D-BRIEF – Employment & Pensions Blog: COVID-19 FAQ’s

Unsurprisingly, we received an increasing number of questions this week related to Covid-19 and staffing arrangements. Here is an overview of some of the most frequent queries that we have been dealing with.

What is our duty of care towards pregnant employees?

Employers have special health and safety duties in the context of pregnancy which require them to assess the particular workplace risks which are posed to expectant or new mothers or their babies.

Pregnant employees are amongst the groups who have been advised to be particularly stringent in following social distancing measures. For many who want to follow this advice, it will mean that they are not able to come into the workplace. If they can work from home then that should be implemented but an employer should take appropriate steps to ensure that their home environment is appropriate. If an employee wants to keep coming to work then the pregnancy health and safety duties would again apply which may ultimately result in the employee having to be suspended on health and safety grounds (on full pay) if the employer cannot avoid the significant risks which they are exposed to within the workplace.

What if we don’t need employees to carry out their roles at the moment?

Some employers will be seeing a downturn in work which means they don’t have enough work to occupy all their employees. Whilst this is likely to be temporary, at the moment it is difficult to predict how long this will continue for and employers may not want to continue paying salaries if they don’t have enough work for employees to do.

The Government’s announcement about the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will provide a solution for many – see more about this here.

Can I require employees to take holiday during this period?

Providing there are no exclusions in the individual’s employment contract, you may require them to take statutory annual leave provided you give them the prescribed amount of notice.

Should we send employees to attend jobs at properties where residents are self-isolating?

Employers have a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their workforce however they will also have certain duties as a landlord. There are circumstances in which it would be possible to require employees to attend at a resident’s property, and where failure to comply would be a disciplinary matter but employers should be careful about what they enforce and how.

Do employees have the right to be notified if colleague/resident develops the virus?

Information about an individual’s health is “special category” personal data under data protection legislation which means it can only be processed in certain circumstances. To comply with employer duties to provide a safe place of work, employees should be notified of the infection risk as soon as possible, however where possible the identity of the individual should not be disclosed. An employer should simply advise that an employee who has been in the workplace has been infected and that appropriate precautions should be taken. The ICO has published specific guidance which can be accessed here.

If you have any more questions, please contact a member of the Employment, Human Resources & Pensions team.

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