If there is one thing that everyone is speaking about at the moment, it is the coronavirus – and rightly so; we are living through something that we have never experienced before in living memory.

If you are an employer, you may be concerned about the future of your business. The last thing you want is to find yourself in legal trouble for not treating your workforce properly during this period either – it would just be another unnecessary stress on top of everything else going on at the moment!

Supporting your workforce when it comes to social distancing

The current advice from the government is to avoid any unnecessary contact with other people. This is known as social distancing. This includes avoiding gatherings of people, whether at home, at work, or in public, avoiding busy commuting times on public transport, and working from home whenever possible.

As an employer, you must support your workforce to take these steps. This could include cancelling meetings and face-to-face events and rearranging to remote calling whenever feasible, for example, using conference calling or video technology such as Zoom.

You should also allow staff to work from home wherever possible, as well as agreeing to more flexible ways of working, for example, if your employees cannot work from home, consider changing their working hours or rotas in order to avoid busier commuting times.

When work can be done from home, you need to keep in regular contact with your employees and check on their health and wellbeing. You also need to make sure that you pay employees as usual.

Do you have to agree when someone refuses to work because of coronavirus?

If you have workers that are refusing to work because they are afraid of catching the coronavirus, you do not have to agree with this. However, it is important to be mindful that some segments of the population are particularly vulnerable, especially those with pre-existing medical conditions and older people.

Therefore, you need to do everything to ensure they are protected, and for some, self-isolation is the only option. You may decide to agree to unpaid leave or allow the employee to take time off as a paid holiday during this period.

It is also worth noting that the government has recently announced measures to encourage employers to keep on their workforce and avoid making people redundant. This includes offering business grants and loans, as well as a new Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which covers 80% of all employees’ wages up to £2,500 per month if the employer puts them under ‘furlough’ i.e. temporarily keeps them off work but they remain on the payroll.

When employees need time off work to look after someone

In the current climate with schools closing, many employees are going to need time off work to look after their children. It could also be that someone needs care because they have coronavirus symptoms. If this is the case, you need to make sure that the individual receives Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) at a minimum for this time.

Should your employees require time off work to make childcare arrangements or to look after their children, you could offer them to use holiday time for this or they can use time off to care for someone else, which is known as time off for dependents.

Making someone redundant

Redundancy should be a worst-case scenario. When you consider the government wage grants being offered, there is great incentive to keep employees on, as you won’t need to pay their wages for the following three months while we recover from the crisis. However, if redundancy has to be the answer, you need to make sure that you honour the terms of the work contract you have with the employee in question.

Final thoughts

We are confident that we can all get through these trying times together, and there will be light at the end of the tunnel. However, for now, it is important to educate yourself on what your rights are and how you need to treat your employees during this time.

If you’re an employer and you need advice about any uncertainty you’re facing owing to coronavirus, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

This note comprises the view of the author as at 30th March 2020. This note is not a substitute for legal advice. Information may be incorrect or out of date and may not constitute a definitive or complete statement of the law or the legal market in any area. This note is not intended to constitute advice in any specific situation. You should take legal advice in specific situations. All implied warranties and conditions are excluded, to the maximum extent permitted by law.