The World of Work by Harry Sherrard

Coronavirus and the Workplace

As the world enters into a defensive fray against Coronavirus (COVID-19), employers naturally have many questions on how to keep their employees and business as safe as possible, and also what they should be paying any employees who are in isolation.

Here are a few FAQ’s:

Is an employee entitled to sick pay whilst in isolation?

The Government has stated that Statutory Sick Pay should be paid from the first day of absence if an employee has been advised by a doctor or NHS 111 to self-isolate. This will generally apply to employees who have returned from a high-risk area, or who have returned from a medium risk area and feel unwell.

Some employers offer enhanced company sick pay, which is generally linked to statutory sick pay and so will generally also be payable in these circumstances.

High risk areas are thankfully still quite few and far between but currently include China, Iran, Italy and South Korea.

Employees returning from other areas

Employees who return from other areas might choose to self-isolate anyway. They would not be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay and they wouldn’t be entitled to any other pay. You might however wish to consider paying such employees anyway to deter them from coming into work and spreading the virus.

You could instruct them to stay at home; in those circumstances the employee would definitely have a right to be paid.

Can we instruct employees to work from home?

You can ask employees to work from home. However, employees who are in self-isolation following medical advice will be considered “sick” and so you couldn’t force those employees to work.

Can we stop employees travelling overseas at all?

You can certainly stop business travel – and many employers already have.

However, banning personal travel and holidays is more problematic and generally won’t be possible or advisable.

Employees who have holidays booked to anywhere other than the highest risk areas probably won’t be able to claim their money back on insurance if they cancel. The Government is not currently advising against travelling at all, and so it would probably be unreasonable for you to instruct your employees not to travel overseas on their holidays.

Can we prevent new-starters from beginning work with us if they have travelled from outside of the UK within 3 weeks?

A blanket policy like this is not advisable – as it is potentially indirectly discriminatory on the grounds of race. However, you could justify delaying the start dates of new starters who have travelled to high risk areas or medium risk areas.

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