Coronavirus: key issues for employers

27 Feb 2020

The coronavirus outbreak raises a number of difficult legal issues for employers of staff who have travelled from or with plans to visit affected areas. Will Walsh from DMH Stallard’s employment law team addresses the most common questions.

Can we suspend employees who might have been exposed to the virus?

Normally an employee should only be suspended if you have the right to do so under the terms of the employment contract. However you have a duty to take all reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of your employees; those issues will outweigh the risks of any potential breach of contract in the event of genuine concerns over coronavirus.  

Government guidance on isolation  is in place for travellers returning from affected areas. You should follow that guidance as a minimum and should insist that employees remain away from the workplace while any isolation period applies and/or any symptoms have disappeared. If you wish to take a more cautious approach and require employees returning from any affected area to remain away from work, you may do so as long as your grounds for concern are reasonable and non-discriminatory.

Depending on the employee’s job, it may of course be possible to make arrangements for them to work remotely rather than suspending them from work altogether.

What happens about pay?

An employee’s legal right to pay will depend on their exact circumstances. 

If an employee is unable to attend work because they are suffering from symptoms, you should treat them as being off sick and pay sick pay in the normal way.

If an employee is not unwell, but in quarantine based on government guidelines and unable to work remotely, it is possible that they can still be deemed to be unfit to work and entitled to sick pay if they have a written notice issued by a GP or by 111 confirming that they must self-isolate. Without that notice, strictly speaking they are not available for work and therefore not entitled to be paid. An employee stuck abroad because flights to and from their destination have stopped would be in the same position of not being available for work and therefore not entitled to pay.

If you have chosen to suspend an employee from work as a matter of extra precaution, you should pay them as normal: they are fit and able to work, and it’s your choice to exclude them.

In all of these cases you may decide to continue full pay, particularly if you are concerned that an employee might not tell you about where they have been, or try to return from sickness too early, rather than lose pay. You may take a different view if an employee went on holiday to a destination in full knowledge of the risks, but you should be as consistent as possible with any discretion exercised. The situation would also be different if they had travelled on a work related matter, in that case full pay should continue during any absence.

Can we ban employees from travelling to affected areas on holiday?

You need to be careful about imposing a complete ban, as it could raise the risk of indirect discrimination claims from employees who, for example, could not visit relatives in their country of origin. Therefore whether or not a ban is appropriate depends on the actual level of risk. 

If you have clear guidelines in place on what periods of suspension from work may apply and what the impact on pay would be, employees can make their own informed choice before they travel.

What if employees refuse to attend work for fear of infection?

An unreasonable refusal to attend work could become a disciplinary issue, but make sure that you understand their particular concerns and do what you can to find an alternative solution before taking any action.  

If they are worried about catching the virus from colleagues, the steps you take to keep those at risk of carrying the virus away from the workplace should be enough to allay fears. However, the issue could be that they are worried about infection on public transport, or contact with other members of the public when doing their job. In that case, you should consider adjusting working hours to avoid peak travel times or remote working. 

You need to show even more flexibility for pregnant employees or those at higher risk; if you are unable to guarantee a safe place of work for vulnerable employees and there is no alternative, you may be required to pay them in full while they remain away from work.

If you would like to discuss the issues raised in the above article further, or would like advice on putting together staff guidance on these matters, please contact Will Walsh by phone or by email.

Further reading

Good Divorce Week - divorce and financial matters FAQs

In recognition of 'Good Divorce Week', we answer some frequently asked questions relating to divorce and financial matters
Read more Read

Choosing the right Family lawyer for you

DMH Stallard’s Family law experts, Natasha Slabas and Samantha Jago, talk to John Young about how we can help you if you are struggling with a legal issue and looking for a lawyer
Read more Read

The trials and tribulations of extortionate credit transactions

Frank Bouette explains the Court considerations when deciding whether a credit transaction should be set aside as extortionate
Read more Read

When does a director owe a primary duty to creditors?

The Supreme Court recently confirmed when a director’s duty to creditors comes into effect, if their company is in the ‘twilight’ zone of potential insolvency
Read more Read
  • Brighton - Jubilee St

    1 Jubilee Street


    East Sussex

    BN1 1GE

  • Brighton - Old Steine

    47 Old Steine


    East Sussex

    BN1 1NW

  • Gatwick

    Griffin House

    135 High Street


    West Sussex

    RH10 1DQ

  • Guildford

    Wonersh House

    The Guildway

    Old Portsmouth Road



    GU3 1LR

  • Hassocks

    32 Keymer Road


    West Sussex

    BN6 8AL

  • Horsham

    Ridgeland House

    15 Carfax


    West Sussex

    RH12 1DY

  • London

    6 New Street Square

    New Fetter Lane


    EC4A 3BF

  • Make an enquiry

    Make an enquiry


    Or head to our Contact us page