Coronavirus - employers' and employees' rights

On Tuesday 3 March 2020, the UK government released their action plan for dealing with coronavirus.

This has left many people wondering how to protect themselves from the virus. The main concern for employers and employees is the advice of self-isolation.   

I summarise below the rights of employers and employees in the event that businesses or staff members are affected by coronavirus.

An important disclaimer: the advice summarised below is as the situation stands on 4 March 2020.  The advice is subject to change as this is an evolving situation.  

Reducing the risk

If a staff member is feeling ill they should be asked to sit away from the rest of the staff and call ‘111’ before taking any further necessary action.

Paying an employee who is self-isolating

Employees who have been advised to self-isolate by a medical advisor should be treated as on sick leave and paid accordingly to the employer’s sick pay policy. If there is no contractual sick pay policy, employees who have been advised to self-isolate may be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (“SSP”).

Employees who have been off work sick for 4 days or more in a row and earn at least £118.00 per week will be entitled to SSP. The first 3 normal working days of sick leave will not usually be paid however, the government have confirmed that SSP will be paid from the first day of sickness in the event of self-isolation. SSP is normally paid on production of a fit note from a GP. However, in these circumstances, employees may not be able to obtain a fit note due to being in self-isolation and alternatively should produce a written notice issued by a GP or 111.

Employees who choose to self-isolate without written notice will not be entitled to SSP.

Employees unwilling to attend work

Some employees may be concerned with catching coronavirus and therefore unwilling to attend work. In these circumstances, the employer may request that the employee works from home, takes annual leave, or takes unpaid leave. There is no obligation on the employer to offer any of the above and if the employee refuses to attend work or use their annual leave allowance they may be liable to disciplinary action for unauthorised leave. 

Business closure

If an employer decides to close the business for a period of time to reduce the risk to their staff, the employees should still be paid their usual pay.

School closures

If an employee is unable to attend work due to their child’s or dependent’s school being closed, the employer may request that the employee takes annual leave, dependant’s leave or, if eligible, unpaid parental leave.  

Employees are entitled to unpaid time off work in an unexpected event or emergency to take care of dependants. Employees would be advised to request dependant’s leave in such circumstances that their child’s school has been closed due to coronavirus.

Employees with more than one years’ service are entitled to 4 weeks’ parental leave in one year for a child up to the age of 18 years old, up to 18 weeks’ leave in total.  Employees would normally be required to give 21 days’ notice before taking unpaid parental leave. However, in these circumstances it would be good practice for employers to waive the notice period and allow employees to take unpaid parental leave in the event that the school has been closed at short notice due to coronavirus.

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