Covid-19 is having an effect on all parts of all of our lives, not least in the way that we work. We are fielding a number of enquiries from our clients, and the frequently asked questions are set out below.
The important thing to bear in mind is to keep communication between all parties to an employment relationship open, frequent, and sensitive to each other’s circumstances. This is reinforced by the Employment Relations Act which requires employers and employees to be open and constructive with each other.
Please bear in mind that the below are general principles only, and specific circumstances may differ depending on employment agreements and other factors. For advice on your situation, please get in touch.
If an employee is “ready, willing and able” to work, then they must be paid their normal wage. If they are required by the government to self-isolate, then they are not ready willing and able to work and therefore not entitled to be paid.
If however an employer requires an employee to stay away from the workplace then the employee is entitled to be paid. The employee’s absence in this case is due to a decision of the employer, not the government or the employee themselves, and therefore are entitled to pay.
In the event of a Level 4 (or Level 3 in some circumstances) alert where people are required to stay home by the government and travel is severely limited, employees who cannot work from home will not be able to work, therefore not entitled to pay. If a business is required to shut by the government, the same will apply.
Many employers are likely to experience a significant downturn in their businesses. In this event a wage subsidy is available from the government. If there is no work for an employee, then technically employers should consult with respect to the prospect of redundancy. However, employers may look to agree with their employees reduced hours, periods of unpaid leave or other alternatives to redundancy. Specific advice should be sought on this point, as force majeure or frustration considerations may come into play.
Employees can use sick leave if they or a dependent family member is actually sick. Self-isolation is not in itself sickness, so sick leave is not strictly available to employees in this case. Employers are recognising the circumstances however and are being reasonably flexible.
If an employee wants to use annual leave then this should not be unreasonably refused. If an employer wants an employee to use their annual leave, and the employee does not agree to this, then the employer can require them to take annual leave with 14 days notice.
As a general principle employers will be able to request employees produce a negative test before returning to work – but only where the employer has reasonable grounds to suspect an infection.
Employees are entitled to refuse to work under the Health and Safety at Work Act, if they have a reasonable fear that they may contract Covid 19. They do have to discuss this with their employers before doing so though.
We are employment law specialists. If you need any advice or guidance in this difficult time, please contact Nick Mason.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this publication is of a general nature and is not intended as legal advice. It is important that you seek legal advice that is specific to your circumstances.