As Coronavirus COVID-19 continues its onslaught, the British Government has recently rolled out its latest advice to the general public with the message to remain in ‘lockdown’ save to carry out a strict few necessary tasks. Employers and employees are both understandably worried about future employment ramifications of an extended lockdown or a lengthy time off work due to illness. Here we set out some general advice to assist in this difficult time.
Advice for Employers
All employers have statutory duties to their employees and these include taking the necessary steps to ensure the health and safety of their workforce. During this viral outbreak, it would be recommended to carry out regular cleaning of the workplace and to provide employees with hand sanitizers and other methods for maintaining cleanliness to help combat the spread of this disease. Employers also have a duty to keep their staff informed of the latest advice from the Government and other experts with regard to how this period of lockdown progresses.
Employers may be encouraged to minimise the number of employees attending the place of work and to enable those who can carry out their roles from home, to do so. It is however understood that maintaining a work “presence” is in any business’ interests.
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) are currently advising that all travel or business trips should be reconsidered, unless absolutely necessary, as it becomes increasingly difficult to estimate whether the flight paths to certain countries will remain open, should this outbreak worsen or start to affect previously untouched locations.
Should an employee inform you of their symptoms or ill-health, the current government advice is for them to practice self-isolation as much as possible and to seek medical help to confirm if they truly are afflicted with COVID-19. The primary objective and concern for any employer is too limit the spread of the virus and ensure that both their unaffected staff are safe, and those who are ill are able to seek medical attention and recuperate. Where an employee is ill but able to continue to work, it is advised for the employer to continue to pay their employee and maintain this consistency with all other employees. Where an employee is found to be positive for the virus or self isolates and is not able to work, employees are now entitled to receive their Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from the first day of sick leave, as per recent Government legislation.
For further government advice, please see: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/guidance-for-employers-and-businesses-on-coronavirus-covid-19
Advice for Employees
By law, employees are not required to provide any medical evidence to justify any absence for the first 7 days of sickness. Employers are then allowed to use their discretion as to whether they require medical evidence to justify an employee staying at home due to illness. Should this be required, a note can be obtained from NHS 111 online or the NHS website.
Employees also have a duty of care to their employer and fellow employees, and so could be in danger of breach of contract should they continue to work whilst knowingly ill or travelling to an affected area etc.
As already mentioned, an employee is now entitled to claim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from the first day of absence if their absence is related to COVID-19 as opposed to the previous requirement criteria of providing your employer with 7 days’ notice before eligibility.
It is advised that your employer continue to pay your wages should you be able to work from home in any capacity, whether simply working from home under lockdown or working whilst self-isolating. ACAS has also encouraged employers to allow those undergoing self-isolation to still receive their normal pay although this is not a strict legal requirement if they are not able to continue working. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also advised employers to treat self-isolation as “sickness for employment purposes”.
Further advice is also available to employees via ACAS and government websites.
Get in Touch
For any help in this area, please get in touch with our Employment Law Team on 0118 958 9711 or email [email protected]