What action does your employer need to take to keep you safe?
In the event of a pandemic, your employer must take steps to ensure there is good hygiene in the workplace and that working practices do not pose undue risk to employees. What specific action could they take in the current circumstances?
Your employer could:
- Review systems of hygiene; encourage staff to regularly wash their hands with soap, to use tissues and sanitising hand gel (ensuring they supply sufficient soap etc. where possible);
- Carry out a risk assessment to identify any higher risk groups (e.g. pregnant women or those with underlying health conditions);
- Facilitate homeworking (where possible).
Current government guidance from Public Health England is that if anyone in your workplace becomes unwell with a new, continuous cough or high temperature they should be sent home and advised to follow the government’s stay at home guidance.
If you do have symptoms or have been told to self-isolate but insist on coming in to work, your employer might take steps to enforce your self-isolation by suspending you, in light of their duty to protect the health and safety of other employees.
Even if your employer has no express right to require you to stay at home they may regard the risk of allowing you to remain at work as outweighing any employment law risk which could exist in suspending you. Of course if you are exhibiting symptoms or have been advised to self-isolate, your employer may treat you as on sick leave rather than suspension.
If there is, or has been, someone in your workplace with COVID-19, your workplace does not necessarily have to close. However your employer should consider the guidance issued by Public Health England on cleaning non-healthcare settings.
If you are working from home your employer is still responsible for your welfare, health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable. This includes consideration of both your physical and mental health. Your employer may therefore ascertain that you have the necessary equipment and support to enable you to do your job from home. They are also recommended to regularly check in with you by phone or email.
If you have any concerns about health and safety you should try and raise them directly with your employer in the first instance. It is worth noting that employees are protected from being treated detrimentally or from being dismissed from taking certain action in relation to health and safety concerns.
If you would like any specific advice we would be pleased to help you. Please contact us through our website, www.lincslaw.co.uk, or by telephone on 01522 440512.
Kathryn Bolton, Specialist Employment Law Solicitor
Lincs Law Solicitors