Coronavirus: your questions answered

06 April 2020

More detail on the rights of employers and employees

If an employee does not have the virus but is living with someone who does, should they be signed off sick?

They certainly should stay at home. If they are not ill but can work from home then there is no need for them to be treated as being on sick leave. If they cannot work at home then the Statutory Sick pay scheme has been amended to make it clear that the time they spend self-isolating will count as a period of incapacity for work.

What evidence can I ask for as proof that an employee is genuinely ill or required to self-isolate?

The normal practice of obtaining a fit note from a GP is clearly no longer a feasible option. The Government has introduced an online scheme through NHS 111 under which an employee, after answering a series of questions can be emailed an ‘isolation note’ indicating that they should remain at home either because they have coronavirus symptoms or because they should be self-isolating. This note will be deemed to be adequate evidence of their inability to work for the purposes of SSP – essentially equivalent to a fit note.

Can an employee refuse to come to work for fear of contracting the virus?

If the workplace is not one that the Government has ordered to close, then the position remains that employees can be required to work. The strong government advice is that the employee should work from home whenever this is possible. But where homeworking is simply not an option the advice is that employees can still travel into work.

This means that in most circumstances the employer can still require the employee to come to work as normal. This assumes of course that the employer has, as far as is possible, put in place the appropriate social distancing measures so that the workplace is as safe as it can be. If the employee reasonably believes the employer is instructing the employee to work in unsafe conditions and refuses to come into work, and is dismissed as a result, that will be an automatically unfair dismissal (and the normal two years’ service is not required).

Employers will want to be sensitive to employees who have good reason to be particularly cautious because of an underlying condition or because of their contact with vulnerable people. We recommend taking legal advice if you find yourself in this situation.

If I am required to close my premises, am I still obliged to pay employees?

That depends on the terms of their contracts. Salaried employees will be entitled to full pay if you close the workplace unless there is a clause in the contract allowing you to lay them off for a temporary period without pay. The same goes for hourly paid employees with a minimum number of guaranteed hours. Where there is no set obligation to provide a minimum number of hours then the employer will not be obliged to pay for hours that the employee is not actually asked to work. However, if employers have to close as a result of the coronavirus measures, they should be able to pay eligible employees and claim the pay back through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (see below).

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