Taylors Solicitors warns businesses to keep workers informed during Coronavirus outbreak

Taylors Solicitors has urged businesses to keep workers informed of their rights following the coronavirus outbreak.

The law firm, which has offices in Blackburn and Manchester, says companies need to ensure they keep employees updated with absence procedures and provide advice on how to reduce risks of contracting the virus.

The firm issued the advice following a spate of enquiries from organisations concerned about how to handle the COVID 19 outbreak.

Some schools in the North West have decided to close temporarily and there have been cases of medical surgeries shutting down after people contracted the illness.

Taylors said businesses should take some proactive steps to ensure the wellbeing of their workers.

Employers should send out an email with guidance to encourage employees to be extra vigilant with washing their hands and using and disposing of tissues. Where an office has extra space, a business could designate an isolation room where any employee who feels ill can go to wait and privately call ‘111’ before taking any further action.

Employee absences should generally be treated in accordance with an individual’s contract. For those who choose to self-isolate there is no legal right to sick pay, but employment solicitor Carl Atkinson advises that it would be good practice.

He said: “Staff who believe they are ill, but have not yet been diagnosed, may choose to take preventative action by staying in quarantine and, therefore, not attending work. If a company chooses not to pay someone who has self-isolated, there is a risk of an argument that they will be breaching the implied term of trust and confidence and hence constructively dismissing them.

“By offering them sick pay, and allowing them to stay away from the workplace, you lower the risk of them potentially spreading the virus to the rest of your workforce.”

With the coronavirus situation changing on a daily basis, employees may be unwilling to go into work through fear of catching the virus. In these cases, an employer should listen to their concerns and, where possible, offer flexible working arrangements such as remote working.

Employees can also request time off as holiday or unpaid leave, although a business does not have to agree to this. If local schools are forced to close, employees may wish to apply for emergency dependent leave to provide short term childcare and any applications should be treated in line with usual policy. Disciplinary action can be taken if an employee refuses to attend work.

Carl said: “The extent of the virus is, as yet, unknown, but it is important for businesses to keep abreast of developments and communicate with their employees. Listen to their concerns and ensure they know exactly where they stand when it comes to absence, pay or anything else that affects their employment. If necessary, seek advice from an employment lawyer to ensure you are acting fairly and properly as an employer.”