Employers have a duty of care to their employees. There is a responsibility placed upon employers to ensure that staff health and safety is always protected – particularly during the current coronavirus pandemic.
Many Scottish employees will have already noticed company-wide emails and signs placed in communal areas and workstations which reiterate the importance of proper handwashing and sanitising procedures. These should also highlight common symptoms of the virus to help identify instances of infection as early as possible.
Any member of staff who tests positive for the virus will have the same rights as they would have when sick for any other reason. The standard workplace sick leave / pay entitlement will apply. Employees who work for companies who offer contractual sick pay should receive this if their employer is adhering to good practice.
Employees are entitled to claim statutory sick pay if their employer does not offer contractual sick pay. This is £94.25 per week for up to 28 weeks. Under normal circumstances, this would be paid from the fourth day of illness. However, the government have announced that it will now be paid from the first day of illness due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Those employees on zero-hours contracts may be entitled to sick pay. The qualifying criteria stipulates that the recipient needs to have earned more than £118 per week before tax, over a period of eight weeks. This does not include self-employed workers who are not currently entitled to statutory sick pay.
In instances where an employee is visiting an affected area, remains quarantined, or is advised to self-isolate, there is no automatic right for them to receive their full, normal pay. Employers have been encouraged to follow their normal sick leave policy.
For those who have been diagnosed as having contracted the virus, the medical recommendation is to self-isolate for a period of 14 days to contain the spread. Where an employee has been asked to self-isolate by a medical professional, employers are asked to remain accommodating and offer a degree of flexibility when requesting evidence from the employee, as self-isolation may make any paperwork harder to obtain.
In order to contain the spread of the virus, employers are encouraged to consider letting employees work from home when possible. However, employees who do not have the virus, yet choose to self-isolate, will not be automatically entitled to full pay without the approval of their employer.
Employers are also encouraged to avoid arranging business travel to areas which have experienced an outbreak of the virus. Many countries have already closed their borders and current government advice should be followed to ensure that employers are not putting their employees at risk of contracting the virus or imposed self-isolation whilst away.
More information on current travel restrictions is available at www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
When an Employer Closes a Workplace
If an employer closes a workplace or requests employees to stay at home, and the employee is not sick and is able to work, they should receive their normal pay.
This also applies if the employer asks the employee to stay at home as a precautionary measure after returning from an affected area.
Dependents & Care Provisions
Some citizens may need to take time out of work to help someone who depends on them in an ‘unexpected emergency’. This could include situations such as:
- The closure of their child’s school and childcare needs arranged
- Their child or another dependent is sick, needing to go into isolation or the hospital.
In these situations, there is no statutory right to pay for the time absent. However, some employers may pay this depending on their contract or workplace policy.
Annual Leave / Holidays
If annual leave is cancelled by an employer due to fears about coronavirus, then travel insurance probably won’t cover the holiday costs if you do not go.
In situations where absence is likely to have an impact on an employee’s income for prolonged periods of time, the advice is to use annual leave as an alternative. However, this is not being enforced and is at the discretion of the employer.
Step 1 – Discuss options with employers that are beneficial for all parties, such as homeworking or use of annual-leave as an alternative to sick-leave.
Step 2 – Remember that employment processes are in place to protect worker’s rights.
Step 3 – Make contingencies for the care of children and other dependents. Keep yourself and others around you safe.
If you feel that your rights as an employee have been breached, you should first discuss this informally with your line manager.
If you do not receive a satisfactory response, then you can raise this as a grievance with your employer in writing. Care should be taken to ensure that you approach the subject in a professional and formal manner.
Finally, if you are unhappy with the response to your grievance or the way in which the situation has been handled, you then have the option to escalate this to an employment tribunal.
Further specialist employment advice (specifically in relation to coronavirus) is available from ACAS. This information can be accessed by visiting www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus