Coronavirus Employer Advice | Essential Employment Law Guide
Public concern about the Coronavirus is growing each and every day, with increasing reports about the economic impact to UK businesses. Are you prepared for dealing with any workplace issues surrounding the outbreak? Our legal team here at Wirehouse have put together some essential guidance from an HR perspective with Coronavirus employer advice to help you deal with any related workplace absence.
For HR advice on any specific concerns you have for your business speak to our HR Advisers today.
Key Coronavirus Employer Advice
- Employers should advise employees who have recently returned from holiday or are soon jetting off to keep themselves up to date with the advice for travellers. Current Government advice and guidance in relation to the Coronvirus can be found on their website.
- Ask your employees to inform you if they are travelling to an affected area so that a plan can be put in place prior to their return.
- Not only should employers consider those who have travelled to an affected area but also consider employees who have been in close contact with anyone who has a confirmed case of Coronavirus or is awaiting medical investigation results, such as a family member or close personal friend. Encourage employees to speak up if there is a risk that you ought to know about.
- You will also separately need to consider any health and safety implications which could affect your business or employees, practical advice can be found on our recent Coronovirus Health and Safety Article.
Managing absence from work & pay during this period of absence
1. Medically advised self-isolation
If you have employees returning from lock down zones, there may be a specific requirement for them to self-isolate – if unsure you can call 111 for further information. Such employees would be entitled to sick pay in line with your usual policy (whether this is contractual sick pay or SSP). One thing to be aware of is that the Government have confirmed that employees would be entitled to SSP from day 1 of their absence when related to self-isolation. Usually there is a three day unpaid period before SSP kicks in but in the case of Coronavirus self-isolation, SSP kicks in from day one. This has not been officially changed in the legislation yet but is anticipated to be changed very soon; probably in the coming days. However once incorporated into law, it is anticipated that it will be implemented retrospectively from 13th March meaning the entitlement for SSP from day 1 will apply from this date and not the date of the legislation taking effect.
2. Self-isolation not deemed necessary but the organisation wants an employee to do so
If self-isolation is not necessary, but your organisation has concerns and has decided to send employees home as a precaution, then they will need to be paid in full regardless of whether work can be carried out from home or not. Therefore it might be worth considering putting measures in place now to set up home working (where possible for certain roles) in the event people need to be sent home.
3. Vulnerable People and self-isolation
The Government has announced that those who are considered to be particularly vulnerable are;
- Those aged over 70
- Pregnant Women
- Those with particular medical conditions or weak immune systems
The current guidance is to minimise non-essential social contact. The guidance does not yet specifically say that these people cannot attend work. Therefore unless they have been advised medically (or by 111) to remain off work, they can still attend. If they decide themselves without specifically being told to, that they do not wish to attend work then it is likely that the period of leave would be unpaid (however as things stand, the guidance on SSP is not entirely clear and therefore we would advise clients to keep SSP aside in case it is determined this needs to be back paid in such circumstances). Should the employee be happy to attend work, you should still undertake daily or very frequent risk assessments and if you deem the workplace unsafe and send them home, they are likely entitled to full pay as this would be employer led medical suspension.
4. Non-vulnerable people wishing to self-isolate in the absence of medical advice to do so
For any other scenario, this will need to be looked at on a case by case basis. For example, if an employee has general concerns about being out in public without any particular reason, then it would be questionable as to whether any time off would be authorised or not and whether any unauthorised absence procedure could be followed. We would suggest at this time that leniency is considered in regards to this and full facts are discussed with the employee before taking any drastic action as it would all depend on the specific facts, any time off due to this nature would be unpaid. You should take caution before considering disciplinary action for any absence when not required to self-isolate and against the organisation’s wishes as the current panic may be regarded as mitigating circumstances for the employee.
It is important to note that the issue surrounding pay is not a definite at this time and only advisory therefore employers should be open to the guidance changing.
Evidence of medical advice to self-isolate
At the moment employers are urged to work on a trust basis and have confidence that their employees are being honest about any requirements to self-isolate. If the period of sickness or self-isolation goes over 7 calendar days then employers are advised to be lenient on the requirement to produce a medical certificate. 111 are in the process of setting up an online facility where employees can obtain evidence in replacement of a GP fit note however this is still currently under development.
Coronavirus Employer Advice | Help with Costs for Smaller Organisations
The Government have announced that for those who employ less than 250 staff, they will reimburse any SSP payments made relating to correctly advised self-isolation. There are some rules around this as follows;
- This refund will be limited to two weeks per employee
- Employers with fewer than 250 employees will be eligible. The size of an employer will be determined by the number of people they employed as of 28 February 2020
- Employers will be able to reclaim expenditure for any employee who has claimed SSP (according to the new eligibility criteria) as a result of COVID-19
- Employers should maintain records of staff absences, but should not require employees to provide a GP fit note
- The eligible period for the scheme will commence from the day on which the regulations extending SSP to self-isolators come into force.
Lay Off and Redundancies
You may be experiencing a downturn in work due to the Coronavirus meaning you need to temporarily reduce hours, lay people off or in worse cases, look at making redundancies.
If you have a lay off clause in an employee’s contract of employment, you may be able to utilise this if you have a reduction in work. This would entitle you to lay staff off without pay (other than an initial 5 days’ worth of statutory guarantee payments of £29 per day within a 3 month period). Be aware though that employees would have the right to be asked to be made redundant (and receive redundancy pay where entitled) if laid off for 4 weeks in a row or 6 weeks in any 13 week period. If you don’t have lay off clauses in your employment contracts, then you may want to consult with your staff to include them now. Contact the advice line for more information on this or redundancies.
If someone is subsequently sick during a period of lay off, this supersedes lay off and the relevant sick payments would need to be made instead.
If you have any concerns and want Coronavirus employer advice on a specific case, get in touch with our expert Employment Law team today.