COVID 19: Employment Considerations

18-03-2020

Coronavirus, also known by COVID19 has, in what feels like a few short weeks, presented with one of the most difficult and exceptional periods in recent history.

Despite the access to such high levels of information about what is happening around the world, the fact is that there is still a high level of uncertainty surrounding the effects of the virus both personally and economically. They say that rough seas make for skilled sailors and we are certainly embarking on uncharted territory.

In the last two weeks, the government have ramped up measures in a bid to slow the spread and control the effects within the UK and with this of course brings new challenges to businesses with the government predicting that up to a fifth of the UK workforce could be off sick at the peak of the UK epidemic.

So where do we start?

One of the main principles to consider, as an employer, is the duty to take reasonably practicable steps to provide a safe workplace for staff. This is balanced by an employee’s responsibility to take care of themselves and their colleagues during the course of their employment. The government guidelines are currently built on these principles in the wake of the pandemic to ensure we do all we can to limit the spread and protect those who are vulnerable. Essentially, we need an all hands on deck approach to achieve this.

If you employ people with a health condition which puts them at a higher risk to this virus, it is likely they will be given additional protection under Equality Act 2010 anyway, but certainly further measures should be considered under the new guidance.

One of the first changes to be implemented by the government, to give some relief to both employers and employees, was an amendment to the current SSP rules. SSP is now payable from the first day for those who are off work either with the virus itself or symptoms associated with Coronavirus and the first 14 days of SSP can be repaid to the employer.

This provision is extended further to those who are self-isolating in line with government advice. Further to this, people are being urged not to go to their GP surgery or hospital, and to simply stay at home if they have a cough, a temperature or if they believe they have been in contact with someone who has the virus. The fact is many employees will have little to no evidence that they have the symptoms they describe and many will not be officially diagnosed. The government has urged employers to use their discretion during these exceptional times and to be flexible in view of the requirement for evidence.

Business needs change with the tide, even under normal circumstances, and there are provisions in place to lawfully manage this, such as lay offs and short time working measures. To exercise them, you need to have them written in your contract of employment and there is a large question mark currently over whether the present exceptional circumstances will provide employers with any flexibility when looking at ways to prevent redundancies.

One thing that is very clear is that the pandemic will affect every business in one way or another and it is important to assess your own challenges when deciding on how to navigate through, towards calmer seas.

If you’d like to discuss how we can support you and your business during this time, please contact our commercial business and employment law expert, Byron Swarbrick, on 01482 974513.


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