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Asking employees to travel for work during the coronavirus outbreak

If your employee’s contract states that they will be expected to travel as part of their job, they are legally bound to do so. Failure to comply with their contract of employment can be dealt with through disciplinary action if required. That said, it would likely be unreasonable to issue a disciplinary sanction to an employee for refusing to travel to a country which the government is advising against travelling to.

You should be considerate of employees who are pregnant or who have existing medical conditions, particularly respiratory illnesses, as this could prove grounds for discrimination. You should also adhere to any government guidance on the coronavirus outbreak, which is updated daily.

Staff travelling to areas at high risk of catching coronavirus

We recommend that you advise your employees to avoid travelling to any of the high-risk countries and that, if they have to, they follow any guidance provided by those countries’ governments. For example, many countries are issuing self-quarantine guidance. If an employee is advised to self-quarantine but is otherwise fit to work, it may be worthwhile discussing potential arrangements for that employee to work from home so to minimise disruption to your business.

If you have employees who are trapped in mandated quarantine abroad, you should assess whether they are ‘able and willing’ to work. If they are travelling in a work capacity and have access to everything that they need to perform their job, it may be reasonable to expect them to work while in quarantine. However, if they do not have access to their equipment, such as their computer or laptop, and are not ‘able’ to work, it is not reasonable to expect them to do so.

Asking staff at risk of carrying coronavirus not to come into work

The government has provided guidance for when to self-quarantine, which should be followed without exception. This guidance is being updated at 14:00 daily until further notice, which can be found on the government website.

Employee well-being

By planning ahead and ensuring that you are prepared to handle any possible scenario that could arise, you can help to prevent panic should a situation occur.

In addition, regular internal communication to encourage employees to be extra-vigilant with personal hygiene and to remind them of what they should do if they show any possible symptoms can minimise the risk of the virus affecting your business.

It may also be beneficial to reassure them that their well-being is important to you, and as their employer, you are doing everything possible to reduce the chances of contamination within the workplace.

Pay during a period of self-isolation

Where a staff member has developed symptoms of coronavirus, the employee would be ‘sick’ in the conventional sense of the word, and on that basis, entitled to sick pay in accordance with their contract of employment.

Those members of staff who are not displaying any symptoms, but have it in writing that they should self-isolate as a result of seeking medical advice from their GP or NHS 111, should also be considered as being on sick leave for employment purposes, entitling them to receive sick pay.

However, if the employee chooses to self-isolate without first seeking medical advice, arguably, this would not constitute incapacity for work, so sick pay would not necessarily be payable. In this situation, we would recommend asking the employee to take medical advice in relation to their self-isolation before deciding on how to proceed.

Plan for how you will deal with the situation if an employee develops coronavirus

Should an employee be confirmed as carrying the coronavirus, prompt action will need to be taken to safeguard your other employees. This may include deciding whether this should be announced and, if so, in what format. You should be considerate of the employee’s data protection rights and anonymising accordingly. The announcement should reassure other employees that you are taking all of the appropriate actions to minimise further spreading of the illness.

It may also include conducting a thorough cleanse of the workspace and how the infected individual would be dealt with under your sickness procedures.

Further advice

Coronavirus in the UK is still at an early stage. Although the risk of becoming infected is only considered to be ‘moderate’, it will inevitably be a worrying time for some employees.

More advice for employers and employees concerning the coronavirus is available on the NHS, Acas and government websites.

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