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Coronavirus and work. What are the likely concerns

Coronavirus and work. What are the likely concerns

With the coronavirus, COVID—19, being such a widely-publicised issue at the moment, and the threat continuing to rise, it is important for employers to take necessary precautions and to adapt to the risks presented.

We have considered some likely concerns of employers and how these can be addressed.

How can employers help their employees?

The main concern for many employers will be the need to reduce the risk to their employees by the coronavirus.

There have been reports in the news of some workplaces instructing their employees not to come into work at all in light of the threat presented by the coronavirus and how easily it is transmitted.

However, the risk is currently identified as moderate. For many employers, a suitable response may include promoting hygiene around the office, including the need to wash hands thoroughly.

Another suggestion includes a designated ‘isolation room’ where an employee who feels ill can go to call 111 in confidence, away from the rest of their colleagues.

Do employers have to provide sick pay for employees who are not ill but are in quarantine or self-isolation?

There is no legal requirement to provide sick pay in this situation, in the absence of any illness on the part of the employee.

However, it has been suggested that it could be good practice to provide sick pay or some other paid leave in these circumstances. This would greatly reduce the risk of the employee coming into work despite being sick and transmitting the coronavirus to others in the workplace.

Whilst it would be difficult for them to establish, an employee may try to argue that refusing to pay someone who has self-isolated due to health concerns could be a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence.

What should employers do if employees do not want to come into work?

If employees are worried about coming into work due to the risk of catching the coronavirus, it is important as their employer to listen to their concerns and take them seriously.

If you are able to offer flexible working arrangements for the employee, such as working from home, this could be a good solution which can be convenient for both employer and employee.

Another alternative is for employees to request time off work either has a holiday or as unpaid leave, but employers are under no obligation to agree to this.

If an employee refuses to work, employers are entitled to take disciplinary action, but it is important to act with caution as dismissal may to be outside the range of reasonable responses in the current circumstances. This may be less so if the coronavirus continues longer-term and an employee continues to refuse to work.

In summary, it is crucial for employers to show a willingness to adapt to the concerns raised by the coronavirus, and give regard to any concerns of their employees. Taking proactive measures to minimise the risk to employees is the simplest and most effective response.

Posted on: 28/Feb/2020 Posted in: Employment Law
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