As the response to COVID-19 changes daily, many employers are left in limbo wondering how exactly they should be responding. People are becoming very concerned and businesses are being affected. To help bring some clarity we have compiled the questions we are being asked most frequently by our clients:
When do my staff need to self-isolate?
Current guidance from the Government is that if staff can, then they should work from home. However, with regards to complete self-isolation, people should remain at home if they have a high temperature or a new continuous cough.
If employees are self-isolating they should be advised that they do not need to call the NHS 111 number unless they cannot cope with their symptoms, or if their conditions worsen or don’t get better after 7 days.
Do I have to pay my staff if they self isolate?
New legislation has been passed quickly by the Government, which details how employers should pay Statutory Sick Pay to all self-isolating employees, providing that they are doing so in accordance with the guidance published by Public Health England.
SSP now begins from the first day of their absence, not the usual 4th day. Also, remember that if you have a contractual sick pay scheme in place, your employees may also be entitled to that contractual sick pay as well.
When will I have to shut my premises down?
Currently, there is no need to close your workplace if you have suspected cases of COVID-19 or if you are awaiting results. You also don’t need to close down your workplace if a member of staff, or a member of the public who has been in your workplace, has confirmed COVID-19.
The Public Health England will discuss the situation with you and advise you on your next steps after a Risk Assessment has been carried out.
Do I need to pay my staff if I have been told by The Public Health that I need to shut down?
Your staff are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay if they have been sent home to self-isolate, or you have been told to shut down your workplace.
Can I require my staff to take annual leave if our premises are closed due to COVID-19?
You are entitled to give notice requiring your staff to take some of their statutory holidays on specified dates. You must ensure this notice is twice as long as the length of period of leave that the worker is being told to take. Although it states Under Reg 15(2) of the Working Time Regulations 1998 that this is your legal right, please respect that some of your staff may consider their holiday to be their right, and to take as they will.
However, with the Statutory Sick Pay currently being £94.25 per week, you might find your staff preferring to use their holiday. Although if someone was sick during the time they were asked to go on annual leave, they can notify their sickness and take the day as sick leave.
If the Government shuts down Schools and Nurseries, will I need to pay my staff if they need to be at home and care for their children?
Unless they’re working from home, then you don’t have to pay them. Although there are two possible rights which apply here:
Parents who are responsible for children under the age of 18 are entitled to take up to 18 weeks unpaid leave per child. This is taken in weekly blocks and are usually limited to 4 weeks per year, unless agreed on more.
Time Off For Dependants
Under the Employee Rights Acts 1996 s57A and 57B, an employee is entitled to leave if they’re caring for a dependent.
If you have a Time off for Dependents policy, you may wish to check this. However there is no set amount of time that they’re allowed off, it falls down to what you deem as reasonable.
Due to the fact more women than men will be seeking leave, you need to be careful when it comes to bonus’ that they don’t claim for sex discrimination.
Can I ask my employees to check their temperature each day before coming into our premises?
This comes down to staff consent. A GDPR Privacy Impact Assessment Statement would need to be put in place to balance the business needs against people’s right to privacy. It is important to consider and plan the best solution to do this and the correct circumstances, however, we advise you to seek legal advice to ensure you’re compliant with the GDPR obligations.
A non-contact thermometer would also be required so the virus does not spread.
If an employee does not want to go home but I believe they should, can I insist they do so?
Yes, you can. As an employer, you’re in charge of the health and safety of all of your employees within your workplace. If you believe an employee is infected, or there’s a chance they may be infected with Covid-19, it is the employer’s duty to protect your other employees and take reasonable steps.
It is important to understand that you may have to pay your employee full pay, rather than SSP, as you are medically suspending them.
When organising home working for my staff, is there anything I should be considering?
There are many steps you should be considering when organising your employees to work from home; these include, working conditions, how and when you would like to be reported to, expenses incurred when working from home if the data is secure, technology and insurance needed.
You will need to draw up a Privacy Impact Assessment, along with IT and Remote Working Policy Document.
My business is being impacted and I’m worried about my ongoing staff costs when my income is slowing. What options are there to reduce or manage my staff costs going forward?
It is always important to seek legal advice, however, these are good options to consider before resulting in redundancy:
- Be transparent and explain the situation to your employees. They may agree to voluntarily reduce benefits, hours or pay during this difficult time. The agreement and timescale must be put into writing so it is clear for everybody involved.
- Check to see if your terms in your employment contracts allow short term working or lay off. Your employees may be entitled to claim redundancy after a period of time.
- You may want to impose a change of terms and conditions for your employees. We strongly recommend seeking legal advice for this as you are very limited as to what you can change.
- Temporarily freeze pay raises and promotions.
- If you have recently made a new job offer and they have not yet started, you may want to consider if it is appropriate to withdraw these. This may be a breach of contract if the job has been accepted which could result in you having to pay out for any losses. We highly recommend speaking with them before making any decisions.
- Ask your staff if they would be willing to take annual leave or a period of unpaid leave.
The world has been filled with a fog of fear and unknown which makes it a very unsettling time for both individuals and businesses. Individuals are seeking guidance from both the government and their employers, and employers are trying to respectfully deal with this unpredicted situation whilst maintaining strong employee relations. It is important to limit the impact on your employees to help come out of this stronger, whilst still protecting your business.
Our offices are remaining open and if we need to close them our team are ready to work from home, we are always just a phone call or email away.