18 March 2020
As the government continues to tighten measures designed to restrict the spread of Covid-19, employers are facing increasing pressures. With significant restrictions already in place that have far reaching implications, how can employees maintain productivity and act responsibly whilst navigating these unchartered waters.
The emphasis at this stage continues to be on the old adage ‘prevention is better than cure’.
Working from home and the office
The government has now advised us all to be working from home where possible. As an employer we have a duty of care towards our employees so keep up-to-date with the advice from the government and ensure clear and regular communication with your workforce – this could be critical to reassure them during this unprecedented time.
Promote and encourage good hand hygiene routines to include the provision and use of soap and hand sanitising lotion around the office/work environment.
Encourage the single use and disposal of tissues when coughing and sneezing.
Review and update your BCP (business continuity plan) and make it visible so that everyone knows what is expected of them.
What are the implications of remote working and its practicalities to your business – is it possible? You may need to consider home working risk assessment and insurance for any devices being operated in homes, as they may not be covered by your business insurance.
Have you got critical functions in your business covered by more than one person? Can those functions be performed remotely or by an alternative provider (e.g. payroll, if your senior accounts staff are unable to do it can your accountant come in and assist or a payroll agency)?
Consistency of treatment is important, make sure you are well informed in advance and how to apply different policies if necessary.
Vitally for those needing to attend the office remind employees if they feel unwell not to come to work but to stay home and go to the NHS website and complete the questionnaire. If advised to self-isolate, they should do so for at least seven days.
Sick Leave and Absence
If you haven’t already done this then it’s critical you review your policies on absence and pay and if necessary update these in accordance with any new government legislation and ensure you have communicated these to your people so they know where they stand. They will be worrying about paying their mortgages if they are ill. Get familiar with what you do ordinarily for sick pay, is it full pay, if so how long? Is it SSP? When do you pay it?
Review your contracts of employment – do you have a right to ‘lay off’ for business reasons? Get familiar with what this means in reality to you and your business, what can you do and for how long. If in doubt seek advice on this point as it can have consequences, it’s not an open-ended opportunity.
Our Q&A of helpful questions regarding pay, obligations and the different type of absences:
What if the employer asks an employee to leave the workplace? Usual rule of thumb is the employee will be entitled to normal pay as the employer has asked the employee to leave the work premises.
What if an employee calls in sick or feels unwell and goes home? They will be classified as off sick and are entitled to their normal sick pay arrangements. The requirement to report in (by telephone) remains.
What if an employee decides to self-isolate? With the Delay Phase of Covid-19 now underway there has been a huge increase in the number of self-isolation cases for households across the UK. The legal position is if an employee is deciding to remain away from work but they are not unwell they are not legally entitled to sick pay. They are not ‘on holiday’, so technically it is unpaid leave however following the budget announcement of 11 March, statutory sick pay (SSP) “will now be available for eligible individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 or those unable to work because they are self-isolating in line with Government advice”.
The extended SSP will be available for all those who are advised to self-isolate, even if they haven’t yet presented with symptoms, it will also be available from the very first day you are sick instead of four days under the current rules.
What if an employee has been given a written notice requiring them to self-isolate typically issued by a GP or 111? Then the employee would be deemed incapable of work in which case they will be entitled to sick pay.
What if an employee whilst travelling abroad for work find themselves stuck or in isolation? They may have a reasonable expectation to be paid. Or if an employee was travelling on holiday or for another non-work reason and they are unable to get back to work? Should they be paid holiday until the end of the holiday period? Quite possibly in these circumstances. Maybe offer the employee the opportunity to use some of their remaining holiday entitlement or an alternative of unpaid leave. Be mindful of not allowing all of an employee’s holiday to be used in this way as the purpose of holiday is to take breaks from work during the year.
What if an employee is absent and unable to work remotely because they are following guidelines or medical advice to isolate? Unless there is a policy in place or contractual entitlement to cover them being paid, the employee will not be entitled to sick pay. But government and ACAS guidance indicates that paying employees in such circumstances is best practice. It’s sensible to consider how your decisions as an employer are likely to impact on employees, assess the impact and risk to the business. Can the employee work from home or another location? Will they agree to take it as paid holiday?
What do your policies say about caring for dependants? They will most likely have the right to care but not to pay. If it’s not paid leave, do you really want people coming in to work if they are caring for ill dependants, should they be self-isolating?
Please contact our Employment Team if you have any questions.