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Coronavirus: going viral in the workplace?

News coverage of the coronavirus continues to spread at an alarming rate. Understandably this means it is also currently the hot topic for chat in the workplace.

News coverage of the coronavirus continues to spread at an alarming rate. Understandably this means it is also currently the hot topic for chat in the workplace.

Clearly we are all aware that there is a threat; however, how good are we at analysing risk and putting it in context

Safe to travel?

For example how risky is it to travel to Northern Italy?

You may have seen The Independent's travel writer Simon Calder on BBC News suggest that we may be overstating the risk of coronavirus in relation to holidays. He contrasted the likelihood of catching the disease with some of the genuinely dangerous things we happily do when we are away.

What is the bigger risk in Italy: catching coronavirus or going for a drive along a narrow mountain pass?

I'm not qualified to comment, but unarguably many of us can over-react to newsworthy risks including ignoring clear evidence and statistics.

Getting the balance right

It is a difficult balance for employers.

We wish to be caring and supportive while avoiding contributing to possible panic.

ACAS has recently provided some helpful guidance on this subject that employers may find helpful.

However bear in mind this is general advice that can't apply to every employee’s individual circumstances. For example ACAS comments on entitlement to payment if employees don't attend work for reasons connected to the virus. However there is no “one size fits all” answer.

In particular, individual contracts of employment are clearly relevant as are the specific circumstances.

Maybe the best we can do is be sympathetic to staff concerns and take reasonable steps to assist. An obvious one is the provision of hand sanitisers.

Many will point out that this was always a sensible thing to do. It is true that often the analysis of apparently new risks lead us to take steps which we should have been doing in any event.

In the present circumstances this could also include encouraging home working.

Further, if you wish to retain as much discretion as possible in relation to pay it is worth checking your terms and conditions of employment in particular clauses dealing with absence from the workplace.

Kirk Tudhope

Inverness-based partner Kirk Tudhope heads the firm’s employment law team, he regularly represents employers, including private and public sector organisations, at employment tribunals.

Posted, 03 March 2020 by Kirk Tudhope
Categories: Coronavirus | Coronavirus and employment law | Employment | Insights