Coronavirus: What are your obligations as an employer?

News on 05 March 2020

Unsurprisingly we have had lots of queries with regard to the Coronavirus. ACAS has helpfully published comprehensive guidance that you can find it here.

This article covers the main aspects of your obligation as an employer around the Coronvirus.

How can we reduce the risk to our employees?

The risk level is currently identified as moderate. Employers should send round an email/guidance encouraging employees to be extra-vigilant with washing their hands, using and disposing of tissues etc. If you have the capacity to do so, it may be worth designating an ‘isolation room’ where an employee who feels ill can go and sit away from the rest of the company and privately call ‘111’ before taking any further necessary action.

If an employee is not sick but is in quarantine or self-isolation, do we have to pay them sick pay?

There is no legal right to sick pay in these circumstances, but it would be good practice. Otherwise you run the risk of them coming into work and potentially spreading the virus to the rest of the workforce. There is also a risk of an argument that - by choosing not to pay someone who has self-isolated - you have breached the implied term of trust and confidence and hence constructively dismissed them.

However, if someone who self isolates does so because they are given a written notice, typically issued by a GP or by 111, then they are deemed to be incapable of work, and so are entitled to statutory sick pay.

But if somebody chooses to self-isolate, and/or is not given that written notice, then they are not entitled to statutory sick pay.

What if employees do not want to come to work?

Some people may be worried about catching Coronavirus and therefore unwilling to come into work. If this is the case you should listen carefully to the concerns of your employees and if possible, offer flexible working arrangements such as homeworking.

Employees can also request time off as holiday or unpaid leave but there is no obligation on employers to agree to this. If an employee refuses to attend work, you are entitled to take disciplinary action. However, our view is that dismissal is likely to be outside the range of reasonable responses, at least for now. If someone refuses to come into work and the COVID-19 issues continue into the medium term, this view might change.

What if my employee needs time off to look after their children if schools are closed?

If an employee's children are sent home because of school closure, some employees would be able to work from home and employers would have to expect there to be some disruption to a person's ability to work as normal (depending on the child's age).

Employees may choose to take this time off as holiday so normal processes and pay apply.

If an employee is unable to work from home, they could be granted unpaid emergency time off or unpaid parental leave.


We hope this is helpful information. Obviously every industry has specific challenges around the Coronavirus and you should contact your industry and professional bodies (healthcare, food preparation, manufacturing etc) for relevant and sector specific advice.