20 Mar Covid-19 Advice for Employers and Employees
Social distancing and vulnerable people
At present the Government is advising that everyone attempt to stop unnecessary contact with other people – ‘social distancing’. This includes working from home where possible, avoiding busy public transport and avoiding large gatherings of people.
Employers should support their workforce in taking these steps. This might include:
- Allowing more flexible working, such as changing start and finish times to avoid busier commute times
- Allowing staff to work from home where possible
- Rearrange face to face events and meetings and replacing them with remote calling such as video or conference calling
The Government has issued guidance strongly advising that higher risk people take stricter social distancing measures. It is essential that employers take extra steps to protect anyone in their workforce that is more vulnerable. This includes those who:
- have a long-term health condition such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, or a weakened immune system as a result of any medicines.
- Are pregnant
- Are aged 70 or over
- Care for someone else with a health condition that could be put at risk
If work could be done at home the employer could ask staff who have work laptops or mobile phones to take them home so they can continue working. Employers could also arrange paperwork tasks that can be done at home for staff who do not work on computers. If both employer and employee agree to working from home the employer should pay the employee as usual, keeping regular contact, whilst checking on the employees’ health and wellbeing.
If an employee feels they do not want to go to work for fear of catching to coronavirus an employer should listen to their concerns and take steps to protect everyone. If after these steps the employee still does not want to go in, they may be able to arrange time off as holiday or unpaid leave. The employer does not have to agree to this. Refusing to attend work without a valid reason could still result in disciplinary action.
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, i.e. a high temperature or continuous cough
- Someone in their household has coronavirus symptoms
- They have been told to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111
Someone with symptoms who lives alone 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 developing symptoms this person must self-isolate for 7 days regardless of where they are in the 14-day isolation period.
Employers might offer more than the SSP depending on company policy, but they cannot pay less than this amount. SSP is £94.25 per week and must be paid by the first day of sickness, being paid for up to 28 weeks.
In the current climate employers might have to be more flexible if they require evidence from employees as they may not be able to provide a sick note if they have been told to self-isolate.
If the employer needs to close the workplace
Employers may want to make a contingency plan for if they need to close the workplace temporarily. If the employer thinks they may need to do this, it’s important to talk with staff as early as possible and throughout the closure. Unless it says in the contract or is agreed otherwise, they will still need to pay their employees during this time.
Employers have a right to tell employees to take holidays if they need to. This could be done if the employer is required to shut down for a week. If the employer decides to do this, they must advise the employees of the closure at least twice as many days before as the amount of days the employees will need to take off. This will potentially affect holidays staff have already booked so employers should explain clearly why they have done this and try to alleviate anyone’s worries where possible.
If an employee needs time off work to look after a dependant
Employees are entitled to time off if someone who depends on them needs help in an emergency, which would obviously apply with coronavirus. This does not have to be someone they live with and can include a relative or elderly neighbour that relies on them for help. There is no statutory right to pay in this situation, but some employers may offer pay depending on the contract or workplace policy.
The amount of time off must be reasonable for the situation. If a dependent is someone in the same household and they have coronavirus symptoms they should receive SSP as minimum as detailed above.
Now that schools are closing many parents will have an obligation to look after their children during normal working hours. In this situation they can use time off to care for dependents or can take holidays if their employer agrees. It is important that employers and employees talk early on about what’s to be done in this situation and plan. Agreeing flexible working hours such as working from home or different hours may allow for childcare. It is advised that once an agreement is made it should be put in writing.
If someone has coronavirus symptoms at work
If someone becomes unwell in the workplace with coronavirus symptoms they should:
- Tell their employer immediately and go home
- Avoid touching anything
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue and put in the bin; if no tissues are available sneeze into their elbow
- Use a separate bathroom from others if available.
Once home, the unwell person should follow the self-isolation guidelines stated above.
More help and advice can be found by:
- Using the NHS 111 coronavirus service website https://111.nhs.uk/service/COVID-19/
- Calling 111, if you cannot access the NHS website
- Calling 999, if someone is seriously ill or life at risk
If an employee with coronavirus comes to work, the workplace does not necessarily have to close, but they should follow the cleaning advice.
Staying up to date
Our ethos at Infinity Partnership has always been that we are not just you accountants, but we are your partners in business and in these difficult times this has never been more important. We want to assure you all that we are doing everything we can to try and help you should you have any question, big or small, please get in touch, we are here to help.
Please connect with our team on LinkedIn and Twitter using the following links.
Simon Cowie – Managing Director – https://www.linkedin.com/in/simon-cowie-ab36714b/
Greg Houston – Associate Director – https://www.linkedin.com/in/greg-houston-95900a42/
Mark Rhynas – Tax Manager – https://www.linkedin.com/in/mark-rhynas-att-1712265b/
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