COVID-19 | Impact on workforces

COVID-19 | Impact on workforces

Employers face a difficult balancing exercise – they need to ensure that it is “business as usual” as much as possible, but at the same time, they have a duty of care to protect the health and safety of their workforce, and have to heed the advice from the medical profession and from the authorities.

We will provide advice and guidance on how best to deal with employees forced to self-isolate, consider what pay employees may be entitled to receive, explore the options for employers where there is a significant reduction in work generally, and consider some of the issues arising from home/remote working.

Further information on how to manage the impact of coronavirus can also be found on our coronavirus resource hub and you can view past webinars at SHMA®ON DEMAND.

Please do let us know of future topics that you are interested in, or for more information about our webinars please contact us.

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Webinar transcript

(Please note this is auto-generated and un-edited)

Hello, welcome to today's webinar looking at the impact of the coronavirus on your Workforce. My name is Jon Heuvel and I'm an employment partner here at Shakespeare martineau
As we go through the webinar today, you'll see that there's an opportunity for you to ask questions on the link. Please do so as we go along and I'll try and answer as many as I can when we get to the end.
So to introduce this topic as Boris Johnson said the end of last week, this is one of the worst Health crisis that this country has seen for a generation.
Problem for businesses is obvious with staff being unwell and unable to work others facing potential restrictions. There's going to be a huge impact on everybody's businesses.
I anticipate that in the coming days or weeks there will be further social distancing measures as we've seen in other European and other countries, which will have further impact on the ability of businesses to operate normally if schools closed businesses are going to need to allow staff to take time off in order to look after their children.
They might have to work from home in order to look after those children.
If transport restrictions are applied in terms of public transport that may be difficulties with staff getting to work. If we see wholesale closures like we've done in Italy where only pharmacies and food shops are actually open for business that will have a huge impact not just on the retail businesses themselves, but also on those people in the supply chain providing those businesses with opportunities.
So there are business continuity issues which we need to think about from an employment perspective. The employer has a duty to protect the health and safety of its Workforce got to balance that against the individual workers rights.
So, how does that pan out in practice?
So let's have a look at what you should do in terms of paying staff if they are off sick.
There may be a good reason why they're off sick. They may actually have the virus or they may be self isolating. But also you might want to think about whether as a business you want them to self isolate to protect other employees again, looking at your duty to protect the health and safety of all your employees.
If you don't pay those individuals the risk is of course that they will then breach. What would otherwise be the iso self-isolation requirements in order to limit the financial impact on themselves?
That might first blush appear to be not your primary concern. But if they do then attend the office and infect others to potential consequences of that one is that you may end up with more staff off sick with actually having contracted the disease alternatively you may have employees who seek to pursue claims against you for not looking after their health and serve safety by allowing people to come into the office.
So you need to think carefully about whether or not you go beyond what is mandatory in terms of pay and offer voluntary pain certain situations?
So let's start for those who actually have the virus that's easily dealt with they would of course be entitled to sick pay the rules for obtaining statutory. Sick pay our that you have to be unable to attend work due to an incapacity and that triggers the entitlement to statutory sick pay and usually contractual sick pay if it's offered would come under the same Provisions so they would be entitled.
Contractual sick pay you offer. What if they're just isolating? Because they don't yet know if they've got the disease, but I think here we probably have to draw a distinction.
There will be some of those who are in mandatory self-isolation the health protection coronavirus regulations 2020 brought in a condition or a requirement that in certain situations people map must sort of 8mt returning from China Northern Italy and that sort of thing in that situation that is a deemed incapacity because it is by virtue of a mandated order and there is a special provision in the regulations which permits that to be treated as if it's a day of incapacity. So sick pay would be an entitlement sick pay would follow just as it does for those who actually got the disease.
No difficulties those who are in other self-isolation. Sometimes that might be voluntary. Sometimes that might be because you as the employer have asked them to self isolate to protect others and sometimes that might be particularly following what the government indicated last week where they've advised people to self isolate.
If you've got cold or flu-like symptoms for seven days now in those situations it isn't True to say that they can't work that have an incapacity to work. And nor would it under normal situation come under one of the provisions to be deemed incapacity day.
So to resolve that on Friday the government passed the statutory sick pay General coronavirus Amendment regulations to permit deemed in capacity in terms of self-isolation to specifically see what it says is that it will extend to persons isolating from other people in such a manner as to protect and prevent infection or contamination with coronavirus disease in accordance with guidelines guidance published by public health England NHS National Services, Scotland or public health Wales effective as at the 12th of March 20 20 and who by reason of that isolation are unable to work.
So if the following the government guidance, then they would be again entitled to statutory sick pay.
What's missing however at the moment is any amendment to section hundred fifty five of the Social Security contributions and benefits act 1992. That's the provision which states that you don't get sick pay secretary sick pay for the first three days three qualifying days of absence and the government made an indication that they were going to amend the rules to allow for statutory. Sick pay to be paid from the very first day as yet that legislation, hasn't he?
So we still waiting for that.
What about other reasons for not being able to attend work again thinking about indications from the government? They said that they were going to extend statutory sick pay to those who are unable to work because they have to care for somebody who has the virus again as yet. We haven't seen any regulations to amend Provisions in that regard, although imagine. We will see those shortly.
Same category. We're still waiting for amendments for reimbursement of statutory. Sick pay for the first 14 days in relation to small employers and that's businesses with less than 250 employees. That's going to hopefully come in the next few days on a practical level. One thing the government has done which is helpful is that they have made a temporary change to the rules as to the documentation you need to produce.
To claim secretary sick pay rather than requiring a fit note, which obviously would require attending that the GP surgery people can now use a formal notification that they can obtain from NHS one one one.
So what could businesses do in practice to minimize the impact of all of this? Well, as I say Obviously making sure that staff are paid and not financially disadvantaged such that they might be tempted to flout procedures is the first and foremost step. Obviously, we need to follow government guidance as a minimum at the moment.
They're not introducing more Draconian, so Distancing measures, but those May well come having said that a lot of businesses are canceling client-focused events marketing events staff events and things where a collection of people will have to gather together or have to travel somewhere. I think that's can only be sensible.
It's worth thinking about preparing for potential home working or for having to change the way in which you run your business if there are restrictions on use of public transport are key workers who need to be on site going to be able to get there. Do you have a provision to offer accommodation or special transport? But Arrangements can we be able to access those and your it systems if you are having people remotely working. Are they going to be fit for purpose thing?
About things like that.
If you are going to apply voluntary rules about for home working or special provision. It's important to make sure that your rules are consistent and fair. You shouldn't be paying some people and not others over and above what their contractually or statutorily entitled to think about the impact across everybody.
And I think it's also about being proactive and in some cases being a little bit inventive. They can be actual benefits positive PR from this both internally and externally if you approach staff generously and allow those that can to work from home even before the government has mandated that that may show Good Will that people will reflect back by being prepared to go the extra.
Do extra things the external side of things is a good example of what I've got in mind is the news last week about Starbucks who'd introduced a ban on using reusable cups. So way to try and minimize the spread of coronavirus. They got a lot of good publicity on the back of that. So there are ways in which businesses can be seen to be doing the right thing some of the big it companies Google.
Twitter and so on have been encouraging staff globally to work from home and if you are a global business it's worth thinking about how the staff in different jurisdictions are being dealt with Aussie different countries governments are applying different rules depending on the severity of the virus in their particular country, but there are plenty of jurisdictions where staff are being expected to work from home if you've got business.
Partners group companies where that is happening if that's something that can be done. It might look good to encourage those here in the UK to do similarly. Even if it's not yet compulsory. It's also an element of social responsibility or on all of us as businesses. This is a very infectious virus potentially fatal to those.
Groups disabled those with autoimmune deficiency and those with respiratory conditions. So we perhaps need to think about the wider implications of our actions in terms of encouraging people to go out and about and potentially there for spreading it that concludes the main bits. I want to talk about today.
Thank you very much for listening and I've seen some of you pose some questions. So I'm going to pick up some of those now and I can't pick up them all then I'll follow up with those afterwards. So somebody's here put what if my employees refused to attend work because they're concerned or fear fearful of the virus. Do I still have to pay them? That's a good question. And I think it's you have to be sympathetic to staff concerns here.
And it's about being pragmatic if it's possible for them to work from home that might actually solve the issue rather than having to consider it further if that isn't possible. If working from home isn't an option.
You have to look at apps behind what their concern is and why they're they're concerned about traveling is it actually a public health issue that they're being advised to self isolate or that there are social Emissions in which case that might be fine. It's also important to think about the potential discriminatory angle with this if you were to impose an obligation on all employees to attend work, it wouldn't be difficult. If somebody is in a category of one of the vulnerable groups for them to make an argument that that is a provision Criterion or practice that's having an adverse.
Packed on them and that's discriminatory particularly if they are disabled for purposes of the equality act. So we need to be careful about that potential discrimination angle.
This is no reason no valid reason for why they're not attending and the anxiety itself isn't potential disability. Then it may just be that it's an absence. You have to treat as an absence without leave.
And obviously they wouldn't be paid for unauthorized absence and potentially if you so wished you could pursue a misconduct point but I think it's these are unprecedented times. I think we have to be slightly careful about how we deal with those.
So another question here. Can I refuse to allow home working at if the employee is simply going to be doing childcare at home? Because that their Nursery has been shut.
Again, normally, I think the answer to that would be yes, of course, you could refuse home working on that basis. I'm working isn't for the purposes of childcare. You can't focus on your work. If you're trying to look after small child. However, again, I think in this particular instance, we probably have to take a slight more pragmatic approach if if it's that all schools are closing then the issue is going to be far wider.
Even if it's just a particular Nursery or particular school has closed we have to perhaps take us out a more pragmatic approach because it's likely to be a long period of time there is of course the right time off for dependents Provisions, but that's unpaid leave and obviously only for a short period of time that might work initially but it probably wouldn't work in the long term.
the the likelihood is that the employees will simply pretend that they are working but actually have to child care if you get too Draconian about it. So I think again it's taking a pragmatic approach on this.
Time for one more question. So okay. I'll take this one. What if my employee is stranded overseas? Well, that's an interesting one.
It probably slightly slightly depends on the reason why they're they're abroad obviously if they've gone on a work trip then The onus is really on you the employer because the only reason they're there and being confined or quarantined or whatever. The issue is by virtue of your requiring them to be there. So I think you would have to accept that to the extent that extra expenses are going to be incurred whilst there there need to cover those could conceivably treated a sick pay but I probably would recommend that you just pay them in.
As normal it's all outside of there that control unless there is of course in which case then it would be sick pay.
And obviously travel insurance is a good thing to check out of this point. It may be that some of the costs can be recouped through that.
Alternatively if it's that they've been on holiday and then they can't come back because they've been quarantined. That's probably something I would do with a sick pay not quite the same burden on the employer as it would be if it's work trip, but we have to be realistic. So I think I probably do that as sick pay so thank you for those questions. I think that's as many as we've really got time to cover today.
I will follow up with those of That I was able to answer after the session and share those with everybody. So just to finish off just a quick promotion for tomorrow's webinar. Same time where my colleague Matthew Sutton will be looking at the force majeure Clauses in your contracts and the ability to invoke those. Thank you for listening and good. Bye.

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