ACAS – the Government’s Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service – have provided the following initial guidance (see https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus) for employers and employees during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
It’s good practice for employers to:
- Keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace.
- Make sure everyone’s contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date.
- Consider extra precautions for staff who might be more vulnerable, for example if someone is pregnant, aged 70 or over, or has a long-term health condition.
- Make sure managers know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes, for example sickness reporting and sick pay, and procedures in case someone in the workplace shows symptoms of the virus.
- Make sure there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap, and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly.
- Provide hand sanitiser and tissues for staff, and encourage them to use them.
- Consider if any travel or meetings are necessary and if meetings can be held remotely instead.
- Keep up to date with the latest government coronavirus advice on https://www.gov.uk/
Self-isolation and sick pay
Employees and workers must receive any Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) due to them if they need to self-isolate because:
- They have coronavirus.
- They have coronavirus symptoms, for example a high temperature or new continuous cough.
- Someone in their household has coronavirus symptoms.
- They’ve been told to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111.
Employee’s may also be entitled to enhanced sick pay, for example if it is provided for in their Employment Contract.
If someone has symptoms and lives alone, they must self-isolate for 7 days.
If someone lives in a household and is the first to have symptoms, they must self-isolate for 7 days. Everyone else in their household must self-isolate for 14 days.
If anyone else in the household starts displaying symptoms, the person with the new symptoms must self-isolate for 7 days. This is regardless of where they are in the 14-day isolation period.
Find more guidance for households with possible coronavirus on https://www.gov.uk/.
Social distancing, flexible working and working from home
Current government advice is for everyone to try and stop unnecessary contact with other people – ‘social distancing’. This includes:
- Working from home where possible.
- Avoiding busy commuting times on public transport.
- Avoiding gatherings of people, whether in public, at work or at home.
Employers should support their workforce to take these steps. This might include:
- Agreeing to more flexible ways of working, for example changing start and finish times to avoid busier commuting times.
- Allowing staff to work from home wherever possible.
- Cancelling face-to-face events and meetings and rearranging to remote calling where possible, for example using video or conference calling technology.
Employers need to be especially careful and take extra steps for anyone in their workforce who is at increased risk from coronavirus.
They include, but are not limited to, those who:
- Have a long-term health condition, for example asthma, diabetes or heart disease, or a weakened immune system as the result of medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy.
- Are pregnant.
- Are aged 70 or over.
- Care for someone with a health condition that might put them at a greater risk.
Working from home
Where work can be done at home, the employer could:
- Ask staff who have work laptops or mobile phones to take them home so they can carry on working.
- Arrange paperwork tasks that can be done at home for staff who do not work on computers
If an employer and employee agree to working from home, the employer should:
- Pay the employee as usual.
- Keep in regular contact.
- Check on the employee’s health and wellbeing
Employers have the right to tell employees and workers when to take holiday if they need to. For example, they can decide to shut for a week and everyone has to use their holiday entitlement.
If the employer does decide to do this, they must tell staff at least twice as many days before as the amount of days they need people to take.
For example, if they want to close for 5 days, they should tell everyone at least 10 days before.
This could affect holiday staff have already booked or planned. So employers should:
- Explain clearly why they need to close.
- Try and resolve anyone’s worries about how it will affect their holiday entitlement or plans.
If an employee needs time off work to look after someone
Employees are entitled to time off work to help someone who depends on them (a ‘dependant’) in an unexpected event or emergency. This could apply to situations to do with coronavirus.
A dependant does not necessarily live with the person, for example they could be an elderly neighbour or relative who relies on the person for help.
There’s no statutory right to pay for this time off, but some employers might offer pay depending on the contract or workplace policy.
The amount of time off an employee takes to look after someone must be reasonable for the situation. For example, they might take 2 days off to start with, and if more time is needed, they can book holiday.
If a dependant such as a partner, child or relative in the same household gets coronavirus symptoms, they should receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) as a minimum for this time. They’ll also need to follow self-isolation guidance on https://www.gov.uk/.
As schools in England, Scotland and Wales will be closing, this will have an effect on care and working arrangements. This may be an anxious time for parents, and employers will need to be planning cover at work.
If employees need emergency time off for child care or to make new arrangements, they can use:
- Time off to care for someone else (‘time off for dependants’).
- Holiday, if their employer agrees.
Employers and employees can consider these steps:
- Talking to each other early on about time off that might be needed.
- Agreeing regular conversations so both can plan ahead.
- Agreeing flexible working instead of taking longer periods of time off, for example working from home or changing working hours to allow for child care.
If any agreement is made, it’s a good idea for it to be in writing.
In these uncertain times, our Employment Team is ready to help employers and employees. For further assistance or advice about the topics raised in this blog please contact our Employment Law Department either:-