Coronavirus- advice for employers and employees
This advice is being reviewed daily. We are monitoring government updates. When changes happen, we will update this page. Information is correct at time of publication on 17 March 2020. Please contact us for specific advice if you require it.
The latest government guidance is here https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/coronavirus-covid-19-uk-government-response
In case coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads more widely in England and Wales, employers should consider some simple steps to help protect the health and safety of employees. Employers must not single anyone out unfairly. For example, they must not treat an employee differently because of their race, sex or ethnicity.
It is good practice for employers to:
- provide hand sanitiser and hand washing facilities for employees, and encourage them to use them on a regular basis.
- make sure everyone’s contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date.
- consider extra precautions for employees who might be more vulnerable, for example employees aged 70 or over, have a pre-existing health condition or if someone is pregnant.
- 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.
- keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace – by email or text message for those who maybe home working.
- reconsider any travel to affected areas.
What happens if I have to self-isolate?
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 have been told to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111.
- they have returned from an affected area.
If someone has symptoms, everyone in their household must self-isolate for 14 days.
If an employee or worker cannot work, they should tell their employer by email or text message:
- as soon as possible
- the reason
- how long they are likely to be off for
The employer might need to be flexible if they require evidence from the employee or worker. For example, someone might not be able to provide a sick note (‘fit note’) if they have been told to self-isolate for more than 7 days.
An employee who earns at least £118 a week, will be paid £94.25 per week for up to 28 weeks. Normally the employee must be off for at least 4 days in a row, but SSP will be paid from the first day the employee is off sick if it is related to coronavirus.
Employers might offer more than SSP – ‘contractual’ sick pay. This will be contained in an individual’s employment contract.
If the employer needs to close the workplace
An employer may want to plan in case they need to close the workplace temporarily. This might be a difficult time for both employers and employees. It is a good idea to make sure employees have a way to communicate with the employer and other people they work with.
When employers can insist employees work from home?
Where work can be done at home, the employer could:
- ask employees 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 employees who do not work on computers
If an employer and employee agree to working from home, the employee should get their usual pay.
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 employees 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 employees have already booked or planned. So, employers should:
- explain clearly why they need to close
- try and resolve employees worries about how it will affect their holiday entitlement or plans
Lay-offs, short-time working and redundancies
In some situations, an employer might need to close down their business for a short time, or ask employees to reduce their contracted hours. Unless it provides in the contract or is agreed otherwise, an employer will still need to pay their employees for the time they actually work pro rata.
- If the employer thinks they will need to do this, it is important to talk and consult with employees as early as possible and throughout the closure.
- If a worker is laid off for more than six weeks over a 13-week period, a temporary layoff can be considered a full redundancy and eligible employees could claim statutory redundancy pay.
Short time working
- To avoid layoffs, employers are highly advised to consider alternatives. If employees are to be prevented from coming into work, such as allowing employees work from home or agreeing they take a period of annual leave.
- Employer’s could offer employees the opportunity to take unpaid leave.
- Employer’s could start consulting with employees to reduce their hours for a period of time until this crisis passes.
Redundancies and dismissal
- The employer could dismiss short-serving employees (employees with less than 2 years’ service) without going through redundancy consultations, but it is important employers contact us to discuss this first.
- If the effect turns out to be longer term. Employers could consider redundancies. Please contact us to discuss this option.
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 would apply to situations to do with coronavirus. For example:
- if employees have children they need to look after or arrange childcare for because their school has closed.
- to help their child or another dependant if employees are sick, or need to go into isolation or hospital.
There is 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, the employee might take 2 days off to start with, and if more time is needed, they can book holiday.
If an employee does not want to go to work
Some people might feel they do not want to go to work if they are afraid of catching coronavirus.
An employer should listen to any concerns employees may have.
If there are genuine concerns, the employer must try to resolve them to protect the health and safety of their employees. For example, if possible, the employer could offer flexible or home working.
If an employee still does not want to go in, they may be able to arrange with their employer to take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave. The employer does not have to agree to this.
If an employee refuses to attend work, it could result in disciplinary action.
If someone becomes unwell at work
If someone becomes unwell in the workplace with coronavirus symptoms, they should:
- get at least 2 metres (7 feet) away from other people.
- go to a room or area behind a closed door, such as a sick bay or employees office.
- avoid touching anything.
- cough or sneeze into a tissue and put it in a bin, or if they do not have tissues, cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow.
- use a separate bathroom from others, if possible.
The unwell person should either:
- use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service.
- call 111, for NHS advice.
- call 999, if they are seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk.
It is best for the unwell person to use their own mobile phone or computer to access these services.
If someone with coronavirus comes to work
If someone with coronavirus comes to work, the workplace does not necessarily have to close.
The local Public Health England (PHE) health protection team will get in contact with the employer to:
- discuss the case.
- identify people who have been in contact with the affected person.
- carry out a risk assessment.
- advise on any actions or precautions to take.
If you are self-employed
If you are self-employed, a contractor, work on a freelance basis, in the gig economy or on a zero hours contract, your rights to sick pay and time off are much more limited.
Some gig-economy employers have said they will offer sick pay if employees have to self-isolate because of coronavirus. Others have said they might offer some kind of compensation if employees have been diagnosed with coronavirus. If employees are working in the gig economy, check with the company to find out what employee rights are.
Unless it has been agreed as part of an employee contract, an employee will not be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay, sick leave or paid holiday leave. If coronavirus means employees are unable to work for any reason, they might be able to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) if the employee is ill, or elements of Universal Credit if the employee needs help with costs like children or housing. If the employee can claim contributory Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), this will now be payable from the first day, rather than after eight days.
A self-employed person may need to claim Universal Credit. The rules around the minimum income floor will be relaxed for the duration of the outbreak of coronavirus. Do not delay making a claim for benefits. The application process for benefits will be longer than the 14-days recommended for self-isolation.
Please download our free Homeworking Policy below.
GOVERNMENT ADVICE ON HOME MOVING DURING THE CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK
Please see the above link. The government has issued guidance as to how residential property transactions are to be conducted during the lockdown period. The guidance follows good common sense. The conveyancers at BPK will be contacting anyone who is currently involved in a conveyancing transaction to discuss how the lockdown impacts on timescale. If you have any queries please do not hesitate to contact the conveyancer dealing with your transaction.