February 24, 2020
In response to the coronavirus outbreak, Acas has published new advice to help employers understand their workers’ rights and how to handle the impact of the virus. The guidance includes tips on how to deal with sick pay, staff in quarantine and staff who do not want to come into work due to fears over catching the coronavirus. It also looks at what to do if the virus spreads widely in the UK or if a business needs to shut temporarily.
Acas Chief Executive Susan Clews said: “The increase in coronavirus cases is headline news around the world and there are genuine concerns around how to deal with its impact on UK workplaces. Employers and workers have started to get in touch with us to ask what their rights are at work when dealing with potential coronavirus cases.”
Self-isolation and quarantine
A workplace’s normal sick pay policies apply if someone has coronavirus. However, if someone is not sick and is able and willing to work but their employer tells them not to come in, then they should get their usual pay. This would be the case if someone has returned from China since the virus outbreak and their employer asks them not to come in as a precaution.
If someone is not sick and is able and willing to work but their employer tells them not to come in, then they should get their usual pay
In contrast, there is no obligation to pay someone who is not sick but cannot work as they have been advised by a medical expert to self-isolate or the authorities have told them to go into quarantine. However, Acas’s advice is that it’s good practice for an employer in this situation to treat the absence as sick leave or offer the employee the option to take the period as paid annual leave. This can help to reduce the risk that a staff member may feel compelled to come into work, which could spread the virus if they have it.
Managing concerned staff
If an employee does not want to come into work due to concerns around catching coronavirus, then Acas says employers should offer reassurance. They might also consider offering homeworking or allowing the person to take some time off as holiday or unpaid leave.
Dealing with an outbreak
If coronavirus spreads more widely in the UK, Acas advice is that employers should:
- make sure staff contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date
- make sure managers are clear on absence policies
- implement NHS advice on hygiene such as encouraging everyone to wash their hands regularly and ensuring there are clean places to wash hands with soap and water
- give out hand sanitisers and tissues to staff and encourage their use
Closing the workplace
The guidance also says that employers should plan in case they need to close their workplace temporarily. Considerations should include asking staff to work from home if possible and putting arrangements in place to communicate with staff.
Image by Gerd Altmann