Following on from our previous article, Coronavirus advice for employers, the rules and advice around Coronavirus has been constantly changing.
The current government advice is:
- Only go outside for food, health reasons or work (where this absolutely cannot be done from home)
- Stay 2 metres away from other people, otherwise known as social distancing
- Avoid busy commuting times on public transport where travel is essential
- Wash your hands as soon as you get home
Vulnerable and high risk employees
For those who come under one of the below categories, employers must take extra steps to protect them:
- Long-term health conditions, for example, asthma, diabetes, heart disease or a weaker immune system as the result of medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
- Aged 70+
- Caring for someone with a health condition that might put them at a greater risk
The government has strongly advised that strict social distancing measures should be taken.
For those who are ‘extremely vulnerable’ due to underlying health conditions (they will have received a letter from the NHS), they have been told to ’shield’ themselves for 12 weeks. If your employee has already been informed or think they may be told to shield, you should support them during this difficult period and adhere to any advice they are given.
Employees who don’t want to go in to work
If an employee doesn’t want to go in to work as they fear they may catch Coronavirus, the employer must try and make reasonable adjustments to diminish this risk. For example, they could introduce flexible working hours for those who travel using public transport so they aren’t travelling at rush hour. Or, for those who can drive, they may offer parking spaces, so they don’t have to take public transport.
If the employee refuses to go in to work, the employer may suggest them taking unpaid leave. Disciplinary action is to be taken as a last resort.
Employees are protected by the law from day 1 of their employment for unfair treatment and dismissal because of:
- Disability (some health conditions are covered)
It can be considered unlawful discrimination to force an employee in one of the above categories to:
- Unreasonably force someone to go to work
- Unreasonably discipline someone for not going to work
It is important to take this into account when considering whether employees need to come into work.
The government announced on 20th March that they will pay up to 80% of employees’ wages who aren’t able to work due to Coronavirus.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that for those employees that are kept on by their employers, they will have up to £2,500 a month covered by the government. This was implemented to reduce the number of jobs that would be lost.
Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)
Employees are eligible to SSP from day one of their absence from work.
For the first 7 days off work, employees can self-certify so they don’t need to provide any evidence for their employer. After that, employers may ask for evidence of sickness absence.
Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
If an employee has a disability or health condition that affects how much they can work, they are able to apply for ESA which gives them money to help with living costs if they can’t work, and support to get back into work if they’re able to. This applies to those who are employed, self-employed or unemployed.
All schools are now closed in England, Scotland and Wales, apart from the teaching of children of key workers.
If employees require emergency time off for childcare or to make new arrangements, they can use time off for dependants or holiday entitlement (if the employer is in agreement).
Employers may consider offering flexible working to support those affected, e.g. working from home or altering working hours for childcare.
There should be regular contact between the employer and employee to ensure time off or the changing of working hours can be planned ahead.
Working from home
Employers should encourage their employees to work from home wherever possible. They should be given support to do so, which may include ordering extra equipment.
If your employees are working from home, as an employer, you should pay them as normal. You should have regular contact with them and check on their mental health and wellbeing.
Below are just a few suggestions that employers can share with employees to ensure a happy and productive workforce:
- Start your day as if you were going to work, get up, get dressed and have your breakfast ready to start the day.
- Make sure you have a quiet place to work so you can concentrate. Don’t multi-task and watch the TV while working, not only because you need to maintain a professional environment while talking to clients or customers, but you need to focus on what you’re doing just like you would when you’re in the office.
- Make sure you have a lunch period to take a break from your laptop. Chat to friends, read a book whatever you’d like to do to clear your head for the afternoon.
- While temporarily working from home you’ll save time not travelling to work. So why not add extra activities into your day improve your fitness, get your ironing done, practice mindfulness or various other activities and try not to overdo it on the carbs.
- Make sure at the end of the day you have an end of day ritual to mark that you have worked hard and finished for the day. Log off, chat to your friends (over the phone or video call), play with your kids or pets and chill out.
It is a very dynamic environment currently, and it is important to keep a check on government rules and regulations. If you require any further information or updates, get in touch with our Employment Law team at [email protected].