Employee Absence and Coronavirus
When it comes to employee absence and coronavirus, what should you be doing as an employer? You want to know, as an employer, do I pay employees who are absent from work as a result of coronavirus or an associated risk with it? This depends on the circumstances and the contract wording, see below for further information.
Coronavirus is a concern to everyone and this includes employers. According to the Government website, the latest figures show that over 90,436 people have been tested for the virus in the UK and 8077 have shown as positive. The virus is getting ever closer with confirmed cases now appearing on a daily basis in the UK.
UPDATE – 20th March 2020 – Furloughed Employees
The Government advised that employees who are unable to be provided with work could fall into the new ‘job retention scheme’ and are deemed to be furloughed employees.
At this stage the information is minimal and can be found on the Government website:
The updated advice is for employees to self-isolate if they have developed a new continuous cough and high temperature. The requirement now is to only contact NHS 111 if you are no better after 7 days. Further advice is that if anyone in the household has signs of coronavirus that the entire household must self-isolate for 14 days.
Health and Safety
Employers have a duty under health & safety to protect employees which would include informing them of any potential risks to their health whilst at work. Employees are equally under a legal obligation to ensure their own health, safety and welfare and not to place anyone else at risk in respect of their health.
Symptoms of Coronavirus
The NHS advises that symptoms are:
- a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
- a high temperature (37.8 degrees Celsius or above)
Good Hygiene – Hand Washing
Good hygiene is strongly advised to minimise the risk of transmitting the virus. Employee absence and coronavirus can be minimised by implementing clear instructions for employees relating to good hygiene measures. Here are some examples:
Good Hand Washing
Employees could be required to ensure they wash their hands thoroughly as follows:
- before leaving home;
- on arrival at work;
- after using the toilet;
- before food/drink preparation and before eating any food, including snacks; and
- before leaving work.
Further, employees could be required to:
- avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands; and
- catch any coughs, sneezes or runny noses into a tissue which should be placed in a bin and then hands washed directly afterwards.
When it comes to employee absence and coronavirus, it’s advisable for additional cleaning to be carried out to reduce this issue. Cleaning has been identified as an element to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, examples include:
- keeping work areas clean
- having bins emptied regularly
- using antibacterial spray/wipes on telephones, door handles, work equipment, and keyboards
- ensuring soap dispensers are full
As an employer, you may choose to provide hand sanitising gel and tissues around the workplace for all employees to use. You may allow an extra few minutes on break times to allow for additional hygiene routines such as hand washing and cleaning.
Implementation of Temporary Procedures
Ensure that employees know what to do in potential situations involving coronavirus. Implement a policy/procedure that requires employees not to attend work if they have any concerns that they may have been exposed to the virus. A procedure may include requiring the employee to call and speak to a Manager before attending work. The Manager would ask a set of pre-determined questions to determine if the employee should or should not attend work.
The Manager would advise the employee of the category of absence and pay in the event the employee is not to attend work.
Be clear that any employee found to be taking advantage of the situation and remaining at home without good reason will be subjected to a formal procedure.
Payments in relation to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)
The Chancellor has announced today (11.03.2020) that businesses with less than 250 employees will have their SSP payments covered if they are related to coronavirus. The maximum time this payment will be covered for is 14 days. The current rate of SSP is £94.25 it is proposed to increase to £95.85 on 6th April 2020.
Also, we are awaiting confirmation of the date that SSP will be paid from day one rather than day 4 having completed 3 waiting days – UPDATED SSP is now payable from day 1 effective from 13th March 2020 if coronavirus related and includes self-isolation.
Questions and Answers
Do I pay employees who are absent from work as a result of coronavirus?
If the employee is incapable of work as identified by a GP or NHS 111 in terms of coronavirus then they will be entitled to sick pay as per their contract of employment subject to the associated qualifying conditions. The employee will be required to follow the normal absence reporting procedure.
If the employee has self-isolated without having been advised to by a GP or NHS 111 then it is unlikely, they will be entitled to any sick pay, either SSP or company sick pay as detailed in their employment contract.
UPDATED – There is no requirement to contact NHS 111 until after 7 days.
If an employee has been in contact with someone that has the virus, what should we do?
Ensure that employees know not to attend work in the first place – see ‘Implementation of Temporary Procedures above’.
Having spoken to a Manager, the employee will either be allowed to work as normal or told not to attend depending on the assessment made by the Manager.
If the employee is deemed as incapable of work as identified by a health professional, they will be entitled to sick pay as per the contract of employment subject to the associated qualifying conditions.
UPDATED – If an employee has been in contact with someone that lives in the same house they must self-isolate for 14 days.
An employee refuses to attend work, what do we do?
Failing to attend work without a good reason could subject an employee to a formal disciplinary procedure dependent on the circumstances.
Speak to the employee and understand their concerns relating to them not wanting to attend work.
In terms of the employee not attending work, if you believe there is no risk to the employee then you must decide if to allow the employee to remain absent from work. Consideration will have to be given in respect of the category of absence and if any payment will be made.
You may decide there is no genuine reason based on the information gathered why that employee should remain at home. In this case, advise that the employee must attend work or the absence will be treated as unauthorised and managed under a formal procedure which could result in a warning.
What if an employee asks to work from home?
In the event that the company believes there is a risk to employees, it should assess the situation and implement measures to protect the employees. One measure may be to allow employees to work from home where possible.
UPDATED – Government advice is to allow all employees to work from home where possible.
What happens if an employee believes they have symptoms of the virus?
If the employee is at work, send them home immediately. Clean and disinfect all surfaces and ensure all employees who have been in close proximity to the employee wash their hands.
Inform the employee to remain at home, self-isolate, call NHS 111 and take their advice. After speaking to a healthcare professional, the employee should inform their Manager of the advice provided to them. The Manager will tell the employee of the category of absence and payment to be implemented.
If there is any concern then PHE will be in touch with the Employer.
The Manager should advise the employee to follow the advice from the Government in force at the time in line with their own duties under health and safety.
What happens if we send an employee home that is not displaying any symptoms but we believe is at risk.
You will be required to judge each case on its own merits. As an employer in this situation, you would be required to pay the employee their normal pay unless the situation changes and they develop the symptoms.
If the employee develops the symptoms they will be deemed as sick and not fit for work. At this stage, the sickness absence reporting procedure should be followed. The employee will be paid as per their contract, this may be SSP or company sick pay.
In the event the employee is confirmed as having coronavirus, they must inform the company so further preventative measures can be taken and relevant risk assessments conducted. This requirement can be clearly documented in your policy/procedure. Ensure you reflect on any consequences in your rules.
Can employees use their holiday to avoid attending work?
Yes, they can if they choose to however it should be explained that you may not be able to grant the request due to higher than normal absence rates.
Can I enforce a period of annual leave?
Yes, provided you give twice as much notice as you expect the employee to take.
What if an employee has a dependent that requires assistance?
Employees are entitled to unpaid time off to deal with an emergency or unexpected event. The time off is not specified and is deemed to be what is reasonable in the circumstances. You should have a policy that employees should follow in this situation.
Further information can be found on the ACAS website.
This blog is based on guidance current at the time and readers are made aware that the content may quickly become dated or change. We are not medical professionals and any concerns should be raised with such a person.