The coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China, has spread to at least 65 countries – with 51 cases now confirmed in the UK.
Governments have shut borders and imposed quarantines, and now airlines have imposed travel bans in a bid to mitigate the impact of the fast-spreading illness.
Employers have today been told they'll have to pay workers who have to self-isolate due to coronavirus symptoms – which means most of those affected will be paid for any sickness leave.
In cases where employers do not offer sick pay, workers will be entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) for up to 28 weeks.
This amounts to £94.25 per week and is paid from the fourth day of sickness.
But what should employers be doing to safeguard workers – and should they be providing materials for staff to work from home?
Firms must ensure that all workers are updated with potential symptoms of the virus and affected areas so that they can be vigilant.
They should seek guidance on what can be done to minimise the risk of spreading the virus – and provide staff with the resources to help manage it, ie. tissues and hand sanitisers.
This includes considering whether staff can work from home – and providing them with the resources and capabilities to do so.
We asked Mini Setty, a partner in employment law at Langleys Solicitors, for some advice on what workers can expect from their employer as the illness continues to spread globally.
We've also got a full guide on coronavirus sick pay rights, here. If you've had to take time off work for childcare, here's what you need to know on coronavirus school closures.
What health and safety duties do employers have?
Employers have a duty of care in the workplace under health and safety laws. This obligation means that they must ensure that the workplace is safe for employees to work in at all times.
In the current coronavirus pandemic, employers are being recommended to:
Send guidance to staff on the best ways to stop the spread of the virus
Provide tissues and hand sanitisers for staff to use
Monitor whether work-trips to areas hit by the virus should proceed
Ensure that anyone who comes back from an infected area does not come in to work if they are symptomatic
Consider the safety issues of ‘high risk’ individuals such as the older people, those with underlying medical conditions and pregnant women
Employees stuck abroad – what should employers do?
If an employee on a work trip is stuck abroad, the employer should consider whether the staff member can continue to work remotely. If so, they should be paid as normal.
If working remotely is not a possibility, then employers will need to consider whether to grant leave as: unpaid, sick leave or paid. This involves considering any contractual rights and policies that may be in place at the employer.
Employees returning from high-risk areas – what are the options?
Those returning from high-risk areas may have to self-isolate even if they are not symptoamatic.
Those returning from other areas who are symptomatic should also self-isolate. Employers should treat such employees as being off sick and pay according to their normal rules on sick pay.
Is Self-isolation always necessary?
This is a matter for each employer who will have to assess whether self-isolation is necessary.
If the worker has to self-isolate, they will be paid for the time off.
If the employee is able to work from home, then the employer will be able to pay as normal.
Can employers stop employees from going abroad during the outbreak?
Employers must act reasonably in their dealings and if employees wish to travel to areas where flights are still being run as normal, it will be difficult to justifying imposing a blanket travel ban.
To do so will risk employees becoming secretive about their holiday plans and employers could also face adverse publicity and even claims as set out below.
Firms are being advised to make their rules on this clear – and to ensure workers are aware of the risks involved.
Employers should be mindful of hysteria around this subject and should proceed with caution when faced by an employee refusing to attend work.
It is advisable to discuss their concerns, reassure them on the measures being taken but ultimately to remind them that they could face disciplinary action if their continued refusal to attend work is unreasonable.
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