COVID-19 - Employment law considerations from BLM

 

COVID-19 - Employment law considerations from BLM

BLM’s Employment team is constantly monitoring Covid-19 for our clients.

Business leaders, risk managers and HR professionals will need to ensure there is clarity and provide as much certainty and advice to your colleagues as possible during what is an extremely unnerving time for them. Communicating effectively is essential and following the government’s advice has to be paramount. But the actions of businesses will differ depending on the type and size of your organisation. What happens to your workforce if you need to temporarily close down? What is your employee entitled to should they need emergency time off to care for a dependant?

See below for some top tips from our employment experts

  • Monitor news & available government guidance* (Information correct as of Government's evening briefing on Thursday 19 March).
  • Communicate effectively & regularly with workforce, with emergency backup systems
  • Consider home working wherever possible (notably in relation to vulnerable groups, also specific requests around medical conditions to avoid discrimination claims)
  • Send employees home who become unwell with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature
  • Review hygiene, remind employees to wash their hands for 20 seconds more frequently and catch coughs and sneezes in tissues, frequently clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched regularly
  • No travel to high risk areas and only essential travel nationally / regionally
  • Restrict face to face contact with clients & customers, avoid internal meetings and cancel company/sponsored events
  • Identify key staff & who can take their place if absent
  • Employees returning from “high risk” countries or who refuse to self-isolate against government advice to stay at home can be told not to come to work – duty to protect health & safety of other employees, but any exclusion from the office should be specifically tied to potential exposure
  • Weigh up absence v the risk of further infection, and communicate Sickness Absence Policies
  • Employees who follow advice to stay at home (issued by Public Health England) and who cannot work as a result will qualify for SSP even if they are not themselves sick, shortly from day one of their absence from work
  • Employers should use their discretion concerning the need for medical evidence for certification for employees who are unwell but currently do not qualify for SSP
  • Employees who are in a vulnerable group are strongly advised to follow social distancing guidance. Consider how this can be practised when travelling to work and whilst at work, and what you will do where working from home is not possible
  • Duty to protect health & safety of employees, risk assessments required for pregnant employees possibility they could be medically suspended on full pay
  • If employees refuse to come to work out of concern for infection either for themselves or a member of their household, consider flexible or home-working arrangements, unpaid leave or holiday – it is a disciplinary offence not to come into work, but in current circumstances unlikely to be able to fairly dismiss and warnings will need to be given
  • Employees might need to take time off work to deal with an emergency involving a dependant – must be “reasonable” and is usually unpaid, more discretion than usual
  • Employees might be eligible to take unpaid parental leave to look after their child’s welfare – 18 weeks’ leave for each child, up to their 18th birthday, but only up to 4 weeks’ for each child can be taken in any one year (unless employer agrees otherwise)
  • If you decide to close an office, have alternative working arrangements in place where feasible and clear lines of communication
  • If you need to temporarily close your business:
    • review employment contracts for lay off or short-time working clauses
    • seek employees’ agreement to unpaid leave or reduced working hours
    • give notice to employees to take statutory holiday on specified dates - provided that notice given is at least twice the length of the holiday requested
    • consider whether you need to consult employees about redundancy
    • consider making company loans available
  • Consider statutory employment rights, but review against policies
  • Keep your teams informed

 

*Information correct as of Government's evening briefing on Thursday 19 March.

 

Disclaimer: This document does not present a complete or comprehensive statement of the law, nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight issues that may be of interest to customers of BLM. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in any particular case.

 

Who to contact

Laura
D'Arcy

Partner , Manchester

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