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Employers may need to brush up on their legal duties

Check Legal Expenses Cover Amidst HR Coronavirus Uncertainties

Mar 2020

Employers may need to brush up on their legal duties and examine the detail in their employment contracts, following Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) issuing guidance on such matters as the global coronavirus situation begins to unfold in the UK.[1]

If an employer knowingly allows an employee who has been advised to self-isolate to attend the place of work, experts say that an employer could be in breach of their duties to employees under the terms of UK health and safety law.[2] Employers may not have the right to suspend an employee who refuses to self-isolate, depending on the terms of the contract and are advised to seek legal advice before taking such an action.

Acas says usual sick pay should be paid to any employee suffering from coronavirus and highlights that employers will have to be understanding, if no sick note can be provided because the individual is not able to attend a surgery.  There is no legal obligation to pay an employee who cannot return from a trip abroad, who is in quarantine, or who is not sick but who has been advised to self-isolate.[3]

Employers may wish to be lenient, however, and make some payment, or allow the employee to take time as holiday leave.  The same flexibility may need to be shown to employees who need to be absent from the workplace in order to look after sick dependents.

There are grey areas looming on the horizon.  An employee refusing to attend work could find themselves facing disciplinary action but how such a legal case would be treated, given the fears surrounding coronavirus cannot be determined.  Employers closing a workplace should normally continue to pay staff regardless, unless there are terms in the contract that state they will not.  Again, this could be an area of legal contention.

One area of which employers must be aware is that of data protection regulation. Should an employee contract coronavirus, it would be a breach of data protection law to name or offer information that could identify that individual, as health data is deemed special category data.

Another HR area that could result in legal issues for an employer is that of harassment or discrimination in the workplace – the type of discrimination that reports say is happening on the streets.  The employer has a legal obligation to try to control such incidents and must be seen to be positively tackling or containing such reactions. If not, they could be held legally liable for whatever occurs.

At this very uncertain and upsetting time, employers would be well advised to examine their HR policies and ensure they have adequate legal expenses protection in place, should any legal case result from whatever occurs as the coronavirus situation unfolds. 

If you are an employer needing help to construct the right insurance safety net, please use our ‘Find a Local Broker’ tool, to find an expert who can guide you through the options.