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Our Employment team take a pragmatic and commercial approach to your requirements, and can assist with contracts and disputes from both employer and employee perspectives.
If you are concerned about the impact of Coronavirus on your business, we have dedicated teams ready to help. Please contact your Gregg Latchams partner or call 0117 906 9400, email email@example.com
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What is the virus?
Health and safety obligations:
Employers have a duty to take steps that are reasonably necessary to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all their employees, including those who are particularly at risk for any reason.
Employees also have a duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and that of people they work with. They must cooperate with their employer to enable it to comply with its duties under health and safety legislation.
In line with the annual flu precautions, employers should consider taking simple steps to protect their staff’s health and safety:
What about pay?
If employees are quarantined as a result of a Government requirement, then they will be classed as sick and entitled to the sick pay provided in the contracts of employment.
If an employer requires staff to remain away from work (self-quarantine) then:
Currently, those at most risk of becoming seriously ill if they catch the coronavirus appear to include older people, pregnant women and those with pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and respiratory or immune problems.
There is a low risk of infection for individuals in the UK at the moment, but employers should keep the situation under review.
If the outbreak worsens in the UK, you should carry out a risk assessment to gauge whether the working environment of high-risk individuals presents a risk of infection (e.g. because they will be exposed to individuals who are infected with the virus).
There is currently no vaccine for the coronavirus (unlike flu), so those at high risk cannot protect themselves. Where necessary, precautions should be taken such as moving particular employees to a different location or asking them to work from home. Consult with the individual before taking any such steps.
Employers have specific statutory obligations to take steps to avoid risks that pregnant employees are exposed to as a result of their work. Where it is not possible to avoid such risks by other means, pregnant employees must be offered suitable alternative employment on a temporary basis or suspended from work on medical grounds (on full pay) for as long as necessary. If the period of suspension continues into the fourth week before the expected week of childbirth, or the employee is ill after the start of the fourth week, this will trigger the commencement of maternity leave.
Work and travel
Employees who have recently returned from China
Government advice for travellers from China is that individuals who have travelled from Wuhan or Hubai province to the UK in the last 14 days should self-quarantine even if they do not have any symptoms.
Those who have travelled from elsewhere in China in the last 14 days and develop symptoms of a cough, fever or shortness of breath should also stay indoors and avoid contact with others as much as possible. All these individuals should call the NHS to inform them of their travel.
If you have employees to whom this applies, you should ask them not to come to work until after the incubation period is over and any symptoms have completely gone. If you do so, then as set out above, because you have asked them to stay at home, then they should continue to be paid at full pay.
Employees refusing to attend work
What is the position if the employer thinks it is safe to attend work, but an employee is reluctant to do so because of fears of infection?
Employers should assess the risk regularly, consulting government websites for updates. They should also consider their staffing requirements and how many people they need in the workplace. It may be possible to allow employees who wish to do so to work from home or to take holiday.
Employers should, however, be mindful that they might need to require individuals to attend if other people fall sick and there is insufficient cover. If you do permit remote working or holiday, you should reserve the right to require workplace attendance on short notice, making it clear that disciplinary action could be taken if a refusal to attend work is unreasonable.
Before any disciplinary action is commenced, the situation should be discussed with the individual, because it may be possible to allay their concerns in some way. For example, if their real fear is the risk of infection on public transport, it might be possible to adjust their hours to enable them to travel outside rush hour.
If the individual refusing to come into work is pregnant or otherwise at high risk, you should tread carefully and may have to be more flexible. If someone has genuine fears about attending work, the stress of being required to do so or alternatively face disciplinary action may itself adversely affect their health.
Refusing to allow employees to stay at home, or disciplining them for not attending work, could potentially lead to legal claims. For example, an employee might try to claim constructive unfair dismissal if there is a genuine health and safety risk from being required to attend work. However, provided employers do not act unreasonably and employees are not placed at undue risk, such claims could be unlikely to succeed.
Employers should keep the situation under regular review and keep up to date on further government guidance.
If you have any questions on any employment law issue, please contact Cecily Donoghue or Nick Jones in our Bristol office. Call 0117 906 9400 or email firstname.lastname@example.org