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Coronavirus - What to do when employees need to self-isolate

18 Mar 2020

What is it all about?

Self-isolation is about protecting others and stopping the spread of COVID-19, the Coronavirus by staying at home and not interacting with others. According to recent guidance, self-isolation is the most effective way of preventing the virus from spreading.

Sarah Hall, Partner in the Employment Team at Hay & Kilner, covers how employers can handle this important situation.

Who needs to self-isolate?

  • People who are waiting for a COVID-19 test result
  • People who have been in close contact with someone with the virus
  • Travellers who have returned from infected countries

(For full and up to date details, see government guidance)

What if an employee refuses to self-isolate?

If there is an identified risk that an employee should self-isolate then, in light of an employer’s duty to protect the health and safety of other employees, an employer may wish to keep that employee away from the workplace until the risk has passed.

The employer should first of all consider whether it has a contractual right to require the employee to stay at home. However, even if there is no such right, it is unlikely to be a breach of contract to require an employee to stay at home in these circumstances. It is essential however that there are reasonable and non-discriminatory grounds for concern and that the matter is dealt with appropriately and sensitively.

Employers will of course wish to consider whether working from home is an option for the employee (unless they are too ill to work).

Is there a right to pay?

Again consideration would need to be given to the terms of the employment contract. However, assuming there is no contractual right to pay:

  • If the employee is diagnosed with coronavirus, or otherwise too unwell to work, then they would be entitled to sick pay.
  • If the employee is not unfit to work, then it is unlikely that they are entitled to sick pay. However:
    • If it is agreed the employee is working from home they are entitled to be paid for that work.
    • If they have been suspended on health and safety grounds, it is likely that they have the right to continue to receive full pay.
    • If they have self-isolated (but are fit to work) there is no right to pay but, Acas, says it’s “good practice” to treat it as sick leave or agree for the time to be taken as holiday “otherwise there’s risk the employee will come to work because they want to get paid.” CIPD goes further and says there’s “a strong moral responsibility to ensure that employees feel safe and secure in their employment”. But this is only guidance and employers may be wary of ‘malingerers’ …

What else should you do?

Acas also recommends that employers should:

  • keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace
  • make sure everyone’s contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date
  • make sure managers know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes
  • make sure there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap, and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly
  • give out hand sanitisers and tissues to staff, and encourage them to use them
  • consider if protective face masks might help for people working in particularly vulnerable situations
  • consider if any travel planned to affected areas is essential

We can help

If you need any assistance dealing with the impact of self-isolation in the workplace, please contact Sarah Hall, or call 0191 232 8345.

Read the latest update here.