I’ve not written much about coronavirus previously because, frankly, whilst my blogs tend to be topical, it felt overly opportunistic. However, in the last 7 days, the number of calls and emails I’ve received from concerned employers and, in recent days, from employers with fears of members of staff displaying potential symptoms, has sky-rocketed.
Overall, in the majority of situations, there is no one-size-fits-all answer because the answer to many questions is largely dependent on the individual circumstances of the staff member and the approach, and Health & Safety restrictions upon, the employer itself.
In addition, different employers tend to have varied and wide-ranging questions depending on their particular industry and sector and, given all of this, it seems more apt to focus on the right questions to ask as an employer at the moment. Suitable questions tend to include:
- What if an employee says they ‘can’t afford’ to self-isolate on SSP?
- What steps do I need to take in relation to home-working in case the virus outbreak worsens?
- I think an employee is lying about a GP telling him ‘not to self-isolate’. Can I instruct him/her to self-isolate and avoid work?
- Is it wise to pay a higher rate of sickness pay if that sickness absence is most likely coronavirus-related?
- When is it suitable for me to inform a staff member to self-isolate upon return from annual leave abroad?
- Should sickness absence triggers apply for periods of self-isolation?
- How will we claim back the first two weeks’ of SSP pay from the Government?
- If an employee shares a house with someone who is currently self-isolating, should they attend work themselves?
- Do we need to consider lay-off or short-time working arrangements and, if so, how are these actioned?
- What is the status of Fit Notes for coronavirus and/or self-isolation?
- Is self-isolation upon recent return from a ‘risk zone’ abroad, but where the employee states that they ‘feel fine’, classed as emergency leave or sickness absence?
In all honesty, as above, the answer to some of these questions can depend to a large extent on the individuals and business concerned, hence the lack of ‘template’ answers to accompany these questions.
The main wisdom at present is that employers may need to be more flexible in relation to how work is performed and how to apply their usual rules and procedures during this coronavirus outbreak. I hope everyone stays safe and, if you are one of our employer clients, please don’t hesitate to contact us for up-to-date guidance and legal advice on any coronavirus-related issues.