Management of quarantine, childcare and medical leave for employees affected by COVID-19.
Unless they are well and able to work from home, employees will be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (and may also be entitled to the employer’s company sick leave and pay) if they are:
- sick and diagnosed with coronavirus, or have coronavirus symptoms;
- self-isolating because a member of their household has coronavirus symptoms, or on an official instruction, because they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive with coronavirus;
- shielding because they are classed as extremely vulnerable and were notified they should follow the shielding measures.
There are a few options available for employees who need to care for a dependant who is sick or children who are unable to go to school. Employees who are unable to work because they have caring responsibilities resulting from COVID-19 can be furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. The other options would involve employees taking unpaid leave, such as dependant’s leave (they can take a “reasonable” amount of time off when pre-arranged care for a dependant has unexpectedly become disrupted or terminated) or employees with at least one year’s continuous service could take parental leave (they can take up to 4 weeks’ leave in a year, in blocks of a week).
Employees who fear infection and refuse to work.
If the employee is able to work from home then they should do so and be paid in full. If they cannot, the issue should be treated carefully. There may be health and safety reasons for employees not wanting to attend the workplace, such as a confirmed case of the virus or they have genuine health concerns which make them more vulnerable, or they live with vulnerable family members. From an employment law perspective, failure to obey reasonable and lawful management instructions is a breach of contract. Therefore, unless the employee has a good reason not to attend the workplace, an employer would be entitled to discipline the employee for refusing to attend, and might also be entitled to withhold wages.
Disclosure of employees who are infected.
Employers should keep staff informed about cases and infection risk in the organisation, but in most cases it will not be necessary to name the individual, and their identity should not be disclosed. Employers should not provide more information than necessary – they should simply inform staff that an employee has the virus and that appropriate precautions should be taken. This is because information about an employee’s health is a ‘special category personal data’ and it can only be processed, including by being disclosed, in restricted circumstances.
As pregnant women have been “strongly advised” to socially isolate, avoid travelling on public transport and work from home where possible, employers should allow pregnant women to work from home if possible. Where the nature of their role means that they cannot work from home and there is no suitable alternative work available that they could do from home, the employer should consider medically suspending the employee on full pay.