ACAS has published some guidance for employers in relation to management of the workplace, sickness absence procedures and sick pay in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. ACAS’ top tips include:
- Keep the workforce updated on Company action to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus. This may include undertaking a risk assessment for individuals with underlying health issues, or those who are vulnerable I they contract the virus, e.g. pregnant employees.
- Make sure that staff have provided you with the contact details of an emergency contact.
- Make sure that managers know how to spot the symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on the sickness absence procedure. Although, a sickness absence procedure which requires a sick note from the GP for an absence lasting more than 5 working days should be relaxed since affected individuals are urged to isolate themselves and not attend a GP surgery.
- Provide places for the individuals to wash their hands, with hot water and soap.
- Provide hand sanitiser and tissues to the workforce and encourage their use.
- Consider whether protective face masks are needed. However, Gov.co.uk guidance has stated that there is no medical evidence to prove that this method is effective.
- Assess whether plans for staff to travel are essential. If meetings have been scheduled in an affected area, employers should consider whether attendance can be satisfied via video link.
An employer should exercise its normal sick pay procedure in instances of absence due to coronavirus. However, where an employee has been instructed by their employer to self-isolate, it is recommended to keep the individual on full pay for this period.
If an employee has made their own the decision to self-isolate, there is no statutory right to pay. However, it is good practice for the employer to either exercise its sick pay policy, allow the individual to take the time off as holiday, as unpaid leave, or work from home. It is feared that if an employer withholds pay for this period, individuals will attend work to avoid any financial hardship, risking the spread of infection.
Employees who do not want to attend work
If an employee refuses to attend work out of their fears of contracting the virus, an employer should investigate the concerns thoroughly. It should then act to protect the health and safety of the workforce and facilitate the employees return to work. If an employee still refuses to attend work, employers should consider allowing the employee to take unpaid leave, holiday, or homeworking.
If the employee still refuses to return to work, this can result in an employer engaging its disciplinary procedure. However, a dismissal is unlikely to be within the band of reasonable responses if the fear is genuinely held. A significant factor will be the length of time the employee has abstained from work.
- 100 Employment Rights Act 1996 states that a dismissal will be automatically unfair where an employee reasonably believed in serious and imminent danger if he attended work, which he could not avert. It is unlikely that the current situation would fall within “imminent danger”, but employers would be prudent to consider s.100 if there is a sharp increase in cases.
Employers should address any poor treatment of employees whose nationality is an affected country, or individuals who contract the virus, in accordance with its disciplinary policy.
In the event that the office needs to shut down due to a spike in infections, employers should identify whether employee contracts contain a lay off clause. In the absence of such a clause, employers should continue to pay employees full pay for this period.
If you would like more information or have any further questions please contact us.
The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.