XpertHR offers guidance for employers in relation to the Coronavirus

With the first cases of the coronavirus now confirmed in the UK, XpertHR provides guidance on employers’ rights and responsibilities in relation to the coronavirus.

Cases of Wuhan novel coronavirus have been confirmed in several countries other than China including Thailand, Singapore, Japan, the USA, Canada, France, Russia, Spain and the UK. While the coronavirus is a type of virus that is fairly common across the world, Wuhan novel coronavirus is a new strain of the virus. According to the World Health Organisation, the number of cases reported has exceeded 40,000 and the number of deaths has reached over 900[i].

Jo Stubbs, XpertHR’s Head of Product Content Strategy, says, “With the spread of the coronavirus, it’s important for employers to consider what they can do to protect their business and workforce. For example, they should issue clear guidance to employees who have recently travelled to China or who have been in contact with someone who has.

“If they haven’t already got one, employers should consider putting in place a flu pandemic contingency plan to address business continuity in case the situation worsens. They should also consider implementing an infectious diseases in the workplace policy to ensure a clear approach to minimising the risk of the coronavirus being contracted and spread.”

XpertHR offers the following guidance:

  • If an employee has symptoms associated with the coronavirus, can they be instructed not to come to work? 

Employers are under a duty to ensure the health and safety of all their employees and to provide a safe place and system of work. These duties exist under both common law and statute. Employees are also under a duty to take reasonable care to ensure that they do not endanger themselves or anyone who may be affected by their acts or omissions at work.

In light of these duties, and the serious implications for their business if the coronavirus is contracted and spread in the workplace, employers would be justified in instructing any employee with the symptoms associated with the coronavirus not to attend work, and to seek a diagnosis from a medical professional and not return to work until the symptoms have cleared.

  • Is there any duty on employers to close their workplace to prevent the spread of viruses such as the coronavirus?

There is generally no requirement for employers to close their workplace during a flu pandemic or an infectious disease outbreak, but employers should check guidance from the Department of Health or the relevant public health body on a regular basis.

  • Can an employer insist that an employee who has flu-like symptoms is tested for the coronavirus?

Employers cannot insist that their employees are tested for flu. Testing an employee without their agreement would constitute a criminal assault and could also result in a claim for constructive unfair dismissal. In order for an employer to require an employee to submit to a test for flu, it would need a contractual right to do so. Even then, the employee must be willing to be tested.

  • Do employers have a duty to take special measures to protect those employees who are most at risk if they are exposed to the coronavirus?

Employers should check guidance from the Department of Health or the relevant public health body on any health conditions that could make someone vulnerable to becoming seriously ill with the coronavirus. People at particular risk could include those with weakened immune systems, older workers, and those with long-term conditions like diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease.

Given the duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees, employers should consider measures to protect these employees from the risk of infection, for example by reassigning staff from high-risk work sites or locations. Employers are also under special duties in relation to pregnant employees and disabled workers.

For more indepth answers to these questions and a model Infectious diseases in the workplace policy and Flu pandemic contingency plan, please visit XpertHR’s Infectious Diseases topic page

For more information on XpertHR visit: www.xperthr.co.uk

[i] https://www.ft.com/content/edb06e55-5b8d-3a75-9ed9-7aeb07f1da14