With the Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation in the UK, what are your responsibilities as an employer and what rights do your staff have?

Protecting your staff 

It’s your duty to protect staff and their health and safety whilst in the workplace. As of the 16th March the government has advised all workers to work from home if they can as part of the social-distancing measures.

The government has also strongly advised that anyone considered to be in a ‘vulnerable group’ to take social distancing measures, as they are high-risk. Those classed as vulnerable are:

  • Anyone with a long-term health condition, for example asthma, diabetes or heart disease, or a weakened immune system as the result of medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
  • Pregnant women
  • Anyone age 70 and over
  • Anyone caring for someone with a health condition that might put them at a greater risk.

We have some recommendations on remote working but if this is not possible please consider the following factors:

Keeping everyone up to date with ways to reduce risk of exposure in the workplace. See the NHS guidance.

  • Making sure that all staff are aware of the symptoms to look out for, and what they can to reduce the risk of contracting the virus (this includes washing hands or using hand sanitisers, coughing or sneezing into tissues and then disposing of them).
  • Ensure that you provide adequate facilities to wash and sanitise hands regularly.
  • Ensure that frequently touched objects and surfaced are regularly cleaned and disinfected.
  • Make sure your personnel files are up to date and that you have emergency contact details for all staff.
  • Consider rotating your teams into shifts splitting between working at home and in the workplace.

Pay

Self-isolation and sick pay

All workers and employees will now receive statutory sick pay (SSP) if they are self-isolating because:

  • they have coronavirus
  • they have coronavirus symptoms, for example a high temperature or new continuous cough
  • someone in their household has coronavirus symptoms
  • they’ve been told to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111

Currently the rules state that if someone has symptoms and lives alone, they must self-isolate for seven days.

If someone lives in a household and is the first to have symptoms, they must self-isolate for 7 days. Everyone else in their household must self-isolate for 14 days.

If anyone else in the household starts displaying symptoms, the person with the new symptoms must self-isolate for 7 days. This is regardless of where they are in the 14-day isolation period.

Statutory sick pay

The government announced that workers will now receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from the first day off work due to sickness, not the fourth (as defined below) for any period of absence. SSP is set at £94.25 per week.

It is not currently known how long this emergency legislation will apply.

Definitions

  • Statutory Sick Pay (SSP): all employers are obliged to pay SSP to employees and workers who meet eligibility conditions which include: the worker being off sick for at least four days in a row (including non-working days) and they earn on average at least £118 per week (before tax). Agency workers, casual workers and zero-hours workers can also receive SSP as long as they meet eligibility criteria.
  • Company / Contractual Sick Pay: this is the sick pay provision set out in staff contracts. If you are unsure please refer to your employee contracts.

To clarify, the government changes only applies to the SSP element.

Does this apply to your business? 

Do you only pay SSP (without any additional contractual / company sick pay?)

  • Yes: SSP must now be paid from day 1 of an employee’s absence.

Do you pay contractual / company sick pay from day 1 of absence and does your contractual / company sick pay cover 3 days or more?

  • No: You must pay SSP for any days from 1-3 not covered by contractual / company sick pay, and then continue paying SSP or contractual / company sick pay as usual.

Employees who have to take time off to look after others who are sick

Staff are entitled to take time off to look after a dependant in an unexpected event or emergency. This would particularly apply where they may have children who are unable to go to school to allow them to make alternative care arrangements.

Although there is no statutory right to pay them for this time, it would down to your discretion or dependent on the terms of their contract. They could also take the time as holiday. ACAS suggest that the amount of time off an employee takes to look after someone must be reasonable for the situation. For example, they might take two days off to start with, and if more time is needed, they can book holiday.

Using holiday

Employers have the right to tell employees and workers when to take holiday if they need to.  If you decide to do this, you must tell staff at least twice as many days before as the amount of days they need people to take. For example, if you want to close for 5 days, you should tell everyone at least 10 days before.

This could affect holiday staff have already booked or planned. So you should:

  • explain clearly why you need to close
  • try and resolve anyone’s worries about how it will affect their holiday entitlement or plans.

Staff who don’t want to come into work

Inevitably there will be employees who do not want to come into the workplace and their concerns should be addressed. We recommend working with your staff to understand their concerns and where possible looking to find reasonable mutual agreeable short-term solutions like flexible working.

If there are still concerns from staff explore an option taking time off as holiday or unpaid leave subject to business need.

What to do if an employee falls ill at work

If an employee is unwell in the workplace with symptoms, they are now advised to:

  • tell their employer immediately and go home
  • avoid touching anything
  • cough or sneeze into a tissue and put it in a bin, or if they do not have tissues, cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow
  • use a separate bathroom from others, if possible

They should then follow the isolation guidance.

School closures

As all schools in England, Scotland and Wales are now closed this has a huge impact on working arrangements for many. Employers need to be sympathetic during this stressful time, and ACAS suggests that if employees need time off to care for children they can:

  • take time off to care for someone else
  • use holiday, if their employer agrees

Employers and employees can consider these steps:

  • talking to each other early on about time off that might be needed
  • agreeing regular conversations so both can plan ahead
  • agreeing flexible working instead of taking longer periods of time off, for example working from home or changing working hours to allow for child care

If any agreement is made, it’s a good idea for it to be in writing.

If your workplace is temporarily closed

Ensure your staff have means have means to communicate when working remotely. Read our guidance. 

If you do need to close your business altogether for a short period, we can discuss options with you regarding paying your staff at this time.

Keep updated

As the landscape is constantly changing with regards to medical advice and the spread of the virus, our current advice is to keep checking credible government websites for support and guidance.

  • The main source of information to check for the latest updates is Public Health England. 
  • For any employees travelling abroad, check the FCO guidelines to stay up to date.
  • ACAS has also provided advice on managing the Coronavirus in the workplace. 

Get in touch if you would like further advice.  Advice correct as of 20 March 2020. 

 

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