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Coronavirus – Employment Rights and Responsibilities

With the UK Chief Medical Officers advising individuals to self-isolate, either because they have returned from certain areas of the world since 19 February (currently, Iran, specific lockdown areas of Northern Italy,special care zones in South Korea and Hubei province in China) or because they have returned from other specific areas and have symptoms, there will be questions over the rights employees have and the responsibilities of those employers whose employees have been advised to self-isolate.

Of course, if an employee has coronavirus, the workplace’s usual sick pay policies will apply. However, if an employee has been told to self-isolate, it is not so clear. The ACAS guidelines state that, currently, there is no legal right to pay if someone has been told to self-isolate. Whilst it is good practice to treat periods of advised self-isolation as either sick leave or allow employees to take holiday during this time, this may not be sustainable in the long-term.

You may also have staff who do not want to attend work or events because of the risk of coronavirus. It is important to listen to their concerns and you could explore other options such as home-working, unpaid leave and taking holiday. However, if an employee refuses to come to work (when they haven’t been advised not to) it may result in disciplinary action.

Homeworking, if possible, would be a sensible way to deal with employees who either need or want to self-isolate. If homeworking is not something you currently offer (but could) now may be the time to take steps to enable this.

ACAS has provided the following guidance about what employers should do if coronavirus spreads more widely in the UK:

  • 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
  • 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 develops the virus
  • make sure there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap, and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly
  • give out hand sanitisers and tissues to staff, and encourage them to use them
  • consider if protective face masks might help for people working in particularly vulnerable situations
  • consider if any travel planned to affected areas is essential

With the measures set out above, it is important that you treat all members of staff equally.