With the coronavirus impact being felt by businesses more every day, and the number of cases continuing to climb, employers need to be aware of their legal obligations and how they can prepare.
The government is predicting that at the peak of the pandemic, up to a fifth of the UK’s workforce may be off sick, and many firms are following official advice to adopt a working from home approach to slow and prevent the spread of the disease. Here is what you need to do as an employer to stay on the right side of the law amid these uncertain times and mitigate the potential for disputes.
Help employees spot the signs
It’s important to make your employees aware of how to spot the symptoms of the virus, to minimise the chances of anyone carrying and/or spreading it in the workplace. If an employee does become unwell at work with coronavirus symptoms, they must inform you straight away and go home.
Protect vulnerable workers
You should be particularly cautious if any of your employees are at increased risk from coronavirus, including (but not limited to) those who have a long-term health condition, respiratory illnesses such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease or a weakened immune system, as well as anyone who is pregnant, over the age of 70 and anyone who cares for someone who falls into any of these categories.
Know rules around sick pay
Employees are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if they need to self-isolate. This applies not only if they have been diagnosed with coronavirus, but also if they have any of the symptoms, for example a high temperature or new continuous cough, or if someone in their household has coronavirus symptoms. Recent measures outlined by the Prime Minister mean SSP is now payable from day one instead of day four for affected individuals. If an employee or worker cannot work, they should inform you as soon as possible with the reason.
Businesses that have not yet or are unable to adopt a ‘work from home’ policy need to have a degree of flexibility and a willingness to adapt. This means agreeing to more flexible ways of working, for example allowing employees to change their start and finish times to avoid rush hour on public transport, cancelling face-to-face events and meetings and setting up remote calling and video conferences where possible. Businesses with a good IT infrastructure can adapt more easily to a work from home model, asking staff with work laptops and phones to take them home and work as normal. Those who do not work on computers could be encouraged to focus on paperwork tasks that can be completed at home. Employers must pay staff members working from home as usual and keep in contact regularly to monitor their wellbeing.
This is a highly unusual time affecting businesses and working practices all around the world. However, by taking the right steps and practicing strong due diligence, employers can minimise disruption and maintain a high level of productivity, ensuring the impact on their business is kept to a minimum.
Hiren Gandhi is a partner at Blaser Mills Law