Coronavirus – COVID 19 and how employers should react
The coronavirus outbreak started in the Chinese city of Wuhan and with today’s report of the first case in Brazil, means it has spread to every continent bar Antarctica. This novel coronavirus has since been termed COVID-19.
Whilst the UK Government states that the UK is “well prepared” to deal with Coronavirus cases, the risks to the UK has increased from “low” to “moderate” and the global landscape is rapidly changing with more people being put into quarantine or asked to self-isolate. This in turn could have an impact on employment law issues. Here we look at a number of points to consider surrounding health and safety in the workplace, duty of care, discrimination and travel.
- Restrictions – China has suspended travel to certain parts of the country. Other countries have imposed travel restrictions to and from China and/or closed their boarders to Chinese (and other nationals).
- Stranded abroad – the UK has no current plans to repatriate UK nationals. Employees should make all attempts to return safely but the situation should be discussed with them and holiday or remote working can be agreed.
- Holiday/sick pay –employees are usually entitled to pay for days worked or authorised leave, however if they fall ill whilst away they should continue to receive holiday pay or sick pay. If an employee falls sick whilst on a work trip, they should continue to be paid their normal salary. Employees who present no symptoms after travel to China but are being asked to stay away from the workplace should also be paid. Employers should ensure there is a clear and robust Travel Policy which sets out entitlements in each scenario.
- Government advice for travellers from China should be adhered to. Employees should be asked to self-isolate if returning from the Hubai province. Employees returning from other parts of China who present symptoms (cough, fever, shortness of breath) should also be asked to remain home and contact NHS111. Please ensure that you follow the frequently updated guidelines on the government website which can be accessed at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/wuhan-novel-coronavirus-information-for-the-public
- Non-work related travel – caution should be taking if denying personal travel to staff of ethnic Chinese origin due to race discrimination.
HEALTH & SAFETY
- Duty to take reasonable care – both employers and employees are responsible for this and employees must co-operate fully to ensure employers can fully comply with Health and Safety legislation.
- Educate and inform staff – this can include emails, posters, advice on personal and food best hygiene practices.
- Consider remote working requests – employers should judge workplace to home ratios and have contingency plans in place. On the flip side, employers should consider those situations wherein employees refuse to attend the workplace and that unreasonable refusals to attend could be met with disciplinary action.
- Conduct risk assessments if the situation worsens. Pay particular attention to those employees with compromised immune systems or underlying medicals issues.
- Race discrimination – employers should take “all reasonable steps” to prevent employees either directly or indirectly racially abusing British Chinese people in relation to the outbreak.
- Employees’ dependents – consider future possibility of taking time off to care for family.
- Further to the above points, it is crucial for employers to regularly follow official guides and inform staff of any change in circumstances. Information can be found on www.gov.uk. The World Health Organisation and UK Chief Medical Officers also offer current advice.
If you need specific advice on how you should deal with a particular scenario, BTMK’s employment law team are here to help and advise. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone on 03300 585 222 and our website at www.btmk.co.uk