The HR position on Corona Virus; should we panic?

Claire Vane
March 3, 2020

We are being asked questions about Corona Virus on a daily basis. Our thoughts relate only to the HR aspects and are given in line with the advice given by our own legal advisers.

The government publishes daily updates at 2pm with the latest statistics and advice. You might find this link useful.

Also, ACAS has also produced workplace specific guidance which sets out the steps employers should be taking.

If your industry has been affected by coronavirus and you have a downturn in work, you may also find this guidance on short time working and lay-offs useful.

How can we reduce the risk to our employees?

The risk level is currently identified as moderate. Employers should send round an email/guidance encouraging employees to be extra-vigilant with washing their hands, using and disposing of tissues etc. If you have the capacity to do so, it may be worth designating an ‘isolation room’ where an employee who feels ill can go and sit away from the rest of the company and privately call the NHS ‘111’ service before taking any further necessary action.

Employees who have returned from travelling to affected areas should be encouraged to self-isolate and call ‘111’ even if they have no symptoms.

If an employee is not sick but is in quarantine or self-isolation, do we have to pay them sick pay?

There is no legal right to sick pay in these circumstances, but it would be good practice. Otherwise you run the risk of them coming into work and potentially spreading the virus to the rest of the workforce. There is also a risk of an argument that - by choosing not to pay someone who has self-isolated - you have breached the implied term of trust and confidence and hence potentially constructively dismissed them. However, lawyers consider this argument to be weak.

What if employees do not want to come to work?

Some people may be worried about catching coronavirus and therefore be unwilling to come into work. If this is the case you should listen carefully to the concerns of your employees and, if possible, offer flexible working arrangements such as homeworking. Employees can also request time off as holiday or unpaid leave but there is no obligation on employers to agree to this. If an employee refuses to attend work, you are entitled to take disciplinary action. However, it is likely that dismissal is outside the range of reasonable responses. We have yet to see how things pan out and the frequency and intensity of the outbreak may change our views.

Thank you to Daniel Barnett’s input to our thoughts here.

If you’d like to talk through any aspects of this note, then do please call us on +44 (0) 7801 982334, reach out to us via email or via your usual Consultant contact information.

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Claire Vane

Claire is the Managing Director and Founder of Integrated Resources. She is passionate about releasing potential in individuals and organisations.

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