Tina Chander, a partner and head of the employment team at Warwickshire-based law firm Wright Hassall, offers advice to employers on mitigating the risks of coronavirus in the workplace.
While the outbreak of coronavirus, officially known as Covid-19, has raised serious health concerns, its impact on stock markets around the world has become an issue for businesses.
The UK Government has confirmed that workers will get statutory sick pay from the first day off work, not the fourth, to help contain the virus, arguing people who self-isolate are helping protect others from the virus and should not be penalised.
Reducing the risk to employees
The sensible course of action for employers to take at this stage is to note the advice given by official bodies and ensure that this is shared throughout the workforce.
Some important steps to take include:
• Updating the contact numbers and emergency contact details of employees
• Ensuring that managers are aware of the symptoms of the virus
• Disseminating information across management on issues such as sick leave and sick pay
• Ensuring that facilities for regular and thorough washing of hands are in place
• Dispensing hand sanitisers and tissues to employees
What to do if an employee becomes unwell
If an employee exhibits the symptoms of the virus, they should be removed from the proximity of other employees, and, if possible, placed in the designated ‘isolation room’.
Uncertainty over the seriousness of the virus, the exact nature of the symptoms and concern about the situation regarding issues such as sick pay may lead to some employees coming to work despite having contracted the virus.
If this does happen, then an employer should contact the local Public Health England (PHE) health protection team and they will outline any precautions which should be taken.
If an employee is off sick with the virus then the legal situation regarding sick pay is the same as it is with any other illness, however, the employee is now entitled to statutory sick pay from the first day of work, not the fourth.
The government has stated that if NHS 111 or a doctor advises an employee or worker to self-isolate then they should receive any statutory sick pay due to them or contractual sick pay if this is offered by the employer.
In some cases, employees may be able to work from home while in self-isolation. However, in many cases, if an employee cannot attend their place of work, they will be unable to work.
Ultimately, there is no obligation on an employer to allow an employee to stay away from work and, if the non-attendance causes issues or extends beyond an emergency precaution, then an employer is entitled to take disciplinary action.