Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on 26th February 2020 that staff who are asked to self-isolate on medical advice are entitled to take time off work as sick leave. He told MPs that this is considered to be sickness for employment purposes. This is an important message for employers at a time when the Government has said that up to a fifth of the workforce may be off sick during the peak of a coronavirus epidemic in the UK. Employers should note, however, that if an employee chooses to self-isolate without any medical advice that they should do so, they will not automatically qualify for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).
Employers should also bear in mind that if the workplace is shut down they may need to carry on paying staff salaries as normal. However, please note that where employees are set up to work remotely but refuse to do so, they would not automatically be entitled to full pay.
It can only be sensible for employers to give some thought now as to what would happen to their businesses if their place of work were to close due to infection and/or self-isolation so they are able to put emergency operation measures in place if need be.
We suggest that employers consider who in their workforces are already set up to work from home and what provisions can quickly be put in place for those who are not. For example, they may wish to consider who has remote access to the office system and intranet and who can arrange this for others remotely? Do employees have adequate strength home broadband to be connected at home? Can office telephone extensions be diverted to individuals at home effectively? Which staff have employer owned laptops and smart devices and can be quickly accessible? Does any expenses or home working policy sufficiently address concerns for those using only their personal devices and home broadband? Also, do staff have adequate training on data protection and confidentiality issues for remote working?
As concern increases, employers may be wise to:
- raise awareness of coronavirus to its workforce in a measured way referring staff to the NHS website and the government guidance on Coronavirus and good hygiene in the workplace;
- make provision for hand-sanitisers, tissues and suitable bins in the workplace and be open to discussing staff concerns;
- review sick pay and sickness reporting policies, travel reporting policies and decide when and in what circumstances sick pay is to be paid;
- review the office policy on inviting visitors and holding third party meetings in the workplace;
- review the business travel and/or home working policies;
- for multi-office/business centres, consider whether it is viable to discourage inter-office travel for staff and allocate each individual’s work to one office only;
- be open to discuss staff concerns and queries on self-isolation, staff illness and perhaps ensure that a central point of contact/team is appointed to discuss how to deal with these issues consistently; and
- where there are facilities to do so, make available a room for self-isolation for staff who become unwell at work whilst they call 111 to seek medical advice.
This is not intended to provide or serve as comprehensive legal advice and is issued for general guidance only. For legal advice on sickness absence and reporting and employment rights and obligations please contact Elizabeth Johnson or Louise Rogers on 020 7408 8888 or at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.