How do you deal with employees over self-isolation and their return to work?

Time 1:00 pm, May 5, 2020

With dealers preparing to gradually reopen, they are going to need their furloughed staff back, and there are certain things that employers need to know, especially if their workforce has been self-isolating.

Your employees might not want to come into work for fear of catching coronavirus, they may have family obligations, or they may be on short-term sick leave. With the help of top motor trade legal firm Lawgistics, we answer key questions about coronavirus and how it’s affecting your workforce.

Some of my employees are refusing to return to work as they say it’s not safe out. What can I do?
There is government guidance on procedures for the workplace. If an employer has followed them, a staff member can’t argue that it’s too dangerous to go back there.

They need a specific reason to stay away, such as shielding because they’re extremely vulnerable, or they’re caring for someone who is extremely vulnerable. If they don’t have a specific reason, they have to return to work, although the employer must also recognise their duty to ensure that it’s safe there for them to do so.

When should an employee self-isolate?
Public Health England advises that anyone with a new continuous cough and/or a high temperature should self-isolate. No sick note is needed.

Further government advice has added that anyone in contact with someone with these symptoms should self-isolate for 14 days – largely applying to households. The same applies if you’ve come into contact with anyone with a confirmed case of coronavirus.

The executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care has also said that those who have returned from certain regions in China, Iran and Italy also shouldn’t come into work. This list is being updated all the time.

My employee has gone into self-isolation. What sick pay is due?
Any employee who goes into self-isolation is eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP), which is £94.25 per week (rising to £95.85 from April 6), provided all other conditions are met. If they’re on SSP, they can’t be furloughed, because the minimum period for furlough is three weeks, whereas self-isolation lasts no longer than two weeks, so is a short-term sickness.

SSP is payable to the employee:

‘Isolating himself from other people in such a manner as to prevent infection or contamination with coronavirus disease, in accordance with guidance published by Public Health England, NHS National Services Scotland or Public Health Wales and effective on March 12, 2020; and by reason of that isolation is unable to work.’

This change came into force on March 13, 2020 and will expire in eight months.

The employee doesn’t need to have a confirmed case of coronavirus to be entitled to SSP, according to Lawgistics.

Can I send an employee home to self-isolate?
If any employee falls into a category where they need to self-isolate, they are deemed as incapacitated and unfit for work, while you also don’t want to risk them infecting customers or other staff.

As an employer, you should insist that the employee follows the official guidance and goes into self-isolation. SSP is then due.

Lawgistics says that if an employee doesn’t fall into any self-isolation categories and isn’t ill but you would prefer them to not come into work as a precautionary measure, the employee can be suspended on full pay in most instances.

An employee refuses to come into work as they’re anxious of becoming infected. What can I do?
Lawgistics stresses that there is no entitlement to SSP for someone who won’t come into work because they fear being exposed to the virus.

However, as a company, you have a duty of care towards your employees to protect their health and well-being.

If this fear is part of a chronic anxiety disorder, which has been worsened by the threat of catching Covid-19, this health condition will be considered a disability. Allowing them time off, or making changes to the business to lessen this anxiety, is part of an employer’s duty.

But if your employee doesn’t have any anxiety-related disability and refuses to come into work, it should be deemed an unauthorised absence and a disciplinary matter.

What provisions should I consider for anxious employees?
If you haven’t already, it’s expected that you create facilities for employees to be able to wash their hands and use hand sanitiser. While it’s quite difficult in this industry, you should consider allowing flexible working – including working from home where possible. A change in working hours could also be looked at to avoid employees travelling at peak times. Put in place social distancing measures too, such as moving desks apart and having one-way systems for customers.

MORE: Chancellor unveils huge package of help for car dealers and businesses

Ted Welford's avatar

Ted Welford is a motoring journalist for Car Dealer's parent company Blackball Media. He writes for a variety of motoring publications and tests the latest cars on a regular basis. He likes cleaning them too.

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