How to Deal With Employees Who Ignore Coronavirus Rules
If an employer has instructed its employees to follow certain hygiene rules to contain the virus and ensure safety in the workplace and an employee fails to comply with those instructions, the employer will be entitled to take disciplinary action.
It is worth noting that employees have a duty under health and safety law to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by their acts or omissions at work, as well as to cooperate with their employer on health and safety matters. It is strictly a criminal offence for employees to breach these duties. Almost any instruction for an employee to take hygiene measures which are aimed at helping the employer comply with its health and safety duties to employees and third parties will count as a reasonable management instruction for disciplinary purposes.
That said, if an employer is proposing to discipline an employee for refusal to comply with hygiene instructions, the employer should still follow a fair process and take account of the employee’s individual circumstances, ensuring that any such action is proportionate. In particular, if an employee has a disability that means it is more difficult for them to follow a particular rule, before deciding to impose a disciplinary sanction, the employer may need to consider whether there are any reasonable adjustments it should make to the rule to enable the disabled employee to comply, or whether exempting the disabled employee from compliance might itself amount to a reasonable adjustment.
By way of example, an employee with a respiratory condition such as asthma may struggle to comply with a rule that employees wear face coverings in the workplace. Such a rule is likely to be reasonable in the workplace, including in settings where face coverings are not currently required by law. However, even where the legal requirement to wear a face covering applies, it is subject to exceptions, e.g. if an individual is unable to comply because of a physical or mental illness, impairment, or disability and employers might well be expected to allow similar exceptions in the workplace. Disciplining an employee who has a medical condition that makes it difficult for them to comply with a rule that employees wear face coverings in the workplace may therefore be risky and we suggest that you take advice on your particular circumstances.
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