (up to a cap) that have been adversely affected by the Coronavirus outbreak. Find out more here.
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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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