With the news that both the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson and the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock have tested positive for coronavirus, the question of what happens when the virus gets into the workplace is now of intense interest to Employers. How do you deal with an employee who you think may be positive for the virus? If an employee has refused to self-isolate in the present coronavirus pandemic, can an employer prevent them from entering their premises or coming into contact with other employees or clients?
Employers have a responsibility to other employees under UK health and safety laws. If an individual who has been advised to self-isolate but has chosen to ignore that advice attends the business premises or then comes into contact with other employees, the employer may be in breach of those duties. This is particularly true where any other employees are vulnerable to infection. These may include individual with compromised immune systems or are pregnant or have long-term health conditions.
What can an Employer actually do in response? Suspension of the individual who has ignored the self-isolation advice may be an option, but employers should consider whether they have a right under their existing employment terms to suspend in these circumstances. Where no express contractual right to do so exists, expert legal advice from an employment lawyer should be sought.
Can an employer identify an individual who has contracted the coronavirus? In the UK data concerning an individual’s health is regarded as “special category data”. In practice this means that employers have to be careful that a firm-wide communication does not allow the individual who is absent to be identified or their health data exposed. This does not prevent a Company making its workforce aware that there has been a coronavirus case within the workplace just as long as the communication doesn’t identify the individual.
We will be adding more blog updates on the coronavirus situation as it develops.