Employees’ health, safety and well-being during a global health emergency like COVID-19 should be paramount. Employers have a statutory duty of care for people’s health and safety, and to provide a safe place to work, but there’s also a strong moral responsibility to ensure that employees feel safe and secure in their employment. Employers need to be proactive to protect their people and minimise the risk of the virus spreading.
Many people will be concerned about the risk of infection and will need reassurance. Communicate clearly to employees that they need to take basic hygiene precautions such as effective hand-washing, avoid travel to affected areas and/or coming into contact with infected or potentially infected people. Follow official public health and medical advice closely and advise them on what to do if they think they may have caught the virus, or are at risk of contracting it.
As the spread of the virus continues, employers are likely to face the following situations:
- If employees have been told by a medical professional to self-isolate:Statutory Sick Pay (SSP): In the Budget on 11 March, the Government announced a range of new measures around SSP. If NHS 111 or a doctor advises an employee or worker to self-isolate, they are entitled to SSP. This includes individuals who may be a carrier of COVID-19 who may not have symptoms, and will also apply to people caring for those in the same household who display COVID-19 symptoms and have been told to self-isolate. The Government has also announced that Statutory Sick Pay will be made available from day one (instead of from day four) for those affected by coronavirus when self-isolating. These provisions will become law in the forthcoming COVID-19 Bill. The Budget also announced measures whereby employers with less than 250 employees can claim a refund for COVID-19 related SSP costs (up to two weeks per employee).Medical evidence for SSP: Employees can currently self-certify for the first seven days, and Government advice is that employers should use discretion around the need for medical evidence for absence where an employee is advised to self-isolate in the current exceptional circumstances. In the 11 March Budget, the Government announced it will introduce a temporary alternative to the current fit note in the coming weeks for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak whereby those in self-isolation can obtain a notification via NHS 111 to use as evidence for absence from work.An alternative option to providing sick pay is to allow people who are asked to self-isolate to work from home wherever possible, and continue to pay as normal.
- If an employer sends people home as a precaution: Employees are following the reasonable instruction of their employer and should get their normal pay.
- If employees choose to self-isolate but have not been advised to by a medical professional, and have no symptoms: Employees who voluntarily self-isolate without symptoms, and without their employer’s agreement, could be required to attend work by their employer. However, employers should take people’s concerns seriously, especially if there are underlying health conditions, including mental ill health.
- If an employee’s children are sent home because of school closure: Many employees would be able to work from home and employers would have to expect there to be some disruption to a person’s ability to work as normal, depending on the child’s age. Employees may choose to take this time off as holiday so normal processes and pay apply. If an employee is unable to work from home, they could be granted unpaid emergency time off or unpaid parental leave.