Those are the words of the World Health Organisation in relation to Coronavirus. We all hope that by the time this article goes to print, there will be less media hysteria and more informed, factual commentary, and that the panic is over. However, the blanket media coverage of the outbreak of the Coronavirus, raises some interesting questions for employers - it is vital that employers act quickly to assess the impact on their businesses in what is a fluid and challenging situation.
So what should you do if you suspect that an employee has been exposed to the virus? In the first instance, it is important that you check what existing policies and procedures in relation to staff sickness are in place, and to follow them. It is also advisable that you keep abreast of any information from the World Health Organisation.
If you have any employees either based in or who have travelled to countries currently affected (China, Singapore, etc) it is important that you make contact with them to discuss their own situation and, in particular, any medical advice that they have received, or precautions to minimise the risk of infection.
In the instance of an employee having returned to the UK and has either been put under quarantine, or self-isolated, you may have to give consideration of allowing the employee to take paid leave.
If the employee feels as though they are still able to work, consideration should be given to making workplace adjustments, for example working from home, or allowing for meetings to be held via video conferencing.
In the event of an employee being medically diagnosed with the virus, your sickness absence procedures should commence, and any contractual obligations around sick pay examined and acted upon.
All employers should follow good practice, but if you suspect that an employee is abusing the situation, it would be advisable to investigate the nature and extent of their alleged health condition, with a view to obtaining a medical report from a health professional. If, following this, it becomes apparent the employee has taken advantage of the situation, you can consider taking the employee through your disciplinary procedures.
As you are aware, you have a duty of care to your employees, and it is vitally important to have clear communication setting out the company’s policy regarding the personal hygiene, and steps that can be taken to minimise the risk of infection, and protect the workforce in general.
This is one of those ever-evolving situations that could develop, and may disappear as quickly as it emerged. Whichever way it goes, make sure you are prepared and are fully up to speed in terms of best practice and company policies.
For advice on this and any other employment related issues, contact the expert team at Wilson Browne Solicitors on 0808 115 1355.