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01 Mar 20
Coronavirus – what are your  workplace rights and what can businesses do to prepare? 

Lisa Guscott ,Partner and Head of Employment Law, discusses your employment rights in the workplace should it be affected by the Coronavirus and what businesses can do now to prepare.

In the light of the recent outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), both employers and employees need to be aware of how they should deal with problems in the workplace resulting from the virus.

The UK Chief Medical Officers have raised the risk to the public from low to moderate and the Prime Minister has indicated that there is a threat of a “significant expansion” of the number of cases in the UK. It is therefore eminently  sensible to follow good practice and ensure that employees follow simple rules to prevent the spread of the virus by :-

  • Washing their hands thoroughly or using a hand sanitiser;
  • Using tissues when sneezing or coughing and ensuring that the tissues are then disposed of;
  • Ensuring that managers are aware of how to spot symptoms of Coronavirus and that any policies or procedures on how to deal with them are clear.
  • Considering if any travel plans to any of the affected areas are necessary or appropriate.

Some businesses have been criticised for indicating  that the virus will be treated like like any other illness, so for many that would mean no sick pay for the first three days, even if staff are ordered into quarantine.The TUC have argued that no one should have to worry about making ends meet at a time like this and that sick pay should be a “day one” right for everybody.

So what are your rights in the workplace? ACAS have put out guidance, which I have summarised below.

What if I am off work with Coronavirus?

Your normal sick leave and pay entitlements will apply in accordance with the terms and conditions of your  employment. Your employer might need to make some allowances as you might not be able to get a ‘fit note’ if you have to self-isolate. You should let your employer know as soon as you suspect that you may be infected. If you become  unwell at work you should either call the NHS advice line and 111 or call an ambulance if you are seriously ill by dialing 999.  you should ensure they tell the operator what their symptoms are and whether they have returned from another country within the last 14 days.

What If I am not sick but cannot work because I am in self-isolation or quarantine?

There is no legal (‘statutory’) right to pay, but it is good practice for the employer to treat it as sick leave or agree for the time to be taken as holiday. Employers should be mindful of the fact that if they refuse to pay staff, they may come to work because they want to get paid and in doing so may spread the virus.

What if I am not sick but my employed tells me that I cannot come into work?

This may happen if you have just returned  returned from one of the affected areas  such as China, South Korea, Italy or Tenerife or another affected area and your employer asks you  not to come in. In this situation you are entitled to receive your usual pay. It would be wise to consider the Government guidance on countries and specified areas affected by COVID-19 with implications for returning travellers or visitors arriving in the UK –  https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-specified-countries-and-areas

What If I need time off work to look after a dependant

You  are entitled to a reasonable amount of time off work to help someone who depends on you (a ‘dependant’) in an unexpected event or emergency. This would apply to situations to do with Coronavirus. There is no set amount of time as it is dependent on the situation. Time off is unpaid, unless your contract provides that you should be paid or your employer agrees to pay you.

What If you don’t want to go to work for fear of catching the virus?

In some circumstances you may not want to go to work  as you are afraid of catching Coronavirus. An employer should listen to any genuine concerns and should  try to resolve them to protect your  health and safety – perhaps by considering  you working flexibly from home. However,  you must be mindful that hat if you  refuse to attend work, it could result in disciplinary action.

What If the employer needs to close your workplace due to the virus ?

Unless it sates in your contract or is agreed otherwise, your  employer will  still need to pay you  for the time the workplace is closed, even if you are unable to work at all.  Employers should give consideration to their systems to ensure that staff have a way to communicate with them and their work colleagues and should also investigate whether staff could carry out various tasks  at home.

What steps should businesses take now?

Although, the Prime Minister and the Welsh First Minister have given the message of “business as usual”,  Public Health England have said that the widespread transmission of Coronavirus in the UK was “highly likely”. So businesses need to  be prepared. . There are sensible steps that businesses can take now such as –

  • Educating staff about the recommended measures to take within the workplace to minimise the risk of spreading the virus.
  • Making sure that their staff contact details are up to date.
  • Reviewing their Business Continuity plan and  strategy for those areas of business that can be carried out remotely and any a work-transfer strategy for functions/processes that can be transferred to other office locations .
  • Reviewing their technology,and whether it could  needed to support increased traffic associated with work from home strategies.
  • Reviewing current insurance policies with brokers and ensure adequate cover.
  • Speaking to to any essential suppliers to establish how their preparedness.

 

This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice.

Lisa Guscott  is a specialist Employment Law Solcitor . For further information or for employment law assistance you can contact Lisa on 01495762244 or e mail lguscott@watkinsandgunn.co.uk

Contact us today 0300 1240 400

COVID-19 

We are delighted to announce that our offices are now open to the public  between 10am and 4pm Monday to Friday, by appointment.

We will continue to provide our services remotely outside those hours so that you will be able to contact us between 8.3oam and 5pm.

We have followed Welsh Government guidance to allow us to open our doors safely. We have hand sanitisers, PPE, protective screens and are enforcing  two metre spacing. We have also limited the numbers allowed in our buildings by operating a rota of those office working and those working remotely.

Go to our CoVid 19 page for more information.

Thank you for your continued patience at this difficult time.

Stay safe and well.