Coronavirus Employment Law Issues

28 February 2020

Although the Chief Medical Officer has declared the risk to the UK from coronavirus to be moderate (raised from low risk on 30 January 2020), the risk of catching it in the workplace is still low. (Please note: Read an updated to this article)

Employees’ rights regarding coronavirus

  • If an employee is in quarantine or self-isolation, they are not entitled to sick pay. However, it may be sensible to offer sick pay in these circumstances to avoid a sick person coming into work and spreading the virus to other staff members
  • Equally, if employees are not normally paid sick pay, you may wish to consider doing so to avoid a sick employee transmitting the virus to others
  • The usual reporting procedures for an employee who is off work sick may need to be relaxed, as the employee may not be able to obtain a fit note if they have been advised not to visit their GP
  • If an employee is not sick but the employer tells them not to come to work, for example if they have returned from a high risk area, they should be paid their usual rate of pay for the time the employer has instructed them to remain away from work

What to do if an employee does not want to come to work due to coronavirus

  • The employer should listen carefully to the employee’s concerns and consider what options are available
  • The options may be:
    • Remote working, such as working from home
    • Taking annual leave
    • Taking unpaid leave
  • The employer does not have to agree to annual leave or unpaid leave and may be able to take disciplinary action if an employee refuses to come into work. However, employers should be very cautious of dismissing an employee on this basis as a tribunal may find this to be automatically unfair if employees are dismissed for exercising or asserting a statutory right or otherwise outside an employer’s band of reasonable responses, which could result in a finding of unfair dismissal. As in all situations, an employer should carefully consider all other alternatives before dismissing an employee for this reason.

It remains to be seen whether long-term effects on working patterns are observed from this outbreak. In South Korea and China, many businesses are adopting a system of remote working in order to prevent the spread of the virus in the workplace. If businesses and their employees see benefits from this, it may well be that this will promote remote working in those, and potentially other, businesses in the future.

Reducing the risk of coronavirus infection to your employees

  • Remind staff to be extra-vigilant with hand washing and provide them with clean facilities to do so
  • Encourage staff to use tissues to catch sneezes and coughs and immediately dispose of those tissues in a bin
  • Supply anti-bacterial hand gel in locations with frequent use such as photocopiers
  • Instruct cleaners to take extra care in cleaning door handles, taps and lift buttons
  • Consider designating a room as an isolation room where a member of staff who is feeling unwell can be isolated from other staff and can privately call 111 for advice on what to do next
  • Consider the health risks of staff travelling on business or indeed on holiday to countries with higher rates of infection and in all cases the proposed method of travel. Is it essential for your staff to travel in the way they intend or at all
  • Where staff are returning from annual leave and have travelled abroad without previously informing you, speak to them immediately upon their return to the office to determine whether they have returned from a high risk location. Consider the options available should they have visited a high risk location (see below)
  • Ensure managers are aware of symptoms and what to do should they suspect a member of staff may have coronavirus

Other useful coronavirus resources

The Government is posting updates to the following page each day at 2pm, with details of risk level and any further identified cases in the UK.

Acas has issued a guidance note for employers and employees

The NHS advice on their website on how to recognise symptoms and what to do if you think someone has the virus.

For further information, please contact one of our specialists who will be happy to discuss your matter with you:

David Ludlow: +44 (0)1483 748502

Esmat Faiz: +44 (0)1483 543212

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