Coronavirus and Time Off Work

In this article: Coronavirus and Time off Work I consider the many circumstances your employees may have for not attending work during the Coronavirus pandemic and describe the options that are available to you in each of those circumstances.

Absence Due To Sickness
My Coronavirus and Absence Due to Sickness I discuss Self Isolation, Notification of Absence, Self Certification and Medical Certificates and changes to Statutory Sick Pay including SSP Waiting Days and Reimbursement of SSP.

School Closures

On 18 March 2020 Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary, announced that all shcools, private schools, further education colleges, sixth form colleges and early years care providers in England would close on 20 March 2020 for an indefinite period. He also announced that GCSE’s and A’level exams, which would normally have been sat during May and June, were cancelled. That second announcement would suggest that the Government are not expecting to re-open schools before the time the exams would have started.

Schools will remain open to children of “key workers” such as NHS staff, emergency services workers and those working in the food supply chain so they can still carry out their jobs uninterrupted. Children from vulnerable environments will also stay in school.

The list of key workers was published late on 19 March 2020 and it’s quite long so I’ve added it as a seperate post, you can read it here Coronavirus Key Worker Definitions.

When schools are shut, parents may be eligible for unpaid “dependants leave” in order to arrange care for the children. This is normally a brief period of unpaid emergency leave – say up to 48 hours. As there is no legal right to be paid for any of this time or where a parent needs longer, you may agree for annual leave to be used, or for missed time to be made up later, but you are not obliged to.

Steps to consider:

  • talk to your employee early on about what time off they might need;
  • agree regular keep in touch conversations so you are both up to speed with the situation; and
  • try to agree flexible working instead of long periods of time off work, for instance working from home or changing working hours to allow for child care.

Whatever agreement you reach, it’s a good idea to confirm it in writing. So there’s no confusion further down the line.

Time Off To Care For A Sick Dependant

Employees are entitled to time off work to help someone who depends on them (a ‘dependant’) in an unexpected event or emergency. This could apply to situations to do with Coronavirus.

A dependant does not necessarily live with the person, for example they could be an elderly neighbour or relative who relies on the person for help.

There’s no statutory right to pay for this time off, but you might offer pay depending on the contract or workplace policy.

The amount of time off an employee takes to look after someone must be reasonable for the situation. For example, they might take 2 days off to start with, and if more time is needed, they can book holiday.

If a dependant such as a partner, child or relative in the same household gets coronavirus symptoms, they should receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) as a minimum for this time. They’ll also need to follow self-isolation guidance as described above.

Find out more about time off for dependants.

Disabled or Vulnerable Workers

If an individual has a medical condition that make them more vulnerable to ‘flu’, they may be advised by their GP to avoid public places. This may affect them getting to work, or being at work.

They include, but are not limited to, those who:

  • have a long-term health condition, for example asthma, diabetes or heart disease, or a weakened immune system as the result of medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy;
  • are pregnant;
  • are aged 70 or over; or
  • care for someone with a health condition that might put them at a greater risk.

If the individual is disabled within the meaning of the Equality Act, then you will need to consider making “reasonable adjustments” to their duties to take account of their condition. For example, if you could arrange for people to work effectively from home, it would be silly not to do so. Similarly if a pregnant woman is advised to avoid the workplace, you should make appropriate adjustments to her duties.

But adjustments should be based on qualified medical advice, not simply on an employee’s self-diagnosis of some particular threat.

Too Nervous To Leave Home

Employees who are frightened may decide not to attend work to reduce their risk of infection. If they are not ill (or a vulnerable worker) they are not entitled to be paid or to claim statutory sick pay. But be aware that there nervousness may be part of a disability, in which case you should consider making reasonable adjustments as mentioned above.

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 without a valid reason, you are entitled to take disciplinary action.

Enforced Holiday Leave

The normal rules on taking annual holiday entitlement under the Working Time Regulations 1998 continue to apply. Workers may wish to take annual holiday entitlement as an alternative to scenarios where they would otherwise be on SSP or nil pay. Workers are entitled to take statutory annual holiday entitlement during sickness absence but may not be compelled by the employer to do so.

Workers who are not on sick leave can be instructed to take statutory annual holiday entitlement by their employer, provided that they are given the required amount of notice. The amount of notice will be as contained in the contract of employment. If silent, the default position is that twice as much notice as the period of holiday leave to be taken must be given.

Remember, asking staff to take holiday during the Coronavirus crisis could impact on holiday they have already booked for later in the year. So you should explain your situation as early as possible and be available to resolve any worries they may have about how the situation will affect their entitlement or future plans.

What If A Client Closes Their Place Of Work?

If you have employees working at client sites and they close their place of work think firstly, do these employees (as well as other workers) need to self-isolate? Your duty is to your staff first and foremost. Work with the client to understand the risks to your people. This might also involve taking advice from Public Health England. Work with your people – can they be redeployed to other parts of the business reasonably and safely? Can they provide additional cover? Have they been advised to remain isolated (and by who?) Or should they do so voluntarily? In these situations check the contract terms with the client – are they still liable to pay you?

In circumstances as employees are available to work but the client has closed, and they cannot reasonably be redeployed into your business, the advice is that they would still have the right to be paid by you. With other workers the position would depend on the contract as to whether they can be deployed or be paid.

If you have any questions please call me on 0114 360 0626 or simply email me at enquiries@kea-hr.co.uk.

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The Absence due to Sickness or Injury folder contains guidance and resources to help you manage sickness absence within your business and ensure maximum attendance at all times. I provide a model sickness policy and a form you can use to monitor absence levels and trends in your business.

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Coronavirus and Time Off Work