Coronavirus toolkit: FAQs for employers

For the latest information and advice for employers on how to deal with the latest covid-19 strain of coronavirus, find step-by-step guidance in the Croner-i coronavirus toolkit

Here we set out eight key questions you should be asking as cases of covid-19 spread in the UK and businesses are put on high alert as they face up to a fast-moving health crisis.

1. Can I cancel an employee’s annual leave if I know they are going to an affected area?

The law allows you to cancel annual leave that has already been authorised as long as you give the minimum required notice but you should proceed with caution here. Cancelling leave which has already been authorised, in any situation, is not likely to go down well with the employee and will often lead to a loss of money for them. If you proceed with cancellation, consider offering compensation for the employee’s financial loss. But there may also be a discrimination risk here; cancelling all leave to certain countries may have a disproportionate impact on certain employees who are using their leave to visit family abroad.

2. Do I have to allow employees to cancel their booked period of annual leave if they cannot travel abroad as planned?

No, there is no requirement for you to do this. If you have specific rules on allowing employees to cancel their leave, you should stick to these but, in the circumstances, you may decide to be more flexible and allow cancellation.

3. As a deterrent to travel, can I deduct pay from employees who insist on going to China on annual leave?

It is highly likely that this type of deduction will be deemed an unlawful deduction from wages and so it is not advisable to proceed in this way.

4. I have an employee who was in China on holiday and now cannot travel home because their flight has been cancelled. What should I do?

You can expect that the employee will try to identify other methods of getting back home. If, for whatever reason, they cannot travel back, there are several ways in which you can deal with this.

  • use their annual leave to cover the absence. The length of their absence and their remaining entitlement to annual leave will dictate the extent to which you can do this. Using annual leave like this will have to be agreed with the employee unless you take the step of enforcing annual leave on the employee, meaning you need to give them notice that you require them to take annual leave that is twice as long as the time you require them to take. For example, a week’s leave will require two weeks’ notice. The uncertainty around the length of their absence may make this tricky.
  • agree for the employee to work from China if the nature of their job allows for this and they have the equipment they need to fulfil their duties. The employee cannot insist that they work from China if it is clearly not tenable.
  • agree that the employee uses banked time off in lieu. It is not likely that the employee would have enough lieu time to cover an extended absence.
  • agree a period of paid leave that is not annual leave.
  • agree a period of unpaid leave.
  • agree any other type of leave permitted by the contract that may be appropriate.

A mixture of the above can be used to cover an extended absence.

5. We are due to have visitors to our London office from our China office next month. Should we postpone the visit?

Provided there are no travel restrictions preventing the visitors entering the UK which will take the matters out of your control, it is up to you whether to postpone the visit. Your employees may raise concerns about potential exposure to the virus and you may wish to take this into consideration, though any unreasonable resistance should be dealt with accordingly. If you decide the visit should go ahead, ensure there are robust hygiene measures in place, restrict contact between your employees and the visitors as much as reasonably possible and take more care with any of your employees who are older, pregnant, have existing respiratory conditions or those who have diabetes, chronic lung disease or cancer.

6. One of my employees has recently come back from Japan and told me that they were informed during the flight that there was a suspected case of coronavirus on the aeroplane. What should I do?

It is best to take precautionary measures as your employee has potentially been in contact with someone who has the virus. A period of suspension (paid unless the contract says otherwise) is advisable.

7. My employee has told me they have family due to visit from China next month. I am worried that their risk of infection will increase. What can I do?

Provided there are no travel restrictions in place preventing the visit, there is little you can do to stop this happening. Ensure the employee knows what to do if they begin to feel ill during or after the visit. Suspension of the employee would probably not be appropriate in this scenario unless you know or suspect that one of the family members has the virus but this will be your decision.

8. We regularly receive packages that have been sent from China. The staff in my post room are concerned about exposure to the virus and are refusing to touch them. What can I do?

There is currently no evidence that coronavirus can be carried in packages that have originated in China and so no grounds for your employees to refuse to deal with any that are received. To allay their fears, you could consider providing gloves which will be thrown away after each use, and encourage good hand hygiene.

What should you do as an employer?

The Croner-i Coronavirus Toolkit includes a raft of information for employers from emergency management to recovery plans, statutory sick pay guidance and tips on effective staff communications.

  1. Encourage staff to stay healthy by communicating how to avoid infection through good hygiene and social distancing. Handwashing — more complicated than you think
  2. Ensure that one person is responsible for keeping abreast of developments from the World Health Organization, the UK Government and the NHS.
  3. Consider how best to keep the organisation up and running in the case of an office closure or reduced staff levels. Organisations will usually have plans in place to cover such scenarios. Emergency Management
  4. Implement a policy — should the UK face a coronavirus pandemic, the effects of the pandemic could last months. Organisations may recognise the need to have a separate pandemic recovery plan and procedure which focuses on a short-term recovery programme. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Recovery Plan Policy
  5. Review your HR policies, being mindful that setting overly harsh policies around remuneration may result in employees not reporting travel to high-risk areas, or coming in to work when it would be more advisable that they stay at home. Pay and self-isolation
  6. Communicate to staff regarding the organisation's pay policies and keep up to date with the latest government legislation regarding Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) which has been extended to take effect from day one of illness if covid-19 diagnosed. Coronavirus, self-isolation and sick pay
  7. Listen to any concerns and offer reassurance for those worried about attending work and catching the virus. Although this may be different for every employer, some may decide to offer a period of paid annual leave or unpaid leave, or allow employees to work from home where possible. Homeworking and Teleworking
  8. Review work processes and see if any can be adapted to better safeguard staff, eg, using more online tools and cancelling non-essential travel. Eight essential coronavirus Q&As
  9. Proactively set out your stance on issues like pay to your employees to answer any questions they may have. Coronavirus — self-isolation and pay
  10. Be prepared to act quickly to deal with employees who may have been exposed to the virus to help contain the virus in your workplace as much as possible. Sickness Absence

Useful Q&As

The Coronavirus Toolkit is published by Croner-i Human Resources Professional [Subscriber only]

 

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