Coronavirus: what employers should consider? - Kuits Solicitors Manchester

Coronavirus: what employers should consider?

Coronavirus: what employers should consider?

20th February 2020 - Published by

With the risk to the public from coronavirus being increased from low to moderate in the UK and nine people testing positive for the virus in England, we have seen an increase in employers seeking advice on how this could affect their workforce and what options are available to them.

Below are some of the most common questions we have been asked.

An employee has returned from travelling in an ‘affected area’ (as identified in the government guidance), can the employer prevent them from returning to work?

Current government guidance only requires those returning from affected areas to place themselves in quarantine if they are showing symptoms of the virus. Therefore, if an employee is not showing symptoms, they are entitled to return to work. The guidance is frequently updated and you should keep an eye on this.

An employer could consider whether they are able to require the employee to work from home for a specified period until it is clear they do not have the virus. Of course this may not be suitable for every workplace. Employers could also consider allowing the employee a period of leave for quarantine purposes.

If the employee is not showing the symptoms and they are fit and available to work, they will be entitled to their normal pay and benefits if an employer instructs them to remain away from the workplace.

What if the rest of the workforce are demanding that you stop employees, who are returning from an affected area, coming into work?

This is a risky area for employers. Our advice is to educate staff on the government guidelines and invite any employees to express their concerns in a private forum. Employers should ensure that their health and safety at work policy contained in any handbook signposts the relevant government guidance.

Employers could find themselves vicariously liable for any employees who act prejudicial towards employees with a Chinese heritage or family connections. The obvious risk to employers is a claim of harassment on grounds of race for any inappropriate comments made in relation to another employee. To avoid this, employers should take all reasonable steps to prevent this behaviour in the workplace by implementing a zero tolerance approach to bullying and harassment in the workplace. Employees should be trained on the terms of a policy. The employer must also take appropriate disciplinary action against any employee who contravenes the policy.

Can an employer take any steps to mitigate the impact on supply chains?

Last week, JCB announced that 25% of its suppliers were closed in China and others were working at reduced capacity.  In response, JCB reduced its staffing hours and implemented a suspension of overtime.  JCB said that it would continue to pay staff for their full hours but they would have to work it back later in the year.

Our advice for employers is to check your contracts of employment (including any collective bargaining agreement) to ascertain your rights to implement short-term working.  If this is not covered by the contract of employment then we recommend that employees try to agree changes to working schedules with those employees affected.

Any employers requiring specific advice or assistance on the impact of coronavirus on their workforce should contact the Kuits Employment Team on 0161 838 7806.

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