All of our heads have been swimming with COVID-19 and the rapidly changing landscape.
As an employer, the action you may need to take now will depend, to some extent, upon the nature of your workplace, the roles carried out and the demographic of your workforce, but some of the issues that you should consider from an employment law perspective include:
- Your approach to sick pay – you should consider your contractual sick pay policy, and the practical implications on withholding pay or reducing pay to SSP. You will wish to balance the costs of paying full pay where you are not legal obliged to do so with the indirect costs (in terms of spreading the virus and increasing sickness absence) where employees attend work following potential exposure to the virus, or even when exhibiting symptoms of it, in order to continue receiving pay. Some employers are introducing a new right to full pay for a finite period, in circumstances where the employees would otherwise be in receipt of nil pay or SSP.
- Similarly, consideration should be given to how absence management processes and trigger points may be adjusted to reflect self-isolation and high numbers of diagnosed cases.
- Whether the infrastructure is in place to allow large numbers of employees to work from home. Is the IT system prepared for a high number of employees to work remotely? Do employees have the hardware necessary to work from home? Will additional guidance need to be issued to reduce demand on the IT systems if many people will be working remotely simultaneously?
- Compliance with government, PHE and WHO guidance on hygiene in the workplace, and other preventative measures.
- Some employers are physically separating the workforce into separate units in an attempt to minimise the risk of COVID-19 spreading throughout the whole workforce.
- Consider appointing a coronavirus taskforce who are responsible for keeping track of developments, updating internal guidance and communicating with workers. Consider whether a dedicated intranet page is required.
- Clear communication with workers on your policy on homeworking, work travel and precautionary isolation. Provide regular updates. Ensure that employees are asked to speak to their manager upon return from any overseas travel prior to attending the workplace, and that they are notified of the government’s position on self-isolation as it develops, as well as the employer’s position if more stringent.
- Ensure that employees have provided up to date personal details.
- Identify business critical roles and how they can be maintained. Consider what pay employees will receive if they work part-time to fit around childcare, and the benefits of acting flexibly to allow as many employees as possible to continue working. Consider whether the business would be best served by encouraging employees to work flexibly and making that facility available, or by encouraging the use of statutory rights to time off to care for dependants, annual leave or parental leave.
- Provide clear information to managers on how to deal with an employee who attends work displaying symptoms, or who has potentially been exposed to the virus.
- Identify any high-risk employees and consider whether there are any potential discrimination implications which mean a more cautious approach is required. Ask employees who have been identified as vulnerable in government guidance to contact their manager to discuss working arrangements.
- Critically consider whether any domestic and international work travel and events are necessary. Consider whether internal meetings can be carried out through virtual meetings.
- Where travel is necessary to high risk areas, consider what protective measures should be put in place and ensure that protective equipment is sourced and ordered.
- Identify the minimum safe level of workers required to continue operating, and how that can be maintained in the worst-case scenario. Identify the point at which the business may need to cease operating temporarily and consider the employment law consequences.
The content of this article is not intended to be specific legal advice. If you require any assistance in relation to this area of law, please contact Kath Kidd.