ADVICE has been issued to employers and staff regarding the legal responsibility to safeguard health, as the Coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads across Europe.
Locally, there has been one confirmed case of COVID-19, from a staff member at Woodley-based Willow Bank Infant School.
As a result, three schools have been closed for a precautionary deep clean; Willow Bank Infant and Junior Schools and Aldryngton Primary School.
Associate solicitor at Blandy and Blandy, Laura Binnie has issued advice on the subject.
Advice for Employers
Legally, employers must take reasonable steps to safeguard the health and safety of their employees.
Ms Binnie explained that current steps should include ensuring that workplaces are thoroughly and regularly cleaned, providing hand sanitisers and communicating the latest advice to all staff.
Although the government does not recommend wearing face masks to protect against COVID-19, they suggest that those exhibiting symptoms should do so to reduce the risk of affecting those around them.
Ms Binnie said that employers may want to review those likely to visit their offices and premises, and identify if any further measures need to be put in place.
She said that employers should consider cancelling or postponing any overseas business travel to areas where there has been an outbreak of COVID-19.
This might include routine visits to international offices, planned meetings or attendance at conferences and exhibitions.
However, employees planning to travel for personal reasons should be directed to the latest advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Employers seeking to impose a complete travel ban could face a resulting claim of discrimination.
Ms Binnie added that employers should exercise caution to prevent the spread of the disease.
If an employee is suspected of having COVID-19, the government’s current advice is that no immediate action needs to be taken until lab tests are completed.
However, an employer could suspend an employee who may have been exposed to the virus, in line with its health and safety obligations explained Ms Binnie.
They could also be allowed to work from home until the risk has passed.
In both of these situations, it would be safest to continue to pay the employee’s wages and to be consistent and sensitive in any similar situations.
Advice for Employees
Staff also have a duty of care in the workplace and to the colleagues around them, explained Ms Binnie.
Anyone coming to work who knows or suspects that they may have COVID-19, or has returned from an affected region, could be breaching their contract of employment.
Employees who need to self-isolate for more than seven days will require a medical note and confirmation of their fitness to return to work, as with any illness.
Whether and how much an employee is paid after an initial seven day period of sickness will depend on their contract of employment and their employer’s policies.
In some situations, employers may receive statutory sick pay of £94.25 a week for a period of up to 28 weeks, instead of their normal pay.
Ms Binnie explained that health secretary, Matt Hancock, said self-isolation should be considered “sickness for employment purposes”.
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) recommends that employees advised to self-isolate should receive their normal pay, but this is not a legal requirement.
Importantly, employees choosing to self-isolate without a clear reason may be considered to be seeking unnecessary time off work, could face disciplinary action through the normal channels.
Further information can be found at www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus