HR advice phone line peaks due to coronavirus fears

Peninsula’s 24-hour HR advice phone line has seen calls increase by a fifth since the outbreak of coronavirus or COVID-19 as employers are asking for advice on how to manage and prepare their workplace.

The global employment law consultancy acts as an HR hotline to over 40,000 UK businesses and over the past week has witnessed a 20 per cent increase in the number of calls they are receiving.

Due to this, they have now created a coronavirus advisory team to deal with inquiries of this nature.

Kate Palmer, associate director of advisory at Peninsula, said:

If an individual has recently travelled back from severely affected areas like Iran and parts of Northern Italy, the Government is currently advising that they self-isolate even if no symptoms are present. There is no obligation to pay an employee who is not sick but cannot come to work because they have been told by a medical expert to self-isolate, or have had to go into quarantine. However, due to the circumstances, employers may decide to maintain payment to the individual, mainly if they were in Wuhan or the Hubei Province on business. If employees who fall into this category attempt to come to work, they should be reminded of these instructions and instructed to go home for the stated period.

Alternatively, the employee could be allowed to take this period as annual leave or provided the opportunity to work from home while they see if they do start to show symptoms

For employees travelling back from other affected areas, which at this moment includes Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore, they may decide to self-isolate if they feel they have been exposed. Again, there is no legal requirement to pay employees in this scenario unless they report as sick during that time, in which case normal sickness absence and pay procedures should apply.

Though, Acas suggests that it is best practice to treat this period as sick leave and follow usual sick pay policies or offer the employee the option of taking paid annual leave. This can help reduce the risk that the employee feels compelled to attend work and by doing so, put other employees at risk of catching the virus. Some employers may nevertheless choose not to pay employees in this situation. While this is not unlawful, employers should be consistent in their approach if more than one employee is affected to avoid claims of less favourable treatment.

On 11/02/2020 XpertHR offered advice on how business’ should support their staff during the spread of coronavirus.