Coronavirus: advice for employers and employees

The risk of catching coronavirus (COVID-19) in workplaces is currently low. It’s still good practice to make sure everyone at work follows simple hygiene rules, such as:

  • washing hands thoroughly with hot water and soap
  • using tissues when sneezing or coughing and throwing them away in a bin

Employers responsibility

Employers and employees are responsible to ensure that the workplace is safe and healthy, including preventing the spread of a contagious illness or disease. Therefore, if an employee is exhibiting symptoms of the coronavirus, has travelled to an affected area or was in direct contact with someone who has symptoms, then an employer is required to protect the remainder of its work force. These employees should be prevented from attending the workplace, required to remain at home and encouraged to see a Doctor. They should not be permitted to return to work for 14 days, or until and unless they have a clearance letter from a physician and pose no risk of infecting the workplace. These obligations also extend to visitors to the workplace, including clients, contractors and other guests. Employers should post signage and take reasonable precautions to ensure that visitors are denied access to the work site where they pose a danger.

If employees do not want to go to work

Some people might feel they do not want to go to work if they’re afraid of catching coronavirus. An employer should listen to any concerns staff may have. If there are genuine concerns, the employer must try to resolve them to protect the health and safety of their staff. For example, the employer could offer flexible working where possible, such as homeworking. If an employee still does not want to go in, they may be able to arrange with their employer to take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave. The employer does not have to agree to this. If an employee refuses to attend work, it could result in disciplinary action.

Sick pay

The workplace’s usual sick leave and pay entitlements apply if someone has coronavirus. Employees should let their employer know as soon as possible if they’re not able to go to work.

If an employee is not sick but their employer tells them not to come to work, they should get their usual pay. For example, if someone has returned from China or another affected area and their employer asks them not to come in, just in case.

If someone cannot work because they’re in self-isolation or quarantine

There’s no legal (‘statutory’) right to pay if someone is not sick but cannot work because they’ve:

  • been told by a medical expert to self-isolate
  • had to go into quarantine

But it’s good practice for their employer to treat it as sick leave and follow their usual sick pay policy or agree for the time to be taken as holiday. Otherwise there’s a risk the employee will come to work because they want to get paid. They could then spread the virus, if they have it.

Steps for employers

In case coronavirus spreads more widely in the UK, employers should consider some simple steps to help protect the health and safety of staff.Employers should:

  • keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace
  • make sure everyone’s contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date
  • make sure managers know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes, for example sickness reporting and sick pay, and procedures in case someone in the workplace develops the virus
  • make sure there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap, and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly
  • give out hand sanitisers and tissues to staff, and encourage them to use them
  • consider if protective face masks might help for people working in particularly vulnerable situations
  • consider if any travel planned to affected areas is essential

If the employer takes measures such as asking staff to wear protective face masks, they must not single anyone out, for example based on their race or ethnicity.

If the employer needs to close the workplace

The employer should plan in case they need to close the workplace temporarily. For example:

  • asking staff who have work laptops or mobile phones to take them home so they can work from home
  • arranging paperwork tasks that can be done at home for staff who do not work on computers
  • making sure staff have a way to communicate with the employer and other people they work with

In some situations, an employer might need to close down their business for a short time. Unless it says in the contract or is agreed otherwise, they still need to pay their employees for this time. If the employer thinks they’ll need to do this, it’s important to talk with staff as early as possible and throughout the closure.

Please note that this is only advice and not the law.

This advice has been kindly provided by Serah Goldsworthy.


Phone: 07756 260886