As the Coronavirus situation develops, employers are having to deal with the unique challenges it presents in relation to managing their staff. Given the increasing number of cases in the UK, many businesses are understandably wanting to know more about their options and obligations, particularly in relation to caring responsibilities and self-isolation. Here we answer the three most common questions employers are asking.
1. Do we have to pay employees who have to remain at home to care for dependants?
If they are able to work from home without their caring responsibilities impacting on their work, then they could do so and they should continue to be paid in the usual way.
If they are unable to work from home, then you would not usually have an obligation to pay them, unless there is anything to the contrary in their employment contracts.
Employees have a legal right to a reasonable amount of unpaid time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependant (“dependants’ leave”). There is no set amount of time stipulated by law, but the intention is for the time to be used to deal with the emergency – by, for example, arranging alternative care for the dependants. In this current situation, this may not be easy to do.
2. Should we pay sick pay when an employee is self-isolating?
If an employee is self-isolating because they have been issued with a written notice to self-isolate by their GP or as a result of calling 111 then they are deemed, for statutory sick pay purposes, to be incapable of work and are therefore entitled to statutory sick pay.
The government is passing emergency legislation to deal with coronavirus to make statutory sick pay payable from day one of sickness absence rather than day four.
Employees may also be entitled to enhanced/company sick pay, depending on the terms of their contracts and your sickness absence policy.
Those who have not been provided with a written notice to self-isolate and/or those who have made the choice to self-isolate are technically not entitled to statutory sick pay. It is possible that the government could remove the requirement for a written notice as an emergency measure. Employers might also take the view that it is in their interests to pay sick pay to discourage employees from attending work when they may have been exposed to the virus.
3. We want to require all staff returning from overseas trips to self-isolate – do we have to pay them?
If you ask an employee to self-isolate simply because you want to reduce the risk to your other staff, then ordinarily you should continue to pay them in the usual way.
Some organisations have the contractual right to reduce employees’ hours in various ways and it is possible to serve notice to take holiday on employees if certain conditions are met.
Below are some additional resources that employers may find useful:
Articles and commentary by our legal experts on the impact of COVID-19 are all available here.