Coronavirus or COVID 19: HR responsibilities

March 2020

Coronavirus or COVID 19: HR and Employee Responsibilities

The outbreak of Coronavirus or COVID 19 that the world is experiencing has produced a torrent of information in this past week.

This level of concern is, of course, understandable. What with the threat of a worldwide pandemic on everyone’s lips as the situation worsens. While the government’s response changes as the UK’s situation gathers pace, it’s clear the situation will worsen before it gets better.

CORONAVIRUS or COVID-19

Aiming to bring clarity to the CORONAVIRUS or COVID-19 situation for employers

Go-Legal HR have aimed what follows at clarifying the situation as it stands from an employer/employee perspective.

The underlying principle is to follow government guidelines. But at the same time recognise that the circumstances are fluid and may change daily. 

The government publishes daily updates with the latest stats and advice.

Company & Statutory Sick Pay

One big concern surrounds payment of sick pay to employees off sick due to COVID-19. If the absence relates to having symptoms of the virus, normal sick absence rules under company policies will apply.

This week, the government announced provision for payment of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from day 1 of sick absence. This removes the so-called 3-waiting days before SSP applies. It’s unclear when this will start. But any emergency legislation passed by government to deal with this virus, will include it. Moreover, it only relates to absences due to COVID-19 and will lapse when there’s a resolution to this particular situation.

Employees who choose to self-isolate or do not want to come into work

Let’s say you have an asymptomatic employee advised to self-isolate. Either because:

  1. They’ve travelled to an affected area or
  2. been in contact with someone known to have the virus. In this instance, it’s reasonable to treat that as a sick absence.

What is your course of action in this situation?

If an employee is not sick but is in quarantine or self-isolation, there have no legal right to sick pay in these circumstances. Yet it would be good practice. And preferable to them coming into work with the risk of spreading the virus to the rest of the workforce. 

It’s clear that small to medium sized businesses have a difficult judgement call to make, given the costs involved.

NB: Do keep checking updated government guidelines for updates. 

But these are exceptional circumstances requiring creative solutions. It’s expected that the Budget will offer some guidance here.

Employees of course also have a duty to look after their own health and safety and that of their colleagues. This includes following self-isolation advice and cooperating with their employer to ensure a safe workplace. 

A virus cell -CORONAVIRUS or COVID-19

The Grey Area

This is those who choose to self-isolate from concern about contracting COVID-19. And in so doing, refuse to come into work. If this is the case, listen with care to the concerns of your employees. If you can, offer flexible working arrangements such as home-working.

Home-working is a practical solution to this current exceptional situation, even if it’s not otherwise suitable for your business. Choosing to explore this option is unlikely to set a precedent. It may soon become the norm wherever practical, if the outbreak worsens.

Employees can also request time off as holiday or unpaid leave. But there is no obligation to agree to this. And anyway, it may not be practical if the circumstances become protracted.

Hygiene

As an employer, it’s your duty to take reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety and welfare of all your employees. This includes any employees who may be particularly vulnerable. For instance, pregnant employees, or anyone with pre-existing medical conditions. 

It’s essential to keep abreast of official recommendations. Implementing the advice to avoid infection is a must. For example, providing good access to hand washing facilities and hand sanitisers.  

Do encourage employees to be extra vigilant with washing their hands and using/disposing of tissues etc. Where practicable, provide the resources to help that.

This situation is of course a fluid one. It’s crucial to keep things under review, while treating each case on its own merits. There are bound to be unusual cases even within these exceptional circumstances.

Be consistent in your approach and don’t single out any employees to avoid the risk of allegations of discrimination. 

Other sources of information:

The current situation in the UK is one of containment. But, if the outbreak gathers pace as it has elsewhere, we may see a rapid escalation in the measures needed.

The current situation in the UK is one of containment. But, if the outbreak gathers pace as it has elsewhere, we may see a rapid escalation in the measures needed.

Keep abreast of government updates, but if you are unsure contact Go Legal HR at www.go-legal-hr.com