As the world starts to learn how to safely live with Covid-19 (Coronavirus), employers are faced with the difficult decision of how to handle employees who are suffering from Covid symptoms, and whether to ask them to remain at home or come into work.
An issue with this at present is that employees are no longer obliged to tell their employer if they are suffering from Covid symptoms. Nonetheless, when an employee does inform their employer, for those who can work from home easily, it would be sensible and in accordance with government guidelines to encourage them to stay at home and work from there until the illness has passed.
This is unlikely to have a detrimental effect on an employee’s wellbeing, given symptoms usually pass between five and 10 days, which is not a prolonged period. In addition, salary for these employees should not be affected if they are well enough and easily able to work from home.
However, if the employee is suffering from Covid symptoms and is too unwell to work from home during this period, they should be treated as being on sick leave in the usual way and in accordance with the employer’s sick leave policy. It is worth noting that statutory sick pay (SSP) is no longer automatically payable to employees who just test positive for Covid. SSP is only payable if the employee is unable to work, and only from day four of a period of incapacity.
If an employee has symptoms but is not too unwell to work, but cannot work easily and effectively from home, the answer as to whether or not employers can ask them to come into work or remain at home is less definitive.
If the employer’s sick leave policy allows for staff to be paid their full salary during any period of absence in relation to Covid, then employees should be encouraged to remain at home whilst they have symptoms to reduce the risk of spreading the virus across the workforce. If this is not the case, then employers have a statutory obligation to provide a safe workplace for employees.
As such, an employer should consider what reasonable adjustments could be made in the workplace to ensure that if someone with Covid symptoms needed to come into work, they would not come into close contact with other employees. An example would be to set up an office where the employee might sit and work alone.
If an employer is unsure how to handle a situation such as this, it is recommended that legal advice is sought.
Verity Ingle is an employment associate at law firm Fladgate